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A Mixed Bag on Special Teams

Over the past ten games, the Caps' special teams have been a bit of a mixed bag. The power play - sans Alex Ovechkin for six-plus of those ten games - has clicked at an eye-popping 35.3% success rate, thanks in part to Brendan Morrison's play at the point and to Mike Green being Mike Green.

But as good as the Caps have been with the extra man, they've been nearly as bad down one. How bad? Try a 69.7% kill rate over the past ten games, a mark that leaves the Caps in the bottom third of the League for the season in that metric (obviously not good for a team with occasional discipline issues, to put it generously). Granted, they've been excellent overall in limiting the number of penalties they've had to kill, but a manageable 3.4 shorthanded situations per game over that stretch is only really manageable when around four out of every five are being successfully killed - hence the 6-4 (6-2-2) record.

A few thoughts on the penalty kill:

  • Change the personnel up a bit. It's not a coincidence that the penalty kill has struggled without Boyd Gordon (who has played just a few minutes of the ten games in question), and there's nothing the team can do about his health at present. But they can give more ice time to a guy like Alexander Semin (who has proven to be a good penalty killer and is proving it again in limited time this year), and maybe realize that Quintin Laing isn't quite the PK monster some think he is (nor is Mike Knuble). On the blueline, John Erskine has been bad on the kill (you'd think Karl Alzner could be a tremendous help here, given what he and his mates have been doing in Hershey). Milan Jurcina has been surprisngly good on the kill, as have puck movers Green and Brian Pothier (in small minutes), which hammers home the point that getting the puck isn't enough - clearing it is the key.
  • The goalies need to be better. Believe it or not, the Caps have allowed the second-fewest shots on goal per sixty minutes of 4-on-5 ice time in the League this season. And yet their GA/60 is eighth-worst and their 4-on-5 save percentage is the League's second-worst. Translation? Either the team is giving up a lot of high-quality chances, or their goalies aren't making as many stops as they need to. It's probably a combination of the two, but as the old cliche says, you're goalie has to be your best penalty killer, and the Caps' netminders haven't been.
  • Without David Steckel, the Caps would be up the creek. Steckel's GAON/60 isn't great at 4-on-5, but his ability to win faceoffs is invaluable (as would Boyd Gordon's be). Without him, there'd be a lot more rubber flying at - and past - Caps goalies.

The Caps have been winning despite a struggling penalty kill and may well continue to do so. But a couple of tweaks, a little health and a bit of luck and the unit could be humming again. If and when that happens... look out, League.