The Caps may have a 3-2 series lead, but there is a troubling trend that they will need to buck if they hope to finish off the Pittsburgh Penguins on Monday.
In Game 1 of the series, Washington gave up two power plays. In Game 2, they yielded three power play opportunities to the Penguins. In Game 3 and 4, that total went up to four. Then in Game 5, it went up again to five power plays.
You don’t have to be a mathematician to realize the Caps are giving up more and more power plays in every game. That’s a problem in the playoffs, especially when you are playing a team that boasted the best power play in the NHL through the regular season.
“I didn’t like some of our discipline, some of the penalties and the timing of the penalties,” Barry Trotz said to the media on Sunday.
The Caps ran away with Game 5 thanks to a four-goal third period. Before that, however, penalties allowed Pittsburgh to take control. Washington held a 2-1 lead heading to the second period, but the Capitals took three minor penalties in the middle frame and gave up two goals as the Penguins took a 3-2 lead.
It also didn’t help that three of the five penalties the team was called for were committed by some of the Caps’ best penalty killers. Matt Niskanen was called for holding and Devante Smith-Pelly was booked for tripping twice.
Being shorthanded is one thing. Being shorthanded and not having your best penalty killers available, including Tom Wilson who will be serving the third game of his three-game suspension on Monday, is quite another.
“I can’t have my penalty killers taking penalties,” Trotz said.
A secondary effect of taking too many penalties is what it does to the offense.
Every time the Capitals take a penalty, that’s two minutes Alex Ovechkin is not on the ice. That’s two minutes for players like Evgeny Kuznetsov and Jakub Vrana to spend on the bench. That means minimal pressure against goalie Matt Murray.
“It’s hard to get momentum, it’s hard to get your good players on the ice sometimes, too,” Trotz said. “Some of them aren’t engaged in the penalty kill. That’s not what they do and so they get sitting on the bench for a while.”
Considering that the Penguins will have the second line change playing at home in Game 6, it will already by a challenge for Trotz to get favorable matchups. If the team spends too much time in the box as well, Washington is going to struggle to find offense.
The fourth win in a series is always the hardest to get. Pittsburgh will be playing with desperation and the Capitals will need to match that with a killer instinct. Step one: Stay out of the penalty box.
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