On Saturday night the Washington Capitals held a 2-1 lead over the Florida Panthers with time winding down. Coincidental minors to Mike Green and Tomas Kopecky for roughing had the teams skating four-on-four with under five minutes to play, and when Steve Oleksy felt he'd been wronged by Scottie Upshall and retaliated with a slash across the hands away behind the play:
The refs didn't miss it (funny how they rarely miss the retaliation, but frequently don't see the initial transgression), and the Capitals went to a rare 3-on-4 penalty kill. How rare is that set-up? Over the course of the 48-game 2012 season, the Caps were in that situation six times for a total of 4.75 minutes, and, prior to Saturday night, hadn't yet been in that scenario this year.
Having been so great lately on the traditional penalty kill (including killing all five shorthanded opportunities prior to Oleksy's second penalty on Saturday night), the Caps needed to adjust to playing with fewer defenders and more open ice. Adam Oates opted to go with Brooks Laich, Karl Alzner, and John Carlson to kill the 4-on-3. They couldn't get it done, and 57 seconds later the game was tied. Here's the goal:
The breakdown here is simple and clear. When your team has one fewer player than the other team, you shouldn't be double-teaming guys except in very rare circumstances. When a team only has three defenders, they shouldn't have two guys both skate behind the net. The Capitals were guilty of both on this goal:
Carlson has the puck on his stick for just a moment after Laich blocks a cross-ice pass, but Jonathan Huberdeau quickly strips him of the puck below the goal line. Carlson stays on Huberdeau, but Alzner also goes to Huberdeau to apply pressure. Huberdeau makes a nice play on his backhand to slide the puck past Carlson over to Brian Campbell, and Campbell made use of the space behind the shallower nets by immediately firing a pass to our old friend, Tomas Fleischmann:
Just like that, the streak of successful penalty kills was over at 35, and the Capitals were on their way to overtime. The Caps would end up taking both points via the shootout (thanks in part to some mighty fine atonement from Brooks Laich), but they lost a regulation/overtime win (ROW), which could end up being an important tiebreaker in what has been a tightly-packed and mediocre Metropolitan Division so far this season.
The Caps still got the two points, but they'll need to keep the undisciplined penalties out of their game and be a little more mentally sharp late in games. The cost was minimal on Saturday, but we've all seen what happens when ill-timed penalties and unsuccessful penalty killing can mean late in a game.