In addressing his team’s lack of power-play opportunities to start the season, Capitals Coach Barry Trotz pointed to a personal pet peeve, something he felt may explain why Washington’s been penalized so much while its opponents have not.
“I despise diving, and our guys know it, and we don’t try to go down easy, and we’re not getting any penalties,” Trotz said. “We’ve got to keep our legs moving, which will help. We’re getting a little bit frustrated because some of the soccer mentality’s back in our league a little bit. Go down easy. All the soccer fans will be happy about that one. It’s a sell. And some guys sell it better.”
The Capitals are tied for 26th in the league in power-play opportunities with 37, limiting chances for a unit that’s been among the league’s best the past five years. Washington hasn’t scored on its man advantage in the past four games, in part because its gotten just 10 opportunities in that span and three in the past two games.
With four of Washington’s players injured and several new and inexperienced faces in the lineup, the team needs its potent power play now more than ever. While Trotz attributes some of that to increased embellishment in the league that Washington has refused to embrace, the Capitals have also struggled to draw penalties because they haven’t spent enough time in their offensive zone.
“Obviously playing defense is a lot more taxing than playing offense, when you have the puck,” defenseman Brooks Orpik said. “I’d say a majority of the penalties that teams do take are when you’re tired, so it’s usually reaching penalties or holding penalties.”
Said Trotz: “I think we’ve been really pretty good the last couple years at extending shifts and drawing those, I would say, tired penalties on teams. We haven’t been able to do that as much. That’s partly on us. That’s partly on our game. Coming out of our own zone has been a little bit more difficult, and that’s just the way it is. We’ve got some new people there, got some new people at forward.”
Two Capitals have been fined $2,000 for diving/embellishment in the past two years: Tom Wilson in 2015 and Evgeny Kuznetsov last season. Orpik said he wishes the league was even stricter; players only get fined on their second citation.
“I think it’s tough for the referees,” Orpik said. “It’s tough enough for them just to make the right calls, let alone trying to decipher whether or not guys are diving or embellishing. They’ve got to do that after the game, like on video.”
Said Wilson: “When you’re skating and you’re tripped or you’re hooked, it’ll throw you off your stride. You’re on edges and you go down, that’s a penalty. When you see guys anticipating stuff and trying to draw penalties, that’s when you kind of get into that gray area and get into trouble of a little bit of embellishment. …
“I think one of the great things about hockey is you get slashed in the face, you’re bleeding and you get up and skate off. Other sports, you’re bleeding, you get fouled, you lay on the ground and you roll around, you sell the call. That’s not part of hockey.”
The NHL has placed a greater emphasis on slashing this season with stricter standards, and Wilson has noticed “guys are shaking their hands” to draw a call, he said. Wilson drew 33 minor penalties last season, ranked ninth in the league last season, and the secret was often moving his feet in the offensive zone, exhausting opposing players who took a penalty because they got behind in the play.
But while Washington has had among the fewest power plays in the league, it’s been shorthanded 51 times, the fourth-most in the NHL. That highlights a bigger issue for the Capitals, who have allowed at least 36 shots in seven of their 12 games. This season, they’re often the tired team, spending too much time defending in their own zone.
“We’ve taken too many penalties because you get beat one-on-one or something and then you have to reach out and grab the guy,” Wilson said. “We need to create more of that. We need to get the puck in the offensive zone and use our bodies to kind of draw penalties. …
“You get the puck down low and those defensemen have no choice but to kind of grab you as you’re going to the net. That draws a penalty. I think we can do a little bit more of that. … We’ve had one of the best power plays in the league for the past three or four years, so anytime we can get a chance to go out there and have offensive zone time, it’s good for our game for sure.”
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