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An Early Look at Penalty Plus‑Minus

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"For us, discipline has been a problem all year, an Achilles' heel." - Brooks Laich, 5/12

"We need to remain disciplined, staying out of the box is a big key for our team." - Brendan Morrison, 10/20

"We need to take leadership and take ownership of the dumb things we're doing. We have to stop it." - Mike Knuble, 11/4

The more things change, eh?

Actually, yes, to a degree. Entering play last night, the Caps had committed the 12th-fewest minor penalties per game in the League, a marked improvement over a season ago, when only a half-dozen teams committed more minors than the Caps (in raw numbers, the Caps' minors-per-game is down from 5.05 in 2008-09 to 4.35 so far this season). And despite a couple of memorably bad back-to-back games (against Columbus and New Jersey), the Caps have faced three or fewer power-play-opportunities-against in five of their last eight games (going shorthanded just twice in four of those five). So even if the team individuals on the team need to work on the "when" and the "where" of the penalties, discipline overall has been improving.

At the same time, the Caps are drawing more penalties than they did last season, up from 19th in the League to 7th, from 4.11 power plays per game to 4.41. Now if only the extra man unit could catch fire...

But enough about this whole "team" concept - let's focus on the individuals who are taking and drawing these penalties.

Back in late March, we took a look at "penalty plus-minus," that is, simply, the difference between the penalties a given player has drawn and those he's taken - the power play opportunities he's creating and the penalties he's forcing his teammates to try to kill. It's all after the jump.

First, a look at the forwards, ranked by penalty plus-minus per sixty minutes of five-on-five ice time (and we're just looking at five-on-five non-coincidental penalties; PD is penalties drawn, PT penalties taken, +/- the difference and +/-Per60 the +/- per sixty minutes of five-on-five ice time):

Player PD PT +/- +/-Per60
Alexandre Giroux 2 0 2 5.9
Eric Fehr 2 0 2 2.0
Mathieu Perreault 1 0 1 1.8
Quintin Laing 4 0 4 1.8
Matt Bradley 5 1 4 1.4
Chris Clark 6 4 2 0.7
Nicklas Backstrom 5 2 3 0.7
David Steckel 3 1 2 0.7
Brooks Laich 2 2 0 0.0
Keith Aucoin 0 0 0 0.0
Alexander Semin 6 6 0 0.0
Alex Ovechkin 4 4 0 0.0
Boyd Kane 1 1 0 0.0
Tomas Fleischmann 0 0 0 0.0
Mike Knuble 7 7 0 0.0
Brendan Morrison 2 4 -2 -0.5
Boyd Gordon 0 4 -4 -5.3

And now the blueliners, same criteria apply:

Player PD PT +/- +/-Per60
Mike Green 5 5 0 0.0
Tom Poti 1 1 0 0.0
Brian Pothier 0 2 -2 -0.5
Shaone Morrisonn 3 6 -3 -0.7
John Erskine 1 2 -1 -0.7
Jeff Schultz 0 3 -3 -1.0
Tyler Sloan 0 2 -2 -1.1
Milan Jurcina 0 5 -5 -1.3

So what have we got?

  • Up front, to see checkers like Matt Bradley and Quintin Laing so solidly in the black thus far speaks to how well they've done been doing their jobs at five-aside.
  • Raise your hand if you'd have guessed that Chris Clark has drawn 50% more penalties than he's taken. Or that he's 25th in the League in penalties drawn (forwards only). Not too many hands raised...
  • Brooks Laich was a stud in this metric a year ago, drawing 23 penalties and taking only five. For whatever reason, he hasn't drawn 'em at nearly that rate this year (0.6 per sixty, down from 1.5).
  • In fact, most of the Caps' skill forwards aren't fairing too well here, with a nominal "top seven" (Ovechkin, Backstrom, Semin, Knuble, Morrison, Fleischmann and Laich) having a combined rating of plus-one.
  • Of course, that may have been somewhat predictable, given that Ovechkin, Backstrom and Semin combined for an even rating last season, Flash was two in the red, Knuble took twice as many as he drew, and BMo was plus-one. Still, you'd like to see your skill guys drawing a lot more penalties than they're taking.
  • Only nine forwards have drawn more penalties than Knuble has thus far... but only four have taken more.
  • Boyd Gordon... tough start, buddy.
  • On the backline, Tom Poti is second among the team's defensemen in even-strength ice time and has played against the toughest competition, and yet has taken only one minor penalty (and has a plus-four rating). Pretty remarkable.
  • Mike Green is second among the League's rearguards in penalties drawn.
  • No surprise to see Milan Jurcina at the bottom of this list - it's where he was last season, too.

The takeaway from this is that the Caps, in general, seem to be getting with the program as far as discipline goes, and are also drawing more penalties than they did a year ago - in both areas, the team is trending in the right direction. So despite a handful of penalties and a few games that we all wish we could forget, it's important to step back and see the forest for the trees from time to time... and this forest is looking better than it used to.