Discipline has been a hot topic around the Capitals lately. Bruce Boudreau has said on several occasions that his team needs to take fewer penalties; the team was whistled for nine two-minute infractions in Sunday's win over the Penguins; and nearly forty percent of Japers' Rink readers identified 'discipline' as the single biggest hurdle on the road to a Caps Stanley Cup.
The topic of discipline is likely to be at the forefront of tonight's game as well. The Flyers have taken more minor penalties than anyone in the league other than Anaheim and have the NHL's fourth-best powerplay. On the other side, the Capitals have taken the fifth most minor penalties and are third in the league in powerplay conversions, including 13-for-36 (36.1%) in their last eleven games.
Given the recent attention given the topic, and the importance it's likely to play tonight, we thought today would be a good day to take a deeper look at the Capitals' penalty numbers. To start, here's a breakdown of the types of penalties the Capitals have taken this year by basic type and how they compare to the rest of the league:
[Ed. note: Rank is from most to least. In the table, HHT is "Holds, Hooks, Trips", a statistics originally published by STATS Inc as a measure of defensive play under the logic that these three infractions generally occur when a player is beaten and has to resort to a penalty to stop the opposition. Restraining Fouls are the infractions in HHT, plus holding the stick and interference, both goaltender and otherwise.]
Bruce Boudreau has said several times that he thinks three penalties per game is the optimal number; right now the Capitals are taking 3.12 penalties per game in restraining fouls alone. More importantly, the Capitals have taken more HHT penalties and more restraining foul penalties than any other team in NHL. How did a team that, as Bald Pollack noted in a recent Fan Post, took the seventh fewest minors in the NHL last season wind up with a discipline problem? Which Capitals players are the primary culprits? First let's take a look at which players are taking what penalties:
[Ed note: These tables are best viewed in the 'wide' page-viewing format. It can be changed by clicking 'wide' on the bar on the left hand side of the screen. Alternatively, click on the title or here for the two-column version of the post.]
Interesting enough, but it doesn't exactly hit on the problem we're trying to get at here. After all, Matt Bradley has taken just two minor penalties in the fifty-nine games he's played this season, but is very high on this list because of his six fights. With that in mind, let's see how the boys stack up in terms of HHT and restraining foul penalties per sixty minutes of ice time.
The results of sorting the players by Holds, Hooks, Trips per sixty minutes aren't necessarily all that surprising but they do raise a number of interesting questions, including:
- Is it possible to overrate Tom Poti's contribution to the Capitals lineup? The guy takes fewer restraining penalties than any other defenseman on the team, even though he plays against the best competition.
- Michael Nylander takes the fourth most HHT penalties per sixty of forwards on the team. Does this impact the decision about whether or not to buy him out in the offseason?
- There are a number of players on this list - Brooks Laich, Karl Alzner, Tomas Fleischmann (for most of the season) - who take very few restraining fouls but also have bad plus-minus ratings on the season. Is it possible these guys are taking too few penalties?
- Matt Bradley has exactly zero restraining penalties in almost eleven hours of on ice time. Anyone else want to see what he can do against better opponents?
- Sergei Fedorov is awfully high on this list for a guy who's supposed to be the team's best defensive forward. But then again, how many of his penalties came in game where he was playing on the blue line, away from his natural center position?
- Milan Jurcina takes a lot of restraining penalties and a lot of HHT penalties even though he plays against fairly weak competition. Given that he has almost no offensive upside, should the Capitals be looking for another defenseman as the trade deadline approaches?
But those questions are all just anecdotal asides compared to the issue of the team simply taking far too many avoidable penalties. So what's the solution? Should players who take unnecessary penalties see their ice time reduced or even spend time in the press box? Does the team need someone to step up in the locker room and call out his teammates? Or should the team keep on doing what it's doing and hope the problem will fix itself?