UNIONDALE, N.Y. | In recent weeks, Roman Hamrlik has been very clear about how the Capitals can improve on the penalty kill. “Stay off the box,” he says time and time again. As a veteran he – and just about every hockey player – knows that being disciplined is the first step.
That has improved since a penalty-plagued game in Edmonton, but even when the Caps went to the box Saturday, the kill was there and stronger. The Hurricanes had four power plays (a total time of 7:23) and didn’t score once with that advantage.
“I think we got better a lot – still some areas we can improve,” goaltender Michal Neuvirth said. “But our PK, I think that was the difference.”
It’s difficult to fully practice killing penalties because it would mean guys having to block dangerous shots from teammates without any kind of real game situation.
“That’s why you don’t work on five-on-threes a lot because it’s all about blocking shots,” coach Bruce Boudreau said earlier this week. “The only thing that can happen there is people get hurt.”
But the systems themselves can get a workout. Players talked about going through the motions of the penalty kill in practice and looking at what they were doing right last year vs. wrong now.
It worked for the game against Carolina, that’s for sure.
“I think lately we were doing bad mistakes and it cost us,” Hamrlik said. “We had a couple days to settle it down and rebuild something. We watched lots of videos and talked to the coaches and adjust a few things on penalty killing and obviously tonight it was good. I think everybody knew what we were supposed to do, and that was the biggest difference.”
Boudreau pointed to an improvement in the faceoff circle. The Caps won 40 percent of short-handed draws against the Hurricanes, but the ones they won were often at the start of kills.
“You alleviate the pressure right off the bat and get the puck down the ice,” Boudreau said. “That’s always huge.”
Another part was the Caps knowing they could succeed when they do the right things on the penalty kill – sticks in passing lanes, blocking shots and winning battles along the boards. The first one was crucial to get, too.
“Our confidence on the PK, I think, was lacking a little bit,” Boudreau said, “and once we killed the first one, it was like a big sigh of relief from everybody and then they could go out and do their job.”