The National Hockey League's campaign against restraining fouls has reached such a high level of enforcement that Washington Coach Bryan Murray plans to utilize additional personnel in power-play and penalty-killing roles.
A year ago, the NHL averaged nine power plays a game. That figure has risen to 11.7 -- nearly a full period -- and it means that five more minutes of a normal game are played at unequal strength.
The Capitals, although matching that 11.7 figure, have been affected more than some other clubs. Washington's power plays have risen from 4.4 a game to 5.9, while the shorthanded situations have jumped from 4.1 to 5.8.
"So much of it has come down to special-teams play," Murray said. "You need separate power-play and penalty-killing units. When you double guys up, they sometimes suffer from too much ice time.
"I've thought about it and I'd like to get to the point where a guy like Lou Franceschetti can kill the odd penalty and I'd like to get Mike Ridley more involved in penalty killing, too. It's a little tentative now, because we've been giving up power-play goals, but we have to get more confidence and give more guys a chance in that area."
Murray, who has begun using Michal Pivonka on the power play, said, "We're going to have to throw the odd person out on the power play to give other guys a rest. One of the reasons Garry Galley has to dress more often is his ability to make a contribution on the power play."
Murray does not expect the league to back down, despite criticism from some general managers, and he says he prefers to have games called tightly, except for some reservations in the area of consistency.
"It looks like this policy will stand all year, because they're obviously hoping it will make the players ease off on some of the restraining fouls," he said. "As they continue to call it this way, I'd expect the power-play and penalty-killing situations to drop off maybe one turn a game on the average.
"I like the idea, but sometimes you're just not sure what they're going to call. There is still a lot of restraining going on without a penalty. I want more consistency in the calls, bearing down on guys involved in a scoring chance but not somebody taking a dive 30 feet behind the play, the way Dave Christian got nailed in Buffalo."
Over the last 10 games, 15 of the Capitals' 24 goals have come on power plays, while opponents have collected 14 of 30 with the extra man.
Friday in Buffalo the Capitals had 11 power-play chances, the Sabres seven. Each team converted two, one apiece with a two-man advantage.
"The way it's going, almost every day we have to set aside time for power-play work," Murray said. "And we talk a lot about penalty killing. You have to be aware of what you can do and the personnel available. You need variety. You can't have the same four defensemen and six forwards on the ice all the time."
Washington General Manager David Poile said there is no plan to change things when the board of governors meets in December, so unless players reduce the hooking and holding, the power play will continue to be all-powerful.
"The players, coaches and referees have to work this out together," Murray said. "The onus is not just on the referees."
Meanwhile, players assigned extra ice time by the development are not complaining. Washington's Kelly Miller, the team's best penalty killer and a power-play forward as well, said, "The more shifts I get, the more I like it. It puts me in the flow of the game. It's tougher to play less shifts, because you get cold sitting on the bench.
"I try to keep my shifts short. If you're out 30 or 40 seconds, then you have time to recover. It's when you take a minute or minute and a half shift that you lose it and it's tough to recover."
The Capitals practiced at the Naval Academy yesterday, then joined the brigade of midshipmen for lunch. . . The Boston Bruins carry a seven-game winning streak, longest in the NHL this season, into Capital Centre Wednesday night. . . Washington and Philadelphia are the only teams without a 20-point scorer.