By Alex Hayes
The Capitals’ penalty kill made changes to start the 2018-19 season. The team lost their highest and fourth-highest used penalty killers from last season in Jay Beagle and Alex Chiasson and are currently without their second-highest used penalty killer, Tom Wilson, for ten more games due to suspension.
As a result, other players have been forced to step up with Devante Smith-Pelly and Nic Dowd getting lots of time on the kill. Related to those changes or not, the Caps PK is currently ranked 26th in the league with a 72.5-percent kill rate, allowing the second-highest number of power-play goals in the league with 11.
The numbers above indicate what percentage of available penalty-kill time each forward is on the ice.
The Capitals have made positional mistakes that have led to opponent goals. This is because ramped-up assignments and a change in penalty kill formation from a box to a diamond. Opponents have been able to expose holes and open lanes in defensive coverage.
The Flames’ second goal of Saturday’s game is a prime example of blown coverage on the penalty kill. The Capitals start in a diamond formation, but TJ Oshie and Matt Niskanen overcommit when the Flames move the puck laterally.
The Capitals collapse into a narrow box formation as the Flames shift into a 1-3-1 to take full advantage of the situation. Brooks Orpik gets stuck in no man’s land, the Flames pass the puck laterally through the seam, and Elias Lindholm gets an easy goal.
However, the Capitals have overall limited shots decently. They have the league’s best shot suppression (i.e. lowest opponent attempt rate) and the sixth-best scoring-chance suppression while a man down.
The big problem so far is in net. The Caps have the second lowest penalty kill save percentage in the league at 75.8 percent. This low number is due to opponents getting a good amount of higher danger chances, plus some unlucky bounces.
The penalty kill may have improved, but a combination of bad luck in save percentages and a learning curve for the new formation makes it easy to overstate the issues.
The Capitals should get rewarded for high shot suppression, and the team will be able to rely less on Smith-Pelly once Wilson returns. The penalty kill is good for now, but it will be an area of interest as the season progresses.
Headline photo: Sportsnet
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