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Capitals’ penalty kill has allowed power-play goal in four of first five games

Rangers left wing Jimmy Vesey advances the puck as Capitals center Jay Beagle chases. (Brad Mills/USA TODAY Sports)

With Rick Nash hovering in the slot, Derek Stepan flicked a puck toward him and Nash wisely directed it toward Jimmy Vesey on the right. With goaltender Braden Holtby at the top edge of his crease and unable to slide over in time, Vesey had a shot at an open net, and he delivered, tying the game for the New York Rangers in what was ultimately a 4-2 win for them over the Washington Capitals.

For Washington, that goal was its fourth power-play goal allowed in 14 times shorthanded across five games this season. The sample size is small, but to this point, the Capitals have allowed as many shorthanded goals as they have playing five-on-five, potentially concerning for a team that was ranked second in the league last year with an 85.2 penalty-kill percentage. In this young season, the Capitals are 27th with a 71.4 percentage.

“Well, we have got some new people there, but we also have a lot of the same people, so, you know, it’s just a mentality,” Coach Barry Trotz said. “Once you start digging yourself a little bit of a hole, you get worried about it. We just need a little confidence going forward. It’s not that we don’t have any, but we just got to get everybody on the same page, and we’re just not quite there yet, but we will be.”

The Capitals lost two strong penalty killers in the offseason with the free-agent departures of forwards Mike Richards and Jason Chimera, but they also returned all of the defensemen that logged shorthanded minutes last season as well as the top penalty-killing forward pair of Jay Beagle and Daniel Winnik. The only new face on the unit is Lars Eller, who was on the ice for the Vesey goal on Saturday night. The Rangers had just four shots on goal in three power-play opportunities, so it’s not as if Washington was allowing endless scoring chances.

“We just have to see what other teams are doing and continue to get in lanes and block shots,” defenseman Karl Alzner said. “When we make our switches and stuff like that, it seems like we’re, at times, a little bit — we’re just a little bit slow to do it. We want to pressure, but we’ve got to pressure smart, and if we’re not working exactly at the same time, it happens to any penalty kill. I don’t think it’s as bad as it looks right now on paper, but we’d like to be better.”

Alzner’s sentiment that the penalty kill isn’t “as bad as it looks” has merit, as the first two power-play goals the Capitals allowed were deflections. Pittsburgh’s Patric Hornqvist tipped in a Kris Letang point shot with his stick, and the goal was reviewed as being a possible high stick before being ruled as good. Against the New York Islanders, a Ryan Strome goal went off Capitals defenseman Brooks Orpik’s skate.

But the last two power-play goals allowed in games against the Florida Panthers and the Rangers, it hasn’t been lucky bounces that have plagued Washington, but calculated plays. For the Capitals, it’s still early in the season, leaving plenty of time to work on it.

“A couple unlucky ones,” Beagle said. “Same sort of system as last year, so I think it’s just little things here and there that we need to get better on and keep continue to work on. We’ve had some good things as well, but as a PKer and the other guys that PK, we’re obviously not happy. That’s not good enough, and so, we’ve got to be better.”