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Penalties are a problem, and the Caps know it

Penalties are a problem, and the Caps know it

Penalties weren’t the main reason the Caps fell to the Panthers on Saturday night, but taking six minors, including four in the second period, sure didn’t help matters.

“Penalties have been a little bit of an ongoing thing,” Coach Barry Trotz said after the 4-1 defeat at Capital One Arena. “It took all the rhythm out. It forced a big portion of our bench to sit there, get cold. In the second period, it was back-to-back-to-back-to-back, and it just sort of took all of the momentum. And now you’re chasing the game big time.”

Evgenii Dadonov scored on the power play late in the first period to stake Florida to a 2-0 lead. Then Vincent Trocheck closed the door midway through the second, sniping a 5-on-3 shot over Philipp Grubauer to make it 3-0.

RELATED: A SLOPPY GAME LED TO A SLOPPY LOSS, BUT THERE WAS ONE CAP WHO STOOD OUT

“We shot ourselves again in the foot a little bit with the penalties,” Grubauer said. “We got to move our feet. I wouldn’t call it lazy, I would call it being behind the play.”

Lars Eller was whistled for holding and tripping. Nicklas Backstrom doubled up, too, with interference and tripping infractions. Madison Bowey got called for hooking and Evgeny Kuznetsov was cited for high sticking. All of the penalties were assessed in the game’s first 33 minutes.

The impact of penalties, particularly when they’re taken so close to one another, cannot be disputed. In addition to the obvious advantage they give the other team, penalties also disrupt the flow of the game and the lines, while keeping goal scorers like Alex Ovechkin, Andre Burakovsky and Evgeny Kuznetsov stapled to the bench. And they’re even harder to kill off on the second night of a back-to-back.    

“We took it to them and did all the right things 5 on 5 …but again all the penalties, it’s disrupting the flow of our team,” Eller said. “It’s hurting us a lot. I am guilty and other guys too. That’s a little thing that will make a big difference for us if we can improve on that.”

MORE CAPITALS: GRUBAUER HAS THOUGHTS ON WHY THE CAPS CAN'T STAY OUT OF THE BOX

The veteran center added: “It’s an easy fix. It’s a question of being a little bit more smart, taking an extra step [instead of reaching with the stick]. That will improve our game a lot.”

In nine games this season, the Caps have been assessed more penalties than their opponent five times. They’ve only taken fewer penalties than an opponent once.

“We have to nip the penalties in the bud,” Trotz said. “We seem to stack ‘em up. You’ll take the odd one but when you start stacking them up it’s a recipe for disaster for us.”

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Barry Trotz explains why returning from a bye week is harder than you think

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Barry Trotz explains why returning from a bye week is harder than you think

The biggest storyline surrounding the Capitals coming out of the bye week is how much the team seems to hate lengthy breaks.

By now you probably have heard Washington has lost three straight out of the bye. In addition to that, there have been three stretches this season in which the Caps have had to wait at least five days for their next contest. They lost two of those three games and they did so in decisive fashion.

Caps played Oct. 21, lost next game on Oct. 26 at Vancouver 6-2
Caps played Nov. 25, lost next game on Nov. 30 vs. Los Angeles 5-2
Caps played Jan. 2, won next game vs. St. Louis 4-3 in overtime

This also is not a new problem. Coming out of the bye week last season, Washington lost its first two games back and then went on to lose eight of 14 before they finally got back on track.

RELATED: WHERE DO THE CAPS LAND IN THE LATEST NHL POWER RANKINGS?

But why? Aren’t breaks in the schedule a good thing? After all, the bye week was negotiated for by the Players’ Association.

On Tuesday after practice, Barry Trotz tried to explain the difficulties of returning from the bye.

“The best way I can describe it is it's not different than someone going on a 2-week vacation. You come back to work and the first couple days, not really productive, right?

“You know how it is, when you get back, it's hard to get back in that routine.”

The bye week in hockey is different than what we see in football. In addition to no games, the players do not even practice. They do not get the benefit of a having a week of practice before the next game like in the NFL.

This year in Washington’s case, the Caps did not even get a chance to practice before returning to game action as they were forced to cancel practice the day before their game in New Jersey due to travel issues.

“You lose a little bit of that edge, a little bit of that sharpness,” Trotz said. “You lose a little bit of everything and then when it's over 20 guys, then all of a sudden it's difficult.”

Evgeny Kuznetsov also noted how the team struggles in January and February as an additional explanation.

“Physically we're pretty good and emotionally we're pretty good,” he said. “It's just those moments. If you look at the last 3 years I've been here, it's every year the same [expletive], same time. Always those 10-15 games in late January, early February it's always been wasn't great for us.”

MORE CAPITALS: TROTZ LIKES WHAT VRANA BRINGS EVEN IF THE ICE TIME ISN'T THERE

You do often hear about the “dog days” of a season when it suddenly becomes hard for teams to stay motivated every single night with half the season still to go. Now add in a bye week and you can understand why it may be hard for the players to ramp up the intensity level.

The added obstacle for Washington is they now face another break with the All-Star Game. Thursday’s game in Florida will be the team’s only game in a nine-day period.

With the Metropolitan Division standings as tight as they are, the Caps likely cannot afford another stretch of eight losses in 14 games like they suffered last year.

It’s interesting to see a team struggle after having too much time off. It’s a problem most people reading this probably wish they had. But it’s one that’s not quite as easy to overcome as you may think.

“I just think from the last couple years with the breaks in it, you understand that it's not just, hey you had a break, you should be fresh when you go on the ice,” Trotz said. “Unless you've played the game, it's hard to explain to people.”

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NHL Power Rankings: The Caps are singing the bye week blues

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USA TODAY Sports

NHL Power Rankings: The Caps are singing the bye week blues

A Capitals team that struggles after lengthy breaks is now indeed struggling after its return from the bye week. Since returning on Thursday against the New Jersey Devils, the Caps have lost three straight games including two at home with only two points to show for their efforts.

Heading into the bye, Washington looked like one of the top teams in the NHL with 14 wins in 19 games. Now, they have taken a step back and are working at returning to the level they were playing just a week ago.

CHECK OUT THIS WEEK'S NHL POWER RANKINGS HERE

Oh, and to make matters worse, the Caps do not play again until Thursday and then are off for the All-Star break.

It's Jan. 22 and Washington has only two more games this month. Even if they do figure things out on Thursday against the Florida Panthers, they will have to figure it out all over again when they return from the All-Star break on Jan. 31 against the Philadelphia Flyers.

So where do the Caps rank after their recent slide and how far could they fall if they do not right the ship? Find out here in this week's NHL Power Rankings!