Capitals Are Concerned By an Excess of Penalties
Tuesday, February 3, 2009; Page E01
Washington Capitals Coach Bruce Boudreau sought out winger Alexander Semin between the second and third periods Saturday and admonished him within earshot of his teammates. Semin had been whistled for a hooking infraction in the second period, and the Detroit Red Wings' top-ranked power play scored on the ensuing advantage.
Boudreau had seen enough. So he called out Semin -- a repeat offender -- and, in a less direct manner, sent a message to his teammates.
"We've been harping on it and harping on it and harping on it, about taking fewer penalties," Boudreau said. "It's something we have to cut down, obviously."
The Capitals have won two straight and stretched their lead over the Carolina Hurricanes in the Southeast Division to 13 points despite being one of the NHL's most penalized teams. But as games tighten up down the stretch and Boudreau and his players prepare for what they hope to be a long run in the playoffs, one of their primary concerns will be cutting down on the amount of time spent in the penalty box. It's also not lost on Boudreau and his players that last season's playoff run ended on a tripping penalty in overtime of Game 7 in their first-round series against the Philadelphia Flyers.
"We're taking lazy penalties, holding and hooking and stuff like that," said defenseman Milan Jurcina, who has taken the second-most minor penalties on the Capitals. "Coach has been saying that we can't take the lazy penalties. We have to keep our sticks down and keep skating."
Through 51 games, the Capitals have been assessed 256 minor penalties, the sixth most in the league. And of the 245 times they've been short-handed, they've allowed 52 goals, the second most. Only Atlanta, the league's second-worst team, has allowed more, with 53.
While the team's struggling penalty kill has not bailed them out often enough -- the unit has yielded at least one power-play goal in each of the past 11 games -- the problem has as much to do with the sheer volume of penalties the Capitals are taking.
In the past 10 games, they've taken less than five penalties just once and have been assessed seven penalties three times. Boudreau considers three penalties per game to be the optimal number.
"When you have two, three penalties a game, you kill them off," said Boudreau, whose Capitals face the New Jersey Devils, winners of eight games in a row, tonight at Prudential Center. "When you have five, six, seven, it's tough."
Taking penalties also leads to disjointed game flow, disrupts line changes and often results in taking ice time away from the Capitals' most skilled players.
"We're a four-line team, and when you get that many penalties, it really screws up the chemistry of the lines," Boudreau said.
The reason for the flood of penalties, though, is harder to pinpoint than their negative effects. In recent seasons, the Capitals blamed their penalty problems on a lack of skill exacerbated by a lack of experience. Now, it's the result of skilled players taking shortcuts, veteran Sergei Fedorov said.