Penalties have been an issue for the Capitals all season long, but the issue has gained a lot of attention recently after Todd Reirden benched Dmitrij Jaskin and Evgeny Kuznetsov in the first period against the Boston Bruins on Feb. 3.
Washington is tied for second in the NHL with 199 minor penalties this season and it is really starting to cost them.
Saturday's game against the Florida Panthers turned on a first period offensive zone trip by T.J. Oshie. A strong start for Washington was erased as the Panthers scored one second after the penalty expired. The Caps ended up giving the Panthers' second ranked power play four opportunities on the night, including a brutal penalty by Brett Connolly late in the game.
With four seconds left, Connolly chopped Aleksander Barkov's stick out of his hands in the offensive zone. Barkov is not going to score with four seconds left and the puck on the wrong end of the ice. It was an unnecessary penalty and Florida scored on the resulting power play in overtime.
After a disastrous start to the season, Washington's penalty kill has not been terrible. If you take out October, the Caps are killing off 79.9-percent of the penalties they face, good for 18th in the league.
That's not great, but at least it's average. During that same stretch, however, Washington has given up 29 power play goals, the eighth most in the NHL.
Taking as many penalties as they are is stressing the penalty kill to the point that it has negated the team's improvement in that area.
The playoff race is still pretty close. Washington is in a good position sitting in second place in the Metropolitan Division, but they are leaving points on the table with these penalties. That is something they will have to clean up to stay out of the wild card battle below them and have a run at the red-hot Islanders at the top of the division.
Here are a few recent observations and thoughts on the Caps.
What do you do with Andre Burakovsky? He is playing his best hockey of the season and the third line is clicking, but we have seen this play out before. Burakovsky's talent level is not in question, the problem is consistency. Do you hold on to him and hope he continues this level of play into the playoffs in which case you have an incredibly formidable top-nine? Or, do you assume this is just the latest peak in a career full of peaks and valleys and trade him before you get burned yet again by his inconsistent play and try to bring in someone else who can play on the third line?
If you are among those who are upset that Jonas Siegenthaler was sent down to Hershey, don't worry. He is not going to be there very long. Siegenthaler was the odd-man out when Christian Djoos returned because the Caps had the maximum of 23 players on the roster and Siegenthaler was the only player on the team who was waiver exempt. That's why he was sent to Hershey. The roster maximum no longer applies after the trade deadline so if the Caps can make the money work, they will recall him. Otherwise, he will be back for the playoffs when teams no longer have to adhere to the salary cap. Either way, he will be back in Washington sooner rather than later.
We have seen a lot of shuffling on the fourth line pretty much the entire season. I asked Reirden this week when he would look to get some consistency with his lines and he said after the trade deadline. "It should be coming up for me on the last 20 games," he said, "Continuing to see what happens with putting guys in different spots and hoping to get positive results that we're looking for and then obviously a deadline coming up as well so there's possibility of something different there as well. For me, until that deadline passes then you're not really married to anything because as we know things can change in the game. But after that, at that point then you want to try to get something pretty consistent." For my money, if I'm choosing the best fourth line, I would go with Jaskin, Nic Dowd and Travis Boyd.
You can take the above quote from Reirden in one of two ways. One, either Reirden was talking generally about the deadline and how there's always a possibility of teams making moves or two, Reirden is expecting the team to make some type of trade.
Please, let's not start the Brooks Orpik debate again. He's been fine this season. Not good, not horrendous, just fine. He is what he is at this point and the deficiencies in his game are the same deficiencies that he had last year before playing a key role in a Cup run. Ultimately, it doesn't matter what you do with the third pairing if the second pair is going to play as badly as they have, Matt Niskanen in particular. To me, that's a far bigger issue than the fact that Orpik has bad analytics again.
The Caps have been warming up since returning from the All-Star break going 3-1-1 in five games. Find out where Washington lands this week here in the latest NHL Power Rankings.
MORE CAPITALS NEWS:
Caps-Panthers: Early two-goal deficit proves bad omen
in Action?: Coaches weighing return of Djoos