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Caps Penalties Hurting in More Ways Than One

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A look at how the Caps are hurting themselves with more than just bad penalty killing when going down a man.

Clyde Caplan / clydeorama.com

For the Washington Capitals, yesterday's dramatic win on a bigtime stage against a bigtime opponent was everything they could have hoped— for the team, for the city, for the fans, for the two important points in the standings. But beneath the pomp and fanfare, and perhaps temporarily overlooked in favor of savoring the classic moment, was yet another recurrence of an alarming theme with this team: lack of discipline.

Say what you want about the legitimacy of the calls (which, granted, during yesterday's game was even easier to call into question than normal). The bottom line is the Caps trudged their way to the penalty box on seven different occasions, taking the game away from a 5v5 environment.

That the penalty kill performed admirably, killing off 5 of the 6 Chicago power plays including a potentially game-breaking 5 on 3, is beside the point. It's a fundamental truth of hockey that taking a lot of penalties is detrimental to your team. However, the conventional wisdom is that this is the case because the other team has a great opportunity to score (and when you have the League's 6th worst penalty kill, that certainly rings true).

But what about the unit you're taking off the ice?

The Caps' have the 11th best Goals For/60 at 5v5 in the NHL. By no means a juggernaut, but pretty much in the top third of the league, and a major improvement over last year. However, their 66 goals at five-a-side are good enough only for 16th in the league.

Granted, going on the power play is always a plus, and the Caps have been money at 4v4 this year with a 57.1 Shots For% (via war-on-ice.com). They also don't take an inordinate amount of penalties— they've been shorthanded 123 times, which puts them right in the middle of the pack.

However, only the Vancouver Canucks are handcuffing themselves to the same degree as the Capitals when they get sent off. The below table represents the rank difference between each team's GF60 and 5v5 GF. Or loosely translated, the teams at the top and with 50+ GF% are those that could benefit most from spending more time at fives.

Team Rank Difference GF %
Washington -6 52.4
Vancouver -6 47.7
Ottawa -3 46.7
Minnesota -3 49.3
NY Rangers -2 55.3
Florida -2 50.4
Dallas -2 50.7
Columbus -2 40
St. Louis -1 53.6
Pittsburgh -1 56.9
Colorado -1 48.2
Winnipeg 0 49.1
Tampa Bay 0 58.7
Philadelphia 0 49.2
Chicago 0 58
Carolina 0 40
Buffalo 0 39.3
Arizona 0 40.7
Toronto 1 51.3
Nashville 1 62.6
Los Angeles 1 53.7
Detroit 1 52.1
San Jose 2 47.7
NY Islanders 2 52.4
New Jersey 2 46.9
Montreal 2 55.8
Anaheim 2 51.5
Edmonton 3 39.3
Calgary 5 50.4
Boston 6 50.4

None of this would really matter if the Caps were a negative goal-differential team at evens, like they have been in years past. But this year, 52.4% of 5v5 goals are scored by Washington— this achieved largely by improved defensive efforts across the board.

There are mitigating factors, of course— the Caps have played fewer games than many of the teams above them in terms of 5v5 goal volume. Their power play is one of the best in the league, though being close to the bottom in terms of PP chances, they spend more time shorthanded than a man-up.

You don't need any more reason to preach discipline other than the obvious— it puts your team at a categorical disadvantage. However, regardless of other factors at play, the frequency with which the Capitals aren't playing at 5v5, combined with the effectiveness of their 5v5 play, is hurting the team more than that same relationship hurts the rest of the league.

Maybe that has something to do with taking Alexander Ovechkin off the ice. Just a thought.