On at least two occasions during Thursday’s practice, T.J. Oshie skated laps around Kettler Capitals Iceplex as his teammates looked on.
It was a dose of public punishment, doled out by coach Barry Trotz, for Oshie’s trio of penalties in Wednesday’s 5-2 win over the Penguins.
The infractions were for slashing (two) and holding, and the total represented a season-high for the first-line right wing.
“Apparently you’re not supposed to take three,” Oshie cracked. “It's been a lot of stick penalties. For me, I was caught in a couple of bad positions, and on two of them I felt like they were going to get a quality chance, so I had to make a play on it.”
Explained Trotz: “It’s a reminder. Sometimes a visual is better than just talking about it. He hasn’t had a lot of penalties in a while but he stacked them up last night. …You’re going to get penalties in this game. I’m not going to skate every guy for every penalty. But when you get a couple or multiple ones, [you might] need a little reminder. It’s a visual for guys like okay, ‘Why is Osh skating?’ It’s a reminder without hurting anybody.”
In all, the Caps were whistled for seven minor penalties against the Penguins. It probably wouldn’t have been a topic of discussion on Thursday had the rash been an aberration. But it wasn't. It’s become a trend for a Caps’ team that is managing to win despite the growing problem thanks to the league’s third-ranked penalty kill as well as goaltender Braden Holtby’s stellar play as of late.
During the Caps’ seven game winning streak, in fact, they’ve taken more minor penalties than their opponent in each of those contests. They’ve also taken more minors (41, including a couple of bench minors) than any other team during that time frame.
That's probably not sustainable—and Trotz and his players know it.
“[Trotz] can handle the fighting majors and the sticking-up-for-teammates penalties,” winger Brett Connolly said. “It’s the hooking and holding and the penalties when you’re not moving your feet. The penalties in the offensive zone.”
In addition to making players do laps, Trotz has also talked to his team about staying composed when dealing with referees, whether or not they feel the call is justified. Why? Refs are humans, too, and being disrespectful rarely helps matters.
“Last week it was me,” Justin Williams said, referring to taking laps. “I took quite a few [penalties], so I had to do a little bit of skating. T.J. did a little bit of skating today. We have to be accountable for what we do out there, regardless of whether we agree with the calls. I know our bench has gotten a lot better and a lot more calm in the last couple of weeks.”
Williams, who is tied with Alex Ovechkin for the most minors on the Caps (16), added: “Sometimes you’re just better off just going to the box. They’re not going to rescind your penalty. If you’re calm and you’re courteous and respectful of the officials, maybe you’ll get a break later in the game or maybe they might not call a coincidental minor. We’ll feel we’re a much better team 5-on-5,” anyway.
Connolly concurred with Williams’ assessment.
“Those refs take a lot of grief,” he said. “If you’re yelling at them all game, they are going to remember that in the third period. And you might not get a call late in the game when you really need it. Ovi and [Nicklas Backstrom] and our leaders, they can talk to the refs. It’s not really going to change anything if we’re yelling at the refs. They make the call, just go to the box.”
It may not be known for weeks whether skating laps and/or being calmer in their dealings with officials makes a difference for the Caps. But as other parts of the team’s game are starting to come together, players know it’s time to start being more disciplined, too.
“He’s just trying to prove a point,” Connolly said. “We know we can’t be taking penalties down the stretch and into the playoffs. Obviously our penalty kill has been really good, but we want to take some minutes off them. Those are hard minutes for those guys.”
“That,” Trotz added, “is a part of a game where we can still learn and still work on.”