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Caps' penalty kill has 'room for improvement'

Caps' penalty kill has 'room for improvement'

The Capitals’ penalty kill unit has allowed a goal in four of the first five games this season, including one in Saturday’s 4-2 loss to the Rangers at Verizon Center.

As with every statistic this time of year, it comes with the following disclaimer: it’s a small sample size. That said, the Caps know that the unit can—and should—be better, particularly after it ranked second in the NHL last year.

“We’ve got some new people there,” Coach Barry Trotz said. “But we’ve also have a lot of the same people.”

Washington’s penalty kill percentage currently sits at 71.4 as the team prepares to depart on a four-game trip to Western Canada. Last year, the unit’s percentage was 85.2. Only Anaheim’s penalty kill was better.

“It’s a mentality,” Trotz said. “Once you start digging yourself a little bit of a hole, you get worried about it. We just need a little confidence going for it. It’s not that we don’t have any, but we just have to get everybody on the same page. We’re not quite there yet, but we will be.”

RELATED: CAPS' FAILED SECOND POWER PLAY PROVES KEY IN LOSS

Since snuffing out all three of the Avalanche’s power play opportunities two games ago, the Panthers and Rangers each struck once. And both times, the goals were big ones.

On Thursday night in South Florida, Jaromir Jagr scored on the man advantage late in the second period to even the score 2-2. The Panthers squeezed off six shots on four power plays in that game.

On Saturday, Rangers rookie Jimmy Vesey tallied midway through the second period to knot the score 2-2. New York got off four shots on three opportunities in the contest.  

“I think the first two games, [the goals] were just kind of [deflections],” said defenseman Karl 

Alzner, who is averaging almost two minutes of shorthanded ice time per game. “Even today was a little bit of a pinball out to the backdoor.”

Alzner added: “We just have to see what other teams are doing and continue to get in lanes and block shots. And when we make our switches and stuff like that, it seems like we’re at times a little bit slow to do it. We want to pressure, but we have pressure smart. And if we’re not [in sync], it happens to any penalty kill. I don’t think it’s as bad as it looks right now on paper, but, yeah, we’d like to be better.”

Newcomer Lars Eller said he isn’t overly concerned yet, in part, because he feels opposing power plays have benefited from some fortuitous bounces and those bounces will even out over time.

“You can always improve,” Eller said. “I don’t think it’s the reason we lost [to New York]. A wrist shot from way out on the flank that bounces right to a Rangers’ player. Sometimes it bounces to one of us. Sometimes it bounces to one of them. Things are out of your hands a little bit sometimes. But there’s room for improvement.”

MORE CAPITALS: Rangers hand Caps first regulation loss

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Capitals place Taylor Chorney on waivers, which could signal something, or nothing

Capitals place Taylor Chorney on waivers, which could signal something, or nothing

When the Capitals acquired defenseman Michal Kempny on Monday, that put the team at the maximum of 23 players on the roster including eight defenseman.

Another move seemed likely and the Caps made it on Tuesday by placing veteran blueliner Taylor Chorney on waivers.

Teams now will have 24 hours to potentially claim Chorney. Should he clear at 12 p.m. on Wednesday, it is expected that he will be sent to the Hershey Bears of the AHL. Whether he is claimed or sent to Hershey, his entire $800,000 cap hit will no longer count against the Capitals' salary.

One important thing to note, however, is that placing Chorney on waivers was not required in order for Washington to remain under the salary cap.

Having eight defensemen would mean scratching two every game — assuming the team does not dress seven and after that failed experiment in last year's playoffs, why would they — which means it would be a struggle to make sure everyone gets consistent playing time in the final weeks of the season.

Perhaps placing Chorney on waivers is the team trying to get him more playing time to keep him sharp in case the team suffers injuries on the blue line and he is called upon in the playoffs.

Or perhaps it could mean something else.

RELATED: RANKING THE CAPITALS' TOP PROSPECTS

Chorney played on Feb. 15, but that was during the mentor's trip. Barry Trotz's policy for those trips is to get everyone in at least one of those two games. Before that, Chorney had not played since Jan. 2. It certainly seems like the team was comfortable with him being the designated No. 7 and was not all that concerned about getting him regular playing time before now.

When asked if the Kempny trade would mean any roster moves, Trotz said Monday that he was not sure and hinted that perhaps more moves could be coming from general manager Brian MacLellan. Moving Chorney's salary off the books does not clear much cap room, but it does clear some.

Perhaps MacLellan has another move up his sleeve before Monday's trade deadline.

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Michal Kempny excited to move from last place Chicago to first place Caps

Michal Kempny excited to move from last place Chicago to first place Caps

On Sunday, Michal Kempny was a defenseman struggling for a spot in the lineup for a team poised to miss the playoffs for the first time since 2008. On Monday, he became potentially an important piece on the roster of the first place Capitals.

The last few days have been quite the whirlwind for Kempny who tallied an assist for Chicago on Saturday in a 7-1 blowout against what is now his current team. While the Blackhawks may have gotten the better of Washington that night, Kempny is excited about the postseason opportunity that now lies in front of him.

"Nobody knows what's happening in Chicago, but I'm really happy and I'm really glad that I can be here," Kempny told reporters on Tuesday after his first skate with the team. "There is option of play a playoff and I'm very happy for it."

RELATED: WHERE MICHAL KEMKPNY FITS IN THE CAPS' LINEUP

The 27-year-old Czech defenseman played only 31 games for the Blackhawks this season, but considering Washington's need to shore up its defense before the trade deadline and the team's willingness to give up a third-round pick to acquire him, it is likely he will have a much more significant role with the Caps.

"I thought that I [was] going to get more space on the ice and more ice time, but I didn't play more than half games," Kempny said of his decision to originally sign with Chicago. "But now I'm here and I'm really glad that I'm here. Washington is amazing city and great organization and I hope I will get a chance to access myself on the ice more than in Chicago."

Kempny will not play in Tuesday's game against the Tampa Bay Lightning, but did say he expects to play Thursday when the team visits the Florida Panthers.

When he does get into the lineup, it is unclear just how big a role he will play initially or how the team foresees utilizing him going forward. He is a left-shot defenseman and did tell reporters he prefers to play on that side. It seems unlikely the team would acquire him just to put him on his offside.

As of now, however, everything regarding his role in Washington is up in the air.

"I need everything settle down a little bit," he said. "New teammates, new people around here."

MORE CAPITALS: MEET MICHAL KEMPNY