If you ask the NHL, the Washington Capitals penalty kill was the 16th best in the land this season. They allowed 51 goals and escaped 82% of their shorthanded sessions unscathed, which doesn’t sound so bad. But actually the Caps PK was really, really, really, really bad. They were one of the worst ever, as far as I can tell.
I’ll start with the good: Capitals goaltenders had a .906 save percentage while playing 4v5, which is way above average and good for 3rd best in the league. Most of the credit for that should go to departed goalie Jaroslav Halak.
|Goalie||Shots Faced||4v5 Sv%|
Update: Halak’s numbers include his time with St Louis.
Though Braden Holtby was a bit below average, Washington’s goaltenders did a respectable job masking how fantastically awful the Caps PK unit was at suppressing shots. Cause they were like historically awful at it.
For every sixty minutes the Caps spent on the penalty kill, they allowed 89.5 unblocked shot attempts– far and away the highest number in the league. Actually, any year. As far back as I can see, I can’t find any team with a higher shot rate while a man down.
The chart at top, the creepy one with Adam’s face at right, is based off ExtraSkater’s fenwick data since the 2011-12 season. The Caps saw a higher rate of unblocked opponent shots than every other team. They’re ranked 90th out of 90, and they were head and shoulders above number 89.
Using Behind the Net, here’s a frequency distribution of 150 teams since 2008 using just opponent shots on goals per 60 minutes.
Three more seasons of data, this time excluding missed shots, and they’re still the worst.
Now, just because I’m enjoying this, here’s a scatter plot of opponent corsi events — including misses and blocked shots– per 60 minutes since 2007. These data are from Hockey Analysis.
Yeaaaaaaaaaaah. Playing a man-down, the 2013-14 Caps were a special snowflake of suck. You really gotta feel for the goalies.
I’m not 100% sure, but I suspect the biggest difference between the not-god-awful Caps PK of the pre-Oates era and the make-it-stop-oh-god-my-eyes-please-make-it-stop Oates PK is aggression. Before last season, it was more common for the Caps to attack the puck when it moved from the point to the half boards or vice versa. In 2013-14, Calle Johansson (who is technically still employed) instructed the boys to stay back, opting to clog up passing lanes instead of challenging the puck.
“We pretty much give them all the time in the world,” Karl Alzner told your boy Chuck Gormley in November, “and just try not to give them any lanes.”
That didn’t work at all. We knew it then. I find it comforting how reliably these “sit back” strategies fail.
Adam Oates, known for his attention to detail as well as his penchant for losing, was particular about keeping his even-strength forward pairings together when on the PK. His justification was that they would “know where each other is going to be on the ice at all times,” which you’d think would be pretty easy since they hardly ever moved.
Look how Brooks Laich and Troy Brouwer prioritize occupying the slot over forcing a turnover along the boards. When Claude Giroux gets his shot off, he has a bunch of space and just two Caps penalty killers in any position to challenge him.
On this next one, Karl Alzner does something similar, abruptly halting a chance to take the puck along the boards so that he can stay near the slot, which doesn’t even help since Wisniewski puts a dart past him right after.
I’m sure there’s a lot more going on here– perhaps related to how the team responds after faceoff losses– but I’ll defer to the real stat geeks and X’s and O’s guys to diagnose it. Considering how extraordinarily bad this team was at suppressing opponent power play shots, it seems like this deserves closer examination.
But if we never find out exactly why the Caps PK was so bad, and they just go back to some un-awful shorthanded system next season, I’ll probably be okay with that too.