Capitals Undone Again by Porous Penalty Kill

As he positioned himself behind the podium after his team's 4-3 loss to the Vancouver Canucks on Tuesday, Washington Capitals coach Barry Trotz was asked to provide a diagnosis of his team's ailing penalty kill. 

"For whatever it's worth, I think special teams are ebb and flow," he said. "Right now, it's not flowing well for us on the PK." 

In five games between Nov. 11-22, Washington thwarted all 14 shorthanded situations it faced. In the four since, the Capitals have allowed eight power-play goals on 13 opposing power-play chances, a paltry 38.5 percentage. Within this most recent span, no other NHL team has allowed more than four. 

The Canucks' power play, which scored three times in four chances Tuesday after netting the same amount in their previous 27 opportunities, almost toyed with the Capitals. Daniel Sedin, aided by twin brother Henrik, scored two impressive power-play goals, including the game-winner that tied a Vancouver franchise record.

Including the three power-play goals they allowed against the Toronto Maple Leafs on Saturday, the Capitals have now allowed at least three in consecutive games for the first time since March 22-23, 2006.

"Not one thing in particular that’s happening," defenseman Matt Niskanen said. "We’re giving up goals on the penalty kill in different ways. I don't know if we’re caught in between pressuring or getting out of our structure. I don't know what’s happening right now. We tried to address a few things after the Toronto game. I think there were different types of stuff. It's tough though. It’s tough to win a hockey game when you give up three."

Against the Maple Leafs, opposing skaters slipped into high-traffic areas without consequence, allowing for uncontested deflections. The Canucks feasted on that same suspect interior defense

"You look at the goals, they’re second-chance goals where pucks are bouncing, couldn’t get a handle on it, they’re able to whack it in," Trotz said. 

Daniel Sedin's game-winning blast, Trotz admitted, few goaltenders could stop. 

“It’s a pretty meat-and-potatoes type thing,” goaltender Braden Holtby said. “A lot of it has to do with tying up sticks in front, my rebound control, my ability to see through traffic. Just those little things are starting to drift away a bit, and we’ve got to find a way to grab ahold of them and make sure we’re making it hard on other teams.”

The Capitals contend that the basic structure of their aggressive penalty-killing process is unchanged from the streak of success that they enjoyed prior to this recent hiccup. Yet that same structure is currently unsound and costing them victories. 

"We get scored on too much, plain and simple," defenseman John Carlson said. "We're not getting a lot of bang-bang goals backdoor when they sort of pick us apart, so to speak. When you don't do the job, it doesn't matter if that's the only shot they get in two minutes and they score on it. It's one of those things right now where we need to find some confidence in it.

“At any given time, we’ve just got to be more ready. We prepare really well. We don’t have an issue of that. It’s definitely a little bit of communication maybe, a little bit of teamwork to maybe squash some plays, but the bottom line is we played a good game and we didn’t give ourselves a chance to win because of it. Something needs to change.” 

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