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Why the Capitals' new penalty kill strategy isn't working

Why the Capitals' new penalty kill strategy isn't working

After the first day of training camp in September under new head coach Todd Reirden, he made clear one of the changes he wanted to see this season.

“I think you look at certain areas that you like to improve on,” Reirden said. “You look at where things settled out for us last year in the regular season statistically and then particularly as we went through the playoffs areas you can get better. There is always room to get better, and those were some spots I thought we could make some adjustments to in the penalty kill and some other things that you’ll maybe see as we move forward. I would say that would be the biggest difference there.”

Washington’s new-look power play, however, has gotten off to a rocky start and cost the team two losses in their last four games, despite giving up only two goals at five-on-five. 

The Capitals penalty kill is down to 71.7-percent, which ranks 29th in the NHL. During the last four games, Washington gave up six power-play goals, including two against an Arizona Coyotes team -- which handed the Caps their most recent loss, 4-1, Sunday -- that ranks in the lower half of the league in its power play efficiency and was playing on the second leg of a back-to-back. 

“Obviously, we’re struggling there, and it’s something that we’ve got to be better at,” Nicklas Backstrom said.

The addition of players like Evgeny Kuznetsov (1:16 of penalty kill time on Sunday) signaled a more aggressive style of penalty killing, one in which teams have to account for Washington’s offensive threat even while on the power play. You can see that more aggressive style at work as the Caps clearly try to push the puck into the offensive zone more so than in years past.

Thus far, however, the team has struggled to find a balance between pushing the offense while not leaving themselves vulnerable defensively. That was evident Sunday on Arizona’s first goal.

While on the penalty kill, three Caps players joined the rush for an offensive opportunity that ended with Darcy Kuemper saving a shot from John Carlson. The Coyotes turned a big rebound into a rush in the other direction, and the Caps were caught completely out of position. While the penalty killers nearly got back in time, they had no time at all to set up the penalty kill, and Arizona capitalized with a few quick passes.

“It’s just a bad read by us,” Backstrom said. “Too many guys attacking there instead of maybe playing it out and waiting for it to be five-on-five. We saw an opportunity. It’s easy to say that after, too. But, yeah, there’s absolutely an area that we can be better at.”

If the Caps want to find a way to be offensively dangerous and also defensively sound on the penalty kill, they need look no further than their opponent on Sunday. Not only do the Coyotes boast the top penalty kill in the league with a success rate of 91.8-percent, but they have also tallied an incredible nine shorthanded goals already this season. They have found a formula that works for them in both ends of the ice, something that clearly has proven elusive for the Caps.

It should be noted that Washington is also missing Jay Beagle, Tom Wilson and Brooks Orpik from the lineup, three players who were major contributors to the penalty kill last season. While Beagle has moved on to the Vancouver Canucks, they will be getting Wilson and Orpik back at some point. Their addition will provide a boast, but for now, the Caps need to find a solution and fast because the penalty kill is clearly costing them points in the standings.

“I think there's some ways of evaluating it that it's getting better, but it's not getting it done,” Reirden said after Sunday’s game. “You can continue to look at it different ways. We have some different personnel in that situation, a different way of going about things on the penalty kill, but right now it's costing us games. We can't expect to win when you're giving up penalty kill goals like we are at the rate we are right now.”

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Capitals vs. Blue Jackets: Time, TV Channel, Live Stream, how to watch

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NBC Sports Washington

Capitals vs. Blue Jackets: Time, TV Channel, Live Stream, how to watch

With three straight wins in their California trip, the Capitals are coming back to some much-needed home cooking. Washington will look to win their seventh game in a row.

The Blue Jackets are on a three-game losing skid and will look to get themselves out of the Metro Division basement with a much-needed win.

Can the Caps keep their winning streak going? Tune in to find out.

CAPITALS-BLUE JACKETS: HOW TO WATCH

What: Washington Capitals vs. Columbus Blue Jackets

Where: Capital One Arena, Washington, DC

When: Monday, December 9, 7:00 p.m. ET

TV Channel: Capitals-Blue Jackets game will be broadcast on NBC Sports. (NBC Sports channel finder)

Live Stream: You can watch the Capitals-Blues preseason on NBC Sports live stream page.

