The Capitals may have been able to stave off elimination on Tuesday with a Game 4 win over the New York Islanders, but things could have gone very different in the first period. Washington was on the ropes as the Islanders jumped out to a 2-0 lead. They also forced three power plays opportunities from the Caps and may have been able to deliver the knockout blow in that period had they been able to convert. But, like they have all series, the Islanders struggled to generate offense against the Caps' strong penalty kill.
Trailing the series 3-1, the penalty kill is about the only aspect of the game in which Washington has been completely dominant through the first four games. The Caps have successfully killed off 18 out of 19 power plays for New York giving the Islanders a success rate of only 5.3-percent. That ranks 15th among the 16 teams in the first round of the playoffs.
Considering the Caps are giving up almost five power plays per game on average, the penalty kill's success has been huge. While not much has gone right for Washington in the series, things could be even worse without the penalty kill.
"The commitment, the work ethic, the compete, the plan that's put out there for the penalty killers is a strong one and ultimately you need to get the saves from the goaltender that are big ones at that time," head coach Todd Reirden said.
One of Washington's weaknesses this season has been its defense and often Braden Holtby does not get as much help as he should. When it comes to the penalty kill, however, he has to tip his cap.
"I think our kill is doing a great job," Holtby said.
For his part, Barry Trotz knows his team has struggled with the extra man and came with some adjustments for Game 4. The result? Washington held New York off the board on all five power plays.
"They kinda switched some things up, put a little more traffic in front," Holtby said. "There's always adjustments that are made and I think our guys did a good job of that."
In a playoff series, however, the challenge of defending a power play is that it is constantly evolving to beat your set up. After the adjustments we saw in Game 4, Holtby expects the Islanders to throw even more at the penalty kill for Game 5 as New York hopes to close out the series.
"They have two units that kind of switch back and forth," Holtby said of the Islanders' power play. "I think our awareness has been really, really good knowing which one is on the ice. In order for us to have success we're going to have to keep being committed like we've been so far."
Had New York been able to convert on any of its five opportunities on Tuesday, it is very likely we would be talking about the end of the season right now instead of the penalty kill. But the Caps will live to play another day thanks to Alex Ovechkin's two goals, Evgeny Kuznetsov sparking the rally and the penalty kill once again shutting down the Islanders.