Penalties have been a persistent problem for the Capitals throughout this season but even as the parade to the box continued over the past two weeks they found a way to minimize the damage through an improved penalty kill.
Saturday afternoon in their 5-1 win over the Devils, Washington’s penalty kill went 3 for 3 and contributed on the scoresheet as well when Eric Fehr recorded his first career short-handed goal. Through the last six games the unit is an impressive 21 for 23, a long way from a start of 18 for 26 in the first five games of the season.
“It took some time as well as [with] the rest of our play to come around,” said goaltender Braden Holtby, who has done his part over this six-game stretch. “Early on, though, it just seemed like everything was going wrong for us on the PK. We knew if we kept working hard that it would turn around and it has so far.”
According to Troy Brouwer, who is fourth among forwards with an average of 1:49 of short-handed time per game, the biggest adjustments have come from communication and making sure that each movement has a purpose.
“Guys are blocking shots and making a conscious effort to be in lanes and taking away passing lanes,” Brouwer said. “I think before we were just kind of mindless pressure, and we were getting exposed as a result. So now we’re slowing it down a little bit and making sure that we’re taking away lanes and being more conscious of where they are on the ice.”
So, what exactly did he mean by mindless pressure?
“Mindless pressure is just when you just push all out,” Brouwer explained. “There’s a loose puck, you go hard, you’re not worried about taking sticks away, you’re just focused mindlessly on the puck and trying to create pressure so the other team makes a bad play.”
In essence, the Capitals’ aggressiveness on the penalty kill has become more deliberate and they’re managing to have four players work as one within the penalty-killing unit.
Holtby said the biggest difference maker for him, isn’t that they’re taking away lanes but rather that the penalty killers have found ways to clear out bodies in front and that he knows exactly what the group’s priorities are in terms of removing threats.
“It’s more the net presence. They’re doing a great job of making sure they’re on the right side fronting guys in front,” Holtby said. “So I know we’re on the same page, I know where to look so there’s no confusion like there was in the first while.”