Radio: Caps Radio 24/7

CAPITALS-BLUES TV SCHEDULE:

6:00 PM: Caps Faceoff Live

6:30 PM: Caps Pregame Live

7:00 PM: Capitals vs. Blue Jackets (LIVE)

9:30 PM: Caps Postgame Live

10:00 PM: D.C. Sports Live

10:30 PM: Caps Overtime Live

CAPITALS-BLUE JACKETS INJURY REPORT:

Capitals: C Nicklas Backstrom, upper-body injury, day-to-day

Blue Jackets: RW Brandon Dubinsky, wrist, long-term injured reserve

D Markus Nutivaara, upper-body injury, injured reserve

D Zach Werenski, upper-body injury, injured reserve

CAPITALS AT BLUE JACKETS PLAYERS TO WATCH:

Jonas Siegenthaler, D, Capitals (1-4-5)

While all the attention paid to the Caps defense is on John Carlson, Siegenthaler is quietly putting together a stout campaign. As part of the penalty-killing unit and on the third pairing with Radko Gudas, Siegenthaler could have a busy night ahead of him.

Seth Jones, D, Blue Jackets (4-12-16)

The son of former-NBA player Popeye Jones, Seth is making noise around the NHL for his steady play on the defensive end with his playmaking abilities on offense. He'll be quarterbacking the Columbus powerplay.

Pierre-Luc Dubois, F, Blue Jackets (10-8-18)

Chosen third overall in the 2016 entry draft, Dubois currently leads Columbus in points this season. He's been shut down for the last five games, recording only one assist, so he'll be looking to get his scoring touch back.

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A Vrana steal, a Kuznetsov surprise and more shenanigans between the Caps and Ducks

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USA TODAY Sports

A Vrana steal, a Kuznetsov surprise and more shenanigans between the Caps and Ducks

For the first time in franchise history, the Capitals have swept all three California teams on the road. The final win came on Friday in a 3-2 narrow defeat of the Anaheim Ducks. The game was full of shenanigans, some of which were cheeky and fun, but others were cruel and tragic.

Check out the game recap here.

Observations from the win

Just let them fight

We all remember what happened the last time these two teams played between Garnet Hathaway and Erik Gudbranson. It was no surprise to see those two lock horns in the second period, but the moment Gudbranson dropped his gloves, the refs were pulling the two apart preventing the fight.

The game devolved from there. In total, there was 66 PIM distributed in this game and I can't help but think most of it could have been avoided had the refs just let Hathaway and Gudbranson fight it out initially.

Why were they so quick to step in? I'm guessing that was the line in the sand drawn by the refs in an attempt by to keep control of the game and both players were told this is what would happen if they tried to fight. Rather than calm the game down, however, that seemed to make things worse.

Hathway and Gudbrandson ended up fighting in the third period anyway so what was the point of stopping them?

That sure sounds like they just needed to get that initial fight out of the way. That would have been better for both teams. Gudbranson's took an extra two minutes on the original fight attempt and the Caps scored on the resulting power play. Washington, meanwhile, sure seemed to get distracted by all the fisticuffs and scrums as the game went along, quickly losing control of a game it led 2-0.

Offside reviews stink and the NHL should get rid of them

Anaheim had a goal disallowed after a coach's challenge showed that Cam Fowler lifted up his back toe just before the puck crossed over the blue line. Once again, the game was slowed down so the refs could review a play and break down the video pixel by pixel to see if a player was just a hair offside. It saved the Caps a goal, but it was another example of the ridiculous standard linesmen now must stick to when judging if a play was offside or not.

The Ducks did not gain an advantage by the fact that Fowler's toe barely came off the ice right before the puck crossed. That's not the spirit in which the rule was intended.

Just please get rid of the offside review.

Context

The Caps swept a four-game road trip for just the second time in franchise history and they did it without Nicklas Backstrom and with Alex Ovechkin scoring in only one of those four games. They could actually be even better than what we saw  Friday.

Turning point

Anaheim tied the game at 2 just 45 seconds into the third period. They had complete control of the game. They were getting prolonged offensive opportunities in the Caps' zone and Washington's offensive structure was non-existent. They were skating the puck in, shooting and that was about the extent of the Caps' offense at that point.

Everything changed with one bad turnover.

Play of the game

Ovechkin is the team's most dangerous weapon on the power play. Getting the puck to him is priority one. Having said that, the Caps have a lot of weapons on the power play and they don't always utilize them. 

Washington's power play system is run on the half-wall. From there the puck is distributed, but rarely do they ever shoot from that position. They should because it would force defenses to account for it, but they don't and so you can understand why this shot from Evgeny Kuznetsov from the half-wall seemed to catch goalie Ryan Miller by complete surprise.

Stat of the game

The win completes a four-game sweep of the road trip. Does it seem like the Caps are really good on the road this season? That's because they are.

Quote of the game


Fan predictions

This is impressive. You nailed it and you got pretty specific too. There were only three misconducts, but still I'm very impressed.

A bit off on the score, but you got to see a Caps win.

Ha.

There was plenty of this. A total of 66 PIM were issued in this game.

Well, it was nuts but it didn't get that nuts.

Just about everything that could happen to Radko Gudas did in this game...but he still didn't score.

I did, but barely. I am going to guess we lost a few people along the way.