For the past several seasons, the Washington Capitals’ power play sat atop the NHL. It’s no surprise then, that they lead the league at 28.2% this season.
What is surprising is that the Capitals have broken their habitually appalling penalty kill stat to become among the NHL’s cream of the crop. After finishing at the bottom of the leaderboard nine times out of the past 11 seasons, Washington leads the League with a 91.5% penalty kill this season.
Washington’s power play percentage and penalty kill percentage add up to an astounding 119.70%. If they are able to sustain this percentage, they will hold the highest combined special teams percentage in Washington Capitals franchise history. And if they are to lead in both categories by the end of the season, they will make NHL history.
So, what’s changed this year? Assistant coach Calle Johansson, who took control of the PK this season, invested in a new, composed approach that has brought Washington much success. As opposed to previous quick, aggressive play in past seasons, the Caps are relying on a more patient approach in a box formation with aggression being used when necessary.
The Caps are slowing the play and shutting down the passing lanes and when the chance is given, chasing the puck. Consequently, the opponent’s attacks are hampered and their energy is wasted.
Another arrangement killing penalties is the combination of players familiarized with each other. This season, Washington’s top penalty-killing forwards Brooks Laich and Troy Brouwer are on the same line, while Karl Alzner is paired with John Carlson. Keeping the lines the same, even-strength or shorthanded makes the transition going into the penalty kill effortless. The familiarization of the players has denoted their success.
Staying at the top is a difficult undertaking. Since the 1984-85 New York Islanders, no team has finished the season first in both the power play and the penalty kill.
En passant, the Caps are undefeated in the shootout. So, it’s without debate that the Caps are dang good at special teams.
With much success this early in the season, it will be exciting to see if the special teams will keep up the sensation for the rest of the hockey season.