Washington may not need to look any further than its scuffling special teams for the reason. The Capitals’ penalty kill has allowed a league-worst 15 power-play goals, and seven of those came in those five home games. The Capitals’ power play hasn’t scored a five-on-four goal since a game against New Jersey on Oct. 13, the fifth game of the season. At home, that unit is last in the league, scoring on just 5.3 percent of its opportunities.
Despite that, Washington has an opportunity to string together its first three-game win streak of the season Monday night, when it hosts the Arizona Coyotes, owners of a miserable 2-12-0 record.
“We probably have lost a point or two because we weren’t able to get a kill,” Trotz said. “And we probably maybe have lost a point if we get an extra goal from the power play. The power play at home, I think it’s 31st in the league. With that group of guys, we’ve got to produce there. They will, and I don’t have any worries about that. But it would make things easier.”
Though the results for both special teams units at Boston on Saturday night were poor, the performance was encouraging. Washington’s power play had just two opportunities, and on its second one, the top unit was on the ice for the entire two-minute infraction, getting good zone time and scoring chances. The Capitals had four shots on goal during its two man-advantage opportunities.
“Every time I get to shoot, I shoot,” forward T.J. Oshie said. “That’s kind of my role on the power play: I’m a shooter in the middle. Every time I get the puck when I’m in a position to shoot, there’s no question I’m shooting the puck. We’ll keep working. It’s a long season, and I’m not too worried about it.”
Though the Capitals allowed the Bruins a power-play goal, there were less than three minutes left in the game at that point and Washington was nursing a two-goal cushion. The team killed off a high-sticking double minor at a more crucial point earlier in the period. The Capitals’ shorthanded unit also has undergone considerable turnover, is weathering an injury to defenseman Matt Niskanen and is incorporating some new forwards.
“It’s an adjustment,” defenseman Brooks Orpik said. “I think, if you look at the last two or three years, I think we’ve started off pretty slow. It’s just trying to identify areas where we can get a little better. I think every year when you have newer guys, there’s some hesitation in the game. You try not to make mistakes, and usually when that’s your approach, you wind up making mistakes. I think guys are getting familiar with each other. We gave one up last game, but the timing of the kills that we did have in the third period was huge for us.”
Said Trotz: “The penalty kill has had big moments. It’s like a goaltender, you know? Do you make that big save when you need to? They have for the most part. … Special teams, I’m confident they’re coming around. They always have. The track record for the power play has been consistent for a number of years, even before I got here. And the PK continues to get better and evolve.”
The Capitals still have four players out with injuries, but at least two seem to be nearing a return. Forward Brett Connolly, who has missed the past four games with a concussion, skated before practice Monday morning. Forward Tyler Graovac, who has missed seven games with an undisclosed “upper-body” injury, was on the ice with the team during the morning skate.
“They’re getting closer,” Trotz said. “I don’t know yet. We’ll just see where [Graovac] is. Obviously, he had a little bit of contact and some good conditioning. Is he getting closer? Yes. No time frame.”
Forward Andre Burakovsky remains out for at least six more weeks after surgery on his left thumb.
Braden Holtby will be in net Monday night against the Coyotes, with Philipp Grubauer expected to start Tuesday at Buffalo. Trotz said he considered flipping the two, but he wants “to establish some traction at home” while also giving the Coyotes some credit.
“I think [Arizona] is a very dangerous team,” Trotz said. “In some ways, it’s a little bit of a trap game because you look at the record and go, ‘That’s not a very good record.’ … This team is very dangerous, and I think they’re starting to get some confidence. Those two things come together, and you’ve got to make sure that you’re detailed and you’ve got to work.”
Here’s how the Capitals’ lineup is expected to look against the Coyotes on Monday:
Alex Ovechkin-Evgeny Kuznetsov-Devante Smith-Pelly
Jakub Vrana-Nicklas Backstrom-T.J. Oshie
Chandler Stephenson-Lars Eller-Tom Wilson
Liam O’Brien-Jay Beagle-Alex Chiasson
Scratched: Nathan Walker, Brett Connolly (“upper-body” injury)
Christian Djoos-John Carlson
Brooks Orpik-Madison Bowey
Dmitry Orlov-Taylor Chorney
Scratched: Aaron Ness
Braden Holtby (starter)