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Should We Be Grilling Tom Poti's Penalty Killing?

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It's as clear as the tumbling rapids of the Potomac River that the only part of the Washington Capitals' game that can stop the team from hoisting the Stanley Cup in June is its terrifying penalty kill rate.  Right? 

Unfortunately, hockey is never that simple and often more like the muddy mess that is that great river these days.  But as the Caps' dominance at 5-on-5 continues blissfully unabated, we still strain ourselves to understand why it is that the penalty killing success rate lags far behind what one might expect from a Cup contender.

Now many Caps' fans -- daresay fans of all teams -- focus their critiques on a single defenseman.  As most have long since accepted and embraced that Jeff Schultz is an effective rearguard (if not crucial to the Caps' post-season success), the spotlight's heat has been re-directed toward Tom Poti, the team leader in PK ice time

We previously documented Poti's performance on the kill as compared to other Caps' D in the month of March, and it wasn't pretty.  (And overall this season, he's only 36th worst in 4-on-5 GA/60 this season for all rear guards who have (i) 30 GP and (ii) averaged at least one minute of PK ice per game.)  What has been a mediocre season-long PK rate for the Caps became unsightly in March where, as we pointed out last week,  the team killed just 73.5% of its shorthanded opportunities.

So, putting aside for a moment the position of his stick on the kill (which one would think is an easily corrected problem), is Poti more to blame than the rest of the PK defenders for this particular swoon, or is the lack of PK effectiveness more of a systemic problem? 

Steady #3 has been out of the lineup for eleven games in this campaign, barely enough of a sample to make any useful observations.  Here are some basic numbers related to the penalty kill during those eleven contests as compared to the Caps' season to date:


Without Poti With Poti
Games 11 69
G/G 3.64 3.84
GA/G 2.82 2.84
PK SA/60 37.39
Times SH/Game 3.91 3.88
PK% 81.4%


The figures in that last row jump off of your screen, don't they? 

Here are perhaps more telling numbers.  Below are the season-to-date difference between 4-on-5 GAON/60 and GAOFF/60 for Schultz, Shaone Morrisonn, and Poti (to be clear, a positive number indicating a higher rate of PP goals against when that D is on the ice than when he’s not):


Schultz - 2.18
- 1.29
Poti + 1.46


So what's the solution?  Perhaps just giving Morrisonn and Schultz, team leaders on defense in 4-on-5 GAON/60 of those in the regular PK rotation, more ice time 4-on-5?  In point of fact, the team has killed off 12 of its 13 penalties during its last four games and, in three of those games, Morrisonn and Schultz have seen PK time exceeding their season averages.

Hope springs eternal in April.