Even as the Washington Capitals try to shake free of a goal-scoring rut that's been especially glaring on the power play, they have been able to compensate for that deficiency thanks in part to one of the most potent penalty kills in the league.
The Capitals rank second in the NHL in penalty killing at 86.4 percent, trailing only the Pittsburgh Penguins (88.6). Last season, Washington was 25th in penalty killing at 78.8 percent.
The spike in that category underscores the team's commitment to what Coach Bruce Boudreau calls "courage plays." With the offense scoring at nowhere near the clip it was last season when the Capitals led the NHL with 313 goals, players are making a more concentrated effort to get in the way of shots, and that selfless play has made a significant difference on the penalty kill.
"I think sacrifice is one of the main things," said defenseman Karl Alzner, who played 3 minutes on the short-handed unit in Tuesday's 3-2 shootout loss to Montreal. "Going out there and trying to block every shot. Obviously you can't get them all, but doing your best to get in the way of all that."
Washington went 6 for 6 on the penalty kill against the Canadiens and has killed off 30 of its last 31 shorthanded situations, including 24 in a row. Montreal has the league's 12th-ranked power play, converting 18.5 percent.
The Capitals figure to have a more challenging go of it on the penalty kill against their next opponent on Friday, the Tampa Bay Lightning, which is ranked eighth in power play percentage (20.7). The Lightning are also in first place in the Southeast Division, five points in front of Washington.
"We believe in it," Coach Bruce Boudreau said of the penalty kill. "We've been getting good goaltending on it, and we've got at least eight players who can do it pretty well, eight forwards, and they understand the idea that they can't stay out for a minute. Sometimes you get caught out a couple times, but you get the puck 20 seconds and off, and we get quick changes so we have everybody fresh, and we changed the way we kill penalties from last year and the year before to the way we kill them now, and so far it's been successful."