It’s hard to punch holes in a team that has won five straight and 12 of its last 14, but if there is one cause for concern in recent days for the Capitals it is the penalty kill.
Washington gave up three power play goals to the Carolina Hurricanes on Friday and another two to the Buffalo Sabres on Saturday. In fact, Buffalo’s power play actually scored three times, but the first penalty to Michal Kempny on Saturday expired just as the goal was scored, literally exactly two minutes after the penalty was called. Officially, it was not considered a power play goal, but with the door just opening for Kempny to return, the Caps were still obviously shorthanded when the goal was scored.
Washington struggled on the penalty kill at the start of the season, but things improved dramatically when Tom Wilson returned from suspension. From Nov. 13 – when Wilson made his season debut – to Dec. 14, the penalty kill managed to kill off 85.-4 percent of the power plays it faced. The last two nights, however, the PK managed only 44.4-percent and that’s not counting the Sabres’ third goal that came as the penalty expired.
“We’ve got to continue to get better there,” Reirden said. “We had a stretch where we were doing a better job and then now it's finding its way, multiple ways, different ways into our net. That's not a winning recipe for success.”
So concerned about the penalty kill was Reirden after Friday’s game that he broke up the team’s red-hot fourth line in an attempt to add in another penalty killer. Reirden said before the game that the team’s metrics indicate Chandler Stephenson – who was a healthy scratch on Friday – is one of their better penalty killers. In order to get him back into the lineup, Reirden scratched Dmitrij Jaskin despite the incredible stretch he, Nic Dowd and Travis Boyd have enjoyed in recent days.
Washington may have gotten the win on Saturday, but in terms of improving the penalty kill, the move did not work.
The numbers from Saturday may be bad, but if you are looking for a silver lining, it is the fact that none of Buffalo’s three goals seem to have come as a result of a defensive breakdown. Jack Eichel netted the kinda-sorta power play goal when goalie Pheonix Copley gave up a rebound right to him on the far-side. Eichel then made a great individual effort to score the second goal, victimizing Dmitry Orlov with some fancy stick work and tucking the puck into the net just over the shoulder of Copley. Rasmus Dahlin scored the third goal when a Jeff Skinner shot from the slot was blocked and came straight to the rookie defenseman.
“They weren't exactly tic-tac-toes,” Devante Smith-Pelly said. “It happens. We’ve just got to stay the course and continue to get better.”
Of those three goals, the only one that looked like a bad play was the third as two Caps collapsed on Skinner leaving Dahlin open, but the point remains that the penalty kill did not appear to be egregiously bad.
Regardless of whether the goals are the result of breakdowns or bad luck, however, the fact is that the penalty kill is charged with keeping the puck out of the net it is has not been able to do so of late.
The Caps are off on Sunday, but will have two days of practice before Wednesday’s game against the Pittsburgh Penguins, plenty of time to shore things up on a suddenly leaky PK.
Said Reirden, “It's an area that we've got to work on here while we've got some practice time this week before we play Pittsburgh.”
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