The Capitals Special Teams Are Heading In Opposite Directions

The play of the special teams has always garnered significant attention from the Capitals faithful, but it’s almost always centered on the Capitals’ high-caliber power play. When the power play is hitting on all cylinders, things are right in Washington. When it sputters, a call for revolution begins to build with each failed power play opportunity.

Surging Power Play

A lot was made of the Capitals poor start to the season on the power play, as the team posted a concerning 0 for 9 conversion rate in their first two games. The call for Blaine Forsythe’s job quickly began to echo through the streets of the District. Well, at least on social media.

However, the power play has responded in the last three games, scoring on their last 5 of 9 power play opportunities. They now have the 11th best power play in the league at 27.8%, as the torches have been doused and put back in the garage.

Sinking Penalty Kill

The Capitals penalty kill unit also started the season poorly, but unfortunately, it has continued a downward trend through the first five games of the season. They yielded another two shorthanded tallies Thursday night in Ottawa.

The Capitals penalty kill has now allowed 5 goals in 14 kill attempts for a 64.3% success rate, which ranks them 30th in the league. They are 31st in the league in net penalty kill, which factors in shorthanded goals. That’s not gonna cut it.

Under New Management

The Capitals penalty kill finished last season with an 80.4% success rate under Scott Arniel. Unfortunately, Arniel departed the team in offseason for an opportunity closer to home with the Winnipeg Jets.

Former Bears head coach Scott Allen was elevated from Hershey to Washington to take over the coaching duties for the departed Arniel. Allen called for an aggressive style to the penalty kill when he met with the media for the first time back on July 26.

“I’d like to keep it in the upper part of the National Hockey League, that’s for sure. I think the penalty kill, for sure, can be a difference maker, night in, night out, in the National Hockey League, especially,” said Allen.

“In the past I’ve been a big believer and a builder on trying to be fairly aggressive.  It certainly plays into personnel. I think the Caps certainly have the personnel to play an agressive style.”

Under Allen’s watch, the Bears penalty kill finished last season with an 81.6% kill rate, good enough for 12th in the AHL. They also recorded an impressive 10 shorthanded goals in doing so, which was 8th-best in the AHL.

But Allen is in somewhat of a tough spot in his new role in Washington, as he will need to at least replicate Arniel’s strong output from previous seasons or possibly begin to feel the heat himself.

How Swede It Is

The Capitals could also be feeling the loss of Carl Hagelin on several fronts. Hagelin was a stalwart on the Capitals penalty kill for past few seasons, and has always been one of the best in the league at shutting down opposing power plays. There is no question the Capitals penalty kill has missed Hagelin in the first five games.

The Capitals fourth line has also got off to a poor start in the first five games this season, a line Hagelin helped elevate to arguably the Capitals best in recent years. The fourth line is often tasked with neutralizing opposing teams best players (top lines). They did a really good job at doing that in recent years, and added offense to boot.

Change is inevitable, and it’s likely the Capitals are trying to find ways to adapt to the latest changes in personnel. It will take time to find the right mix, both on the penalty kill and on the fourth line.

But time is not abundant in the NHL. Answers need to be found relatively quickly, or the season could get away from them rather quickly.

By Jon Sorensen

About Jon Sorensen

Jon has been a Caps fan since day one, attending his first game at the Capital Centre in 1974. His interest in the Caps has grown over the decades and included time as a season ticket holder. He has been a journalist covering the team for 10+ years, primarily focusing on analysis, analytics and prospect development.
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11 Responses to The Capitals Special Teams Are Heading In Opposite Directions

  1. Diane Doyle says:

    PK has been so bad lately, it can be described as follows:

    If (CapsPenalty) THEN

  2. Anonymous says:

    It’s amazing how Forsythe/the power play feels tremendous vitriol after two bad games, but P.K….crickets after 5. I think it’s trendy to yell “fire Forsythe”

    • Jonathan says:

      He had earned that. I wonder if he’s the reason for the turn around or was it Lavi, another coach, or Backy that suggest this change? It certainly has made the world of difference, giving creative license to the players. Whoever came up with the idea, it’s given Forsythe a reprieve for now. Perhaps not in the eyes of his employers (who may not have thought he was worth firing), but certainly in the eyes Caps fans.

  3. Anonymous says:

    I think the causal fan just doesn’t understand the value of Carl Hagelin, they just look at goals and assists to judge players (not his role on the team)

    • Jonathan says:

      Too many casual fans just don’t understand the complexity of what it takes to win. It’s not just offense that makes the difference.

    • Anonymous says:

      Much like the organization itself, most caps fans are clueless.

    • Mike J says:

      I guess, but you’re also missing Wilson, a top PKer and the corpse of Lars Eller used to be a terrific PKer. It’s not just Haglin…if we’re that worried about the PK then play Beck Malenstyn at 4LW and insert him on the PK now that Brown is out long term. Joe Snivley ain’t going to eat big minutes(successfully) on the PK.

  4. racingmoose says:

    The 4th line has struggled a little along with the PK. The idea so many have of just throwing anyone on the line like a McMichael or Snively isn’t thinking through what role is needed on that line. I see Snively penciled into the 4th line tonight, but he really is an offensively skilled play for the most part.

    Hagelin gets busted on quite a bit on forums, etc. but he did bring a lot to what the 4th line needs. It would be nice to see Beck get a couple of games on that wing. He brings everything needed for the 4th line role including physical play and superb penalty killing.

    It’s frustrating to see players moved around so much with what seems like a disregard for the role needed or chemistry with other players.

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