TORONTO—Over the first month of the season, the Capitals ranked among the NHL's most disciplined teams, particularly when it came to avoiding minor penalties.
The last eight games? Not so much.
Including the loss at Carolina, in fact, the Capitals have been called for 39 minors, or an average of almost five per game. That's up nearly two per game from the first 13 contests.
It’s a trend Coach Barry Trotz says he plans on addressing with the repeat offenders this week.
The most recent rash of minors occurred in Washington’s 4-2 loss to the Maple Leafs on Saturday night. The five infractions weren’t the only reason for the unsightly loss, but they sure didn’t help a team playing for the second consecutive night and the third time in four days.
“They came out hard, we turned too many pucks over and we had to kill a lot of penalties,” Trotz said. “That’s not great for getting guys into the game. I mean, you have your most skilled players sitting on the bench for long periods. It’s not good enough.”
Goalie Braden Holtby was a bit more blunt.
“It just shows you we’re not moving our feet [and] we’re not mentally prepared, especially against a team like that,” he said. “The coaches emphasized that one of their real strengths is their power play, and we let them dictate the game with that. It was a game where it ended up 4-2, and we didn’t deserve to be anywhere close to that.”
Indeed, a steady procession to the box not only serves to disrupt a game’s flow, it keeps high skill players such as Alex Ovechkin, Andre Burakovsky and Evgeny Kuznetsov nailed to the bench. Penalty kill minutes are also very hard minutes for the players assigned to the shorthanded unit.
What’s most troubling to Trotz, however, is the fact that the majority of the penalties since the Carolina game have been of the obstruction variety (hooking, holding, holding the stick, interference and tripping).
Trotz also does not like the fact that it’s often been the same players headed off the ice.
“A lot of them are some of the stick penalties—not moving our feet,” Trotz said. “But we have a lot of the same people taking them. So I’m going to address that this week, for sure.”
The top three in minors per 60 minutes played are Brett Connolly (2.57), Lars Eller (1.93) and Justin Williams (1.44). The leaders in minor penalties taken overall are Eller (9) and Williams (8). Tied with six apiece are Nicklas Backstrom, Dmitry Orlov, Connolly and Ovechkin.
Once a week, Trotz evaluates each penalty with an assistant coach and determines whether he needs to talk things over with the offending player. From the sounds of it, there could be a few of those meetings in the coming days.
MORE CAPITALS: NISKANEN TO BE REEVALUATED AFTER LEAVING GAME WITH INJURY