“But never once has he come to me and said, ‘You’ve got to fix this, or you’ve got to get this right,’” Lambert said of Trotz. “He knows I’m doing everything I can to do it, and he allows you to do that. I think that’s a pretty terrific quality in a head coach.”
Trotz also knows how much pride Lambert claims from coaching the penalty killers, or at least from seeing them succeed. Going 1 for 4 against Toronto and Vancouver? Not succeeding. But dropping their shots-against-per-60 from last season by more than 13, according to war-on-ice? As today’s print story explored, definitely promising.
“I think everything has been improved,” forward Jay Beagle said. “We had a tough start, and that’s why our percentage isn’t where we want it to be, but we’re going to keep working to get our percentage up. There’s been a lot of improvements from the beginning of this year, where they’d score on us in the last five, 10 seconds of a power play, that last dying seconds of a power play, we just couldn’t finish the job, and our details maybe, we don’t know if it was from some details, or either way it just got way better from that. It took everything from what he’s brought, structure, stability to the PK, where we know what he expects from us, and that helps a lot.”
This theme kept emerging when discussing the penalty kill’s progress with several Capitals, and even Lambert, the assistant charged with handling them. (Todd Reirden and Blaine Forsythe split power play duties, but when a Washington skater heads to the box, it’s Lambert’s show.) Running through the box scores, the Capitals allowed six goals in the final 15 seconds of the opposition’s power play before December began, including their first two power play goals allowed this season (two seconds vs. San Jose and 12 seconds against Florida), and two more with less than 10 seconds left during a Nov. 26 overtime loss to the Islanders.
“I think the PK, early in the year, we had a couple games where they piled up a couple multiple-goal games against us, and it’s hard to recover,” Trotz said. “But he’s done a really good job. I think our penalty kill has killed off probably 98 percent of most of the kills. They’re all coming in that last 20 seconds, where you have those types of years.”
The Capitals have gotten better at this – only the Islanders’ overtime winner on Dec. 29, thanks to Evgeny Kuznetsov’s double-minor high-stick, and a second-period goal against Colorado with Joel Ward shelved for tripping have even sniffed the dying seconds of the penalty kill – and Trotz is somewhat close with his estimate. Including the 144 penalties successfully snuffed, the Capitals have withstood 91.6 percent of available kill time without allowing a goal.
Last season, the Capitals silenced penalties at a 82.0 percent rate, good enough for 16th in the league, but were buttressed by the third-best shorthanded save percentage (.899). This season, with a more modest .870 save percentage, they have remained in the middle of the pack (20th at 80.0 percent) but suppress more shots and haven’t allowed more than one power play goal in any game since the calendar turned.
“He’s done a really good job of showing that two or three feet does make a difference, or your stick position inside or out does make a difference,” Trotz said. “I think we’ve got some pretty good pairs. We’ve decided to go with a little more of almost line combinations. They read off each other, using each other’s strengths and identifying that. I think Lane’s done a really good job of identifying that.”
Players, as they said in the print story, agreed.
“He’s very prepared, like the rest of our coaching staff,” goaltender Braden Holtby said. “He cares a lot about it. You can tell, he’s very animated and passionate about it, which keeps you awake and focused in meetings. He’s constantly thinking about what he can do better during the game, making adjustments. If we have a bad night, it keeps him up at night, thinking what he could’ve done different, and that’s very admirable to see, and it makes you want to perform for him.”