One-timers: Caps can’t shake the penalty problem

February 22, 2013

(Toni L. Sandys/The Washington Post)

With 48 games in 99 days, there’s not a lot of time to digest what happened in any single contest. So as we churn through this compressed Capitals season, I’ll be rounding up my thoughts and analysis of each game here. If you missed last night, check out the game story from the Capitals’ 3-2 loss to the Devils and more on that puck-over-the-glass call.

>> Another day, another game where penalties are a problem for the Capitals. They were called for eight in all Thursday night, including seven minors, six of which occurred in the third period. That’s the most minor penalties Washington has taken in a period all season.

The third started with a boarding call on Nicklas Backstrom, but it was offset by Adam Larsson’s cross-check. After that, however, the Capitals took five consecutive trips to the box in 7 minutes and 56 seconds to give the Devils the opportunities they needed.

“You start the third period, you’ve got a lead, and you give them two 5-on-3s in one period, obviously that’s too much,” Coach Adam Oates said. “I thought maybe a couple of calls are tough calls. I didn’t think [a tripping penalty on Alex Ovechkin] was a call. But bottom line is, that’s too many. It’s been too many times.”

Oates wasn’t the only one who disagreed with some of the officials’ decisions. Every player who spoke with reporters either questioned the validity of some of the calls or declined to speak their mind for fear of incurring a fine from the league.

“I’m not discussing it right now. I don’t feel like getting fined tonight,” said Troy Brouwer, who received a 10-minute misconduct at the end of the game for letting the officials know what he thought of their calls.

Karl Alzner played 4:23 shorthanded in the third period and helped the Capitals kill off the first wave of penalties both 5-on-3 and regular 5-on-4 disadvantages, expressed a similar sentiment.

“I’d have to watch them again. I don’t know for sure,” Alzner said. “I can’t really explain it without getting in trouble too much. It just happened.”

For as frustrated as the Capitals were about the officiating, at some point they can’t keep putting themselves in the position to receive those calls.

“How many times are we going to have this conversation? It’s on us,” Oates said. “We talked about it at the end of the second period. They were yelling at the end of one of the calls we got in the second period. We talked about being disciplined and playing, watching our sticks. [There were] one of them or two that you might question, but we still had too many penalties.

>> The penalty kill was up to the task last night until it was simply overtaxed. The unit thwarted the first three of the five consecutive minor penalties in the third period, including New Jersey’s first 5-on-3 advantage that lasted 1:39. The group of Alzner, John Carlson and Jay Beagle, who switched out for Backstrom in the midst of the kill blocked three shots and didn’t allow a shot on goal.

But for as encouraging as a strong penalty kill can be, such long short-handed stretches wear down a group mentally just as much as physically.

“It’s definitely tough. There wasn’t a whole lot of movement, so in terms of my breath and energy I wasn’t too-too bad,” Alzner said. “But mentally when you have to keep going back out there and kind of disrupt the flow of the game like that, that part’s hard.”

Jay Beagle is always enthusiastic about killing penalties but admitted that the compounding minors take their toll on the players thwarting them and also the players who are stuck on the bench because they don’t play shorthanded.

“It definitely does, especially in the third period when it’s a tight game,” Beagle said. “So some guys are sitting on the bench for eight minutes not playing and all of the sudden they have to go out and try and score a goal. So it definitely kills momentum and it’s hard to do.”

>> Alex Ovechkin played just 6:09 in the third thanks to the large number of penalties the Capitals had to fend off, but in the first two periods he was a dynamic presence creating chances and drawing penalties.

The first flash from Ovechkin came in the final minute of the first period when he raced down the ice one-on-one against Devils captain Bryce Salvador before being hauled down by Andy Greene. Ovechkin got a shot off while on one knee that Martin Brodeur turned aside with his blocker, but he managed to draw a tripping call on Greene.

Early in the second, Ovechkin swooped wide right for a chance around the net, energy that relayed into an strong shift from the second line. Less than eight minutes into the middle stanza, Ovechkin drew a second penalty when Anton Volchenkov had to trip him on a developing odd-man rush. Mathieu Perreault scored on the ensuing power play to give the Capitals a 1-0 lead.

“We need him to do that every single game. We need that,” Alzner said. “Him coming down the wall with speed, shooting the puck from the side – you know, that’s his bread and butter. So whenever he’s doing that it’s great for him, it gets him in the game that much more and it gets us fired up to see that. Because it’s usually pretty nice what he does with the puck. So that’s the way it’s gotta be every night if he can. It’s tough though.”

For all the chances Ovechkin created for himself and his teammates, though, he didn’t manage to put the puck in the net.

“He missed three breakaways. So he’s doing some good things. Obviously we want him to score,” Oates said. “I know he wants to score. And those are Grade-A opportunities. I was fine with him.”

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Katie Carrera | February 22, 2013