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Live by the Power Play, Die by the Power Play

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"You take [nine minor penalties] in a game, you're not going to win that game." - Bruce Boudreau, after Tuesday night's loss to the Flyers

Ah, lack of discipline. The Caps' Achilles heel from a year ago made its 2009-10 season debut on Tuesday night and the result was the team's first loss of the campaign. Boudreau's right: take nine minors and you're going to lose the game, as the Caps have all three times they've been whistled as frequently in a game during his tenure behind an NHL bench.

Discipline is critical to winning in the NHL - especially so for recent Caps teams that have struggled to kill penalties. How important? Take a look at the numbers since Boudreau took over for Glen Hanlon:

PP Opportunity ∆ W L O
+5 2 0 0
+4 0 0 1
+3 9 3 1
+2 5 7 2
+1 19 2 1
0 23 8 5
-1 15 9 2
-2 9 9 1
-3 6 4 0
-4 4 5 3
-5 2 1 0
-6 2 0 0

In summary, under Boudreau, when the Caps have had as many or more power play chances as their opponents in a game, they've gone 58-20-10 and just 38-28-6 when they've been asked to kill more penalties than the other team. When they find themselves in a two-opportunity or greater deficit, they're an even .500 (23 wins, 23 losses).

As for Boyd Gordon's magic number of four minor penalties committed in a game, the Caps are 57-19-10 since the coaching change when having to kill four or fewer penalties in a game.

And while opportunities tell some of the story, efficiency tells the rest. Here's what the numbers look like when considering power play goal differentials in a game under Boudreau:

PP Goals ∆ W L O
+3 5 0 0
+2 11 2 1
+1 28 4 1
0 35 20 9
-1 12 14 3
-2 4 6 2
-3 1 2 0

That's 44-6-2 when the Caps' power play outscores the opponent's extra man unit.

To be sure, there's some auto-correlation going on - the less-skilled, slower teams are more likely to have to take penalties against the Caps and are likely to be teams that the Caps would usually beat anyway, and the more-skilled, faster teams are more likely to force the Caps to take penalties and are likley to be teams with which the Caps would have more difficulty anyway.

But the numbers speak for themselves (despite all the other words in this post): discipline and effective special teams are not just a key to success, they're the key, especially come the NHL's spring second season. There's no time like the present to break old bad habits... before they break the team.