Penalties may not have cost the Capitals any goals on Sunday, but they still played a major factor in the 4-3 shootout loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins, or at least they reflect the issues that led to the loss.
For the second time in as many games, Washington gave five power play opportunities to their opponents on Sunday.
"These penalties have got to go," Nicklas Backstrom said. "We can’t have these penalties."
The silver-lining is that the penalty kill was able to kill off all five of the power plays it faced. It's easy to see that and dismiss the penalties as a non-factor in the result, but taking too many penalties can cost a team even when they don't give up a goal.
When the penalty kill is on the ice, that means your top offensive players are not. The offensive rhythm of the game is thrown off and the offense suffers as a result.
Washington played a strong first period, but was called for three penalties in the third and managed only three shots on goal. For the game, the Caps had only 23 total shots on goal.
Against a Penguins team that lost each of its first two games and was playing backup Casey DeSmith in net, the Caps did not do nearly enough to test him because the penalties took their offense out of the game.
But really, the penalties are only part of the story. The real question is why are they taking them? This can be better answered by looking at the type of penalties they are taking.
Two trips, a cross-check, an interference and a slash reflect a team that can't get possession of the puck and is reacting to the opposition. The same is true of Friday's game in which the Caps were called for two holds, a hook, a trip and a slash.
"We took penalties because we weren’t very sharp with our game," Laviolette said Friday. "We weren’t working very hard. I thought they had the jump and the work and we can address that, but usually when you are not dictating you are looking to defend and that leads to holds and trips and your sticks in wrong areas instead of being the one who is determining and deciding which way the game is going to go; you are reacting to it."
The feeling after Sunday's game was similar as the Caps poor puck management led to chasing the Penguins around the ice and little possession time.
"There's things that we're doing with the puck that aren't going to lead to us being and staying in the offensive zone that needs to get cleaned up," Laviolette said.
"We just threw a lot of pucks away," Nic Dowd said. "I mean you guys go back and watch those games. We had possession. We did a good job entering the zone or getting into the zone and finding pucks. But our forwards were throwing a lot of pucks away and not using the points, and their D were reading and capitalizing on it, and then it kinda put us back on our heels and they were out of the zone. They took it to us in that second period, I think it kind of changed the tide a little bit."
The penalties were an issue last season as well as Washington took the most minor penalties of any team in the NHL. This was an area Laviolette was expected to improve given his reputation as a strict coach who holds his players accountable.
But it's not the penalties Laviolette needs to clean up, it's the puck management.
It is too simple to say these penalties are happening because the team is undisciplined. Really, they are happening because the team can't hold onto the puck.
"How are we going to get puck possession?" Backstrom said. "I think we just got to be a little bit better about execution, hold onto pucks and yeah I mean you can’t just have hold plays everywhere. We have to work together and use each other. That is what good teams do and obviously we want to be a good team and that’s an area too that we need to be better.”