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The Caps and Penalty Plus-Minus

With the Caps on Day Two of a two-games-in-ten-days stretch, it's time to focus in on the big issues facing the team as the playoffs loom, and near the top of that list, of course, is discipline.

Peerless made the point recently that the Caps' penalty killing woes are exacerbated by the fact that they've been shorthanded way too often (with nearly 10% of the scheduled yet to be played, they've already had to kill more penalties this season than they had all of last season), and that the team's lethal power play isn't making opponents pay as often as it could, because the Caps are in the bottom half of the League in extra man opportunities. Now it's time to name some names as to who's part of the problem and who's part of the solution.

First, a look at the forwards (and we're just looking at five-on-five non-coincidental penalties and guys who have played at least thirty games; 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
Brooks Laich 23 5 18 1.3
Eric Fehr 16 6 10 1.1
Viktor Kozlov 11 6 5 0.4
Matt Bradley 10 6 4 0.3
Boyd Gordon 7 5 2 0.2
Chris Clark 9 8 1 0.2
Alexander Ovechkin 26 24 2 0.1
Tomas Fleischmann 6 6 0 0.0
Alexander Semin 19 20 -1 -0.1
Michael Nylander 10 11 -1 -0.1
David Steckel 11 12 -1 -0.1
Nicklas Backstrom 9 15 -6 -0.3
Donald Brashear 11 19 -8 -0.9
Sergei Fedorov 3 17 -14 -1.7

And now the blueliners, same criteria apply:

Player PD PT +/- +/-Per60
Karl Alzner
4 1 3 0.4
Jeff Schultz 3 5 -2 -0.1
Tom Poti 4 9 -5 -0.4
Mike Green 14 23 -9 -0.6
Shaone Morrisonn 7 17 -10 -0.6
John Erskine 6 15 -9 -0.9
Milan Jurcina 4 27 -23 -1.3

A few things jump out:

  • You've heard the baseball expression "a walk is as good as a hit?" Well, on this Caps team, four penalties drawn are as good as a goal (since the PP is roughly 25% effective) and five penalties taken are as good as a goal against (since the PK is roughly 80% successful), so do the math and we can bump Brooks Laich's "adjusted" goal total up from 18 to 22 and Eric Fehr's from 11 to 13 and knock Sergei Fedorov's goal total down from eight to five and Donald Brashear's from one to negative one (though given his role, that's a bit harsh... but just a bit).
  • It's probably not fair to do apply the same adjustment to defensemen, but if we did, John Erskine and Milan Jurcina would be in the red. Mathieu Schneider is the only blueliner in the NHL who has taken more penalties and drawn fewer than Juice. I'm thinking he's wearing a suit for Game One of the playoffs. Then again, there's not a single defenseman in the League (minimum 40 games played) who has been on the ice for more penalties committed by his team per sixty minutes of five-on-five time than Erskine (with Juice not far behind).
  • Not surprisingly, Laich and Fehr - the Caps' two go-to-the-net forwards - are blowing away their teammates in terms of penalty +/- per 60. Fehr's plus-10 penalty plus/minus, team best penalties drawn per sixty, plus-8 regular plus/minus and the 3rd-best points per sixty rate on the team at five-on-five (better than Nicklas Backstrom, even), say he should be getting more ice time. Bruce Boudreau says otherwise.
  • The Caps' pivots, as a group, don't go to the net (both by design and by inclination), so they don't draw penalties and end up in bad shape in penalty +/-.
  • For Matt Bradley to play the role he does and end up well on the positive side of the ledger here is impressive.
  • Chris Clark drew 50% more penalties than Tomas Fleischmann has in half the total games played, and Flash is being "outdrawn" by Erskine and Boyd Gordon (among others). And we'll all float on, ok...
  • For Alex Ovechkin and Alex Semin to be a combined plus-one at this point in the season is pretty poor. By comparison, Dustin Brown leads all forwards at an eyebrow-raising +45, but other superstars are posting huge positives here, including Jarome Iginla (+26), Erik Cole (+25), Evgeni Malkin (+21), Henrik Zetterberg (+20) and Sidney Crosby (+11).
  • Fedorov's minus-14 is better than only five forwards - David Backes, Jarret Stoll, Adam Mair, Raitis Ivanans and Bobby Holik.
  • Jeff Schultz is second on the team's rearguards in even strength ice time per game, is plus-13 and doesn't commit penalties... and yet people hate on this guy.

We could go on (and if anything sticks out to you, by all means mention it in the comments), but the bottom line here is a few obvious points we've been harping on for what seems like ages - this team needs to drive the net to draw penalties (as much as to score goals) and stay out of the box if it's going to have a prayer in the second season. Some guys have already gotten the memo. Others hopefully will before it's too late.