If we rewind the clock back to the trade deadline during the 2018-19 regular season, the defending Stanley Cup Champion Washington Capitals were struggling mightily on the penalty kill. Before acquiring Carl Hagelin from the Los Angeles Kings for a 2019 third round pick and a 2020 sixth round pick, the Capitals’ penalty kill was posting a 78.4% effectiveness rate.
With the addition of Hagelin (and Nick Jensen) at the trade deadline, the Capitals saw a 1.1% effectiveness rate increase on their penalty kill. Not exactly anything to write home about, but improvements count. On the other hand, when the season ended, and the Capitals’ penalty kill in the first round loss to the Carolina Hurricanes operated at an 86.4% effectiveness rate.
In this post, we’ll look at Hagelin’s penalty killing performance over his time with the Capitals and assess the current state of the Capitals’ penalty kill. The statistics used in this post are courtesy of Natural Stat Trick, the NHL, and Hockey Viz. If you’d like to learn more about the statistical terms used in this post, please check out our NHL analytics glossary.
Hagelin’s Penalty Killing Performance
Hagelin was re-signed by the Capitals that off-season to a four year deal worth $2.75 million a year. That cap hit was heavy, but the Capitals clearly needed an ace for their penalty kill.
The next season, the Capitals had the 6th ranked penalty kill at 82.6%. From the 2019-20 season through the 2021-22 season, the Capitals had the fifth best penalty kill in the league at 82.2%.
Here’s how Hagelin’s expected goals for percentage (xGF%) and goals for percentage (GF%) stacked up on the penalty kill during his time with the Capitals:
Now to put these into context, here’s all the skaters that have played on the penalty kill for the Capitals this season:
So far this season, there’s a relatively small sample size for the penalty killers. Nick Jensen leads the Capitals’ skaters in time on ice with 22:07. The key here to pay attention to is xGF%.
We already know that you’re at a disadvantage when you’re down a man (or two), and the more you can lessen that advantage with effective penalty killing, the better off the team is. So far this season, Nic Dowd and Lars Eller are the teams’ top penalty killers based off of xGF%. Dowd has yet to be on the ice for a goal against, and Lars Eller was on the ice for two goals against, but was on the ice for a shorthanded goal for.
If we averaged Hagelin’s xGF% over his four seasons with the Capitals, he’s sitting at a 12 xGF%. He’d certainly be one of the Caps’ best PKers so far this season, and there’s no telling how effective he’d be in a system that would use his speed as an asset. The hard thing is, it’s hard to quantify the distinct impact a player might have in a new scheme.
Assessing the Capitals’ Penalty Kill
In the Capitals’ first five games of the 2022-23 season, the penalty kill struggled mightily. With Scott Arniel leaving his spot behind the bench for a similar role with the Winnipeg Jets, the Capitals promoted Scott Allen up the ranks from Hershey.
Allen prefers the more aggressive penalty killing style over the more conservative scheme Arniel installed. There were definitely growing pains. Through the first five games, the Capitals’ PK operated at a 64.3% effectiveness rate, which ranked 30th in the NHL. Here’s how the Capitals’ penalty kill fared over time so far this season:
After the first five contests of the season, the Capitals really started to adjust to the new aggressive penalty killing scheme. They’ve looked much more composed in their aggressiveness, forcing turnovers and even shorthanded goals. The Capitals have righted the penalty killing ship, rising from 30th in the NHL to 11th with an 81.5% effectiveness rate.
The positive trend line here is promising. Hovering in the low-80s for effectiveness rate is right where you need to be for success at a sustainable rate.
Here’s where the Caps’ PK allows the most unblocked shot rates (via Hockey Viz):
A part of having an aggressive scheme on the penalty kill is that it sometimes results in breakdowns in coverage. The Caps end up allowing relatively high rates of unblocked shots from the low slot, typically from quick passes that elude defenders in the bumper spot on the power play.
You’ll also see more one-time opportunities open up, as we can see with some longer range shot attempts from the tops of the circles. To compare, here’s what last season’s heat map looks like:
Last season, the penalty kill tended to only allow high rates of excess shots from a few locations: in the mid-slot, in the low slot to the immediate left of the goaltender, and in the high slot above the circles.
Since the Capitals tended to play more conservatively on the penalty kill, the power plays had to take the shots that the Caps allowed them to take. The downside is that with more conservative positioning and pressure, there was typically more traffic in the sightline of the shots on goal.
Power play goals off of deflections, high tip plays, and bad bounces off of defenders were more typical. The plus side is, with more shots coming from the center of the ice, the goaltenders typically were more square positionally with the shooter when their sight lines were clear.
It’s Still Early
We can talk about trends this season, but we’re just over 10% of the way into this season. We can make more accurate predictions and estimations of trends during five-on-five play, but special teams account for less time during any given game and give us a far smaller sample size to derive conclusions from.
Although the Capitals have gone four-straight contests without allowing a power play goal, that rate is obviously not sustainable. What we’d like to see is progress in terms of comfort and awareness in the new scheme and trending towards an effectiveness rate in the low-80s.
That should keep the Caps in the top tier of penalty killing units. The penalty kill’s effectiveness is under even more of a microscope in the playoffs, where killing penalties has immense impact on the result of the game.
By Justin Trudel
I think the Caps made a mistake letting Axel go and keeping CMM up… they should have dont the opposite.
My feeling is the Caps D needs one more player and the money would come from either Hags or Eller… Look round and see Sharks, Jackets, Ducks, Nucks… Ari… all off to a rough start… No rush to trade yet but keep an eye on them for D
Not an outlandish take. I personally thought that Axel was a natural replacement for Hags, both on the 4th line and on the PK.
Beck Malenstyn – Final Answer and forget about it.
Agree. Always preferred Beck over AJF. He brings a great physical element, strong wheels, and can PK.
It’s been two games. Let’s not anoint him an HOF seat. The 4th line had terrible numbers the previous game.
He has made me forget about AJF and stop griping over losing him in waivers. Indeed, final answer!
Some get triggered and handle loss by saying “stop groping about it”. It was a loss. Period.
Darcy is known for rebounds. How much does that figure into the PK stats?
Kuemper’s bailed PK out (and rest of team) quite a bit in recent games.
Justin do you have any info on Hagelins progress? Was his hip surgery minor or major? Is it career ending? and do you think we will see Hagelin play this year?