Alex Ovechkin scored, but had only one other shot in the game. (Fred Thornhill/Reuters)

Taking frequent, unnecessary penalties isn’t just a problem for the Capitals, it’s an epidemic.

They were called for eight minors in Thursday’s 3-2 loss to Toronto, the sixth time in seven games that the Capitals have been in the box for at least five minor penalties.

Sure, Washington only gave up one power play goal but the Maple Leafs’ power play was unorganized and made unforced errors. The larger damage was done by how the 12 minutes and 11 seconds of short-handed time – all occurring in the first 36 minutes of play – kept the Capitals from establishing themselves at even strength.

“You don’t get in a rhythm,” Coach Adam Oates said, “Guys don’t play and then when they come out there not as warm as they should be and it affects their flow and before you know it, it’s a choppy game and that stuff doesn’t really suit us.”

The prime example is Alex Ovechkin. When the Capitals take four penalties in the first 12 minutes of a game the way they did at Air Canada Centre, it’s all but impossible for Ovechkin to be truly involved in the game.  He skated just 2:35 in the first dozen minutes against the Leafs Thursday.

“First period, lots of penalties, I think eight or 10 minutes so I was not in the game a lot,” said Ovechkin, who recorded his second goal of the season on a power play in the second period. Aside from the tally, Ovechkin recorded just one other shot on goal in the contest and it didn’t come until 2:14 remained.

The abundance of penalties has been one consistent, albeit undesirable, part of Washington’s game since the season opener and it’s clear players are getting fed up with the problem. It’s up to them to find a way to fix the problem, though.

“You get discipline, you need to focus better, keep your stick down,” Mike Ribeiro said. “And a lot of times if you get penalties it’s because you’re not in your position you’re supposed to be. And if we start to be in position and work hard through position, then you should not be behind the puck, chasing the puck. There’s a lot of details.”

Said Joel Ward: “Stay out of the box? I really don’t know the answers, just to be more disciplined, just be careful, more detailed the way your positioning is. Sometimes just [stuff] happens.”