Photo: Geoff Burke
The Caps penalty kill is currently ranked 23rd in the NHL, killing off 77.1% of all shorthanded situations. This may give you a ‘here we go again’ feeling due to how truly awful the Caps penalty kill was last season (They would have been much worse than 16th place if not for very strong goaltending.)
But rest easy, Caps fans. This Caps penalty kill is actually really good and could very well end up among the top in the league once goaltending improves. It could be even better if Barry Trotz starts deploying the penalty killers in a more optimized manner, as it seems he’s been giving the wrong penalty killers the most ice.
Puck possession, measured by shot attempts, is one of the best ways to evaluate a player or team’s effectiveness. Applied to the penalty kill, shot suppression is the name of the game since there’s less of a focus on generating shot attempts for your team when shorthanded.
Last year, the Caps were terrible at shot suppression while shorthanded (like, god-tier bad). This year, they are doing much better.
|Season||Unblocked Shot Attempts against / 60 (rank)||PK%|
|2013-14||91.70 (30th)||82% (16th)|
|2014-15||71.25 (9th)||77.1% (23rd)|
(The unblocked shot attempts are per 60 minutes of play. This is how many unblocked shot attempts the Caps would allow over one game if they were shorthanded for an entire game.)
It would be fair to question the importance of shot suppression given the results above. The Caps penalty kill, so far, is less successful this season despite a drastic improvement in unblocked shot attempts. But this isn’t an argument against advanced stats and shot attempts, it’s an indictment of how awful the Caps goaltending has been during 4-on-5 this season.
Caps goaltending when shorthanded has gone from near the top of the league to near the bottom. The goaltending will get better. It may not necessarily end up near the top in the league like last season, but it will certainly improve, and the Caps will have a really good PK team once that happens.
Here’s a look at the Caps forwards in terms of shot suppression and deployment. You’ll notice Trotz’s deployment has been questionable.
|Player||Unblocked Shot Attempts Against / 60||TOI|
Barry Trotz is deploying forwards on the PK in the opposite manner he should (yes, Laich’s injury is a factor). The players are ordered from best to worst in order of the rate of unblocked shot attempts they allow when on the ice. If you look at the right-most column, you’ll see PK ice time is being distributed in an order opposite to the shot-attempts they allow. This may have to do with who is playing vs. an opponent’s top unit, but the importance of quality of competition might not be all that important.
Odd choices by Trotz. Brooks Laich needs to get healthy to come back to kill penalties and Jay Beagle needs to stop getting so many PK minutes.
While the defensive deployments aren’t quite as odd, there’s a certain defenseman who shouldn’t be getting so many PK minutes. You can guess who.
|Player||Unblocked Shot Attempts Against/60||TOI|
Stand down, ‘Mike Green is bad at defense’ crowd, I’m not going to suggest that #52 get PK time (not because he’s bad at it, but because he should focus on crushing at 5-on-5 and quarterbacking the top PP unit).
I will suggest that Alzner and Niskanen become the Capitals’ prime PK pair. If you want to argue that this is because Orpik and Carlson face the opponent’s top unit more often, one way to test that would be would to give Alzner and Niskanen a trial run as the top PK pair.
I started this research with the intention of writing about how good the Caps PK is this season and that it will climb up the league rankings once the goaltending improves. This is still true. But I can’t help but conclude that the Caps are deploying their units unwisely. If they reconsider how they distribute shorthanded minutes, they might find the PK improving even faster.
Either way, this PK is much, much better this season. The inevitable improvement in goal will help this unit become one of the league’s best by the end of the season.
All stats from War on Ice.
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