- The Washington Times - Monday, October 23, 2017

Capitals center Lars Eller was frustrated after Saturday’s 4-1 loss to the Florida Panthers. It was another game where Washington spent too many minutes in the penalty box.

Eller was guilty himself, committing two of the Capitals’ six minor penalties. The Panthers scored on two of their six power plays.

“All the penalties is disrupting the flow of our team,” Eller said. “It’s hurting us a lot. … That’s a little thing that will make a big difference for us if we can improve on that.”

The Capitals are 4-4-1 this season and penalties have been a major reason why.

In nine games, Washington has committed 46 penalties, fifth-most in the NHL. They spend an average of 12:39 per game in the penalty box, which ranks seventh. And most troubling, they’ve been shorthanded 39 times — third-most in the league. 

Furthermore, Capitals coach Barry Trotz said his team has the tendency to follow a penalty with a penalty.

Saturday was a perfect example. Eller was called for tripping just 15 seconds after Nicklas Backstrom was assessed an interference penalty. The Panthers took advantage of the 5-on-3 opportunity when forward Vincent Trocheck scored easily to make it 3-0.

“We’ve got to nip the penalties in the bud,” Trotz said. “You’ll take the odd one, but when you start stacking them up, it’s a recipe for disaster for us.”

Last season, the Capitals averaged 9:08 of penalty time per game. This year, NHL officials have cracked down on slashing calls and face-off violations. Those have affected every team, the Capitals included, but Washington is also incorporating new players.

Goaltender Philipp Grubauer said the Capitals have to be smarter.

“We’ve got to move our feet,” Grubauer said. “I wouldn’t call it lazy, but I would call it a little bit behind play, making up for being behind the play.”

The Capitals also aren’t doing a good enough job of stopping the other team when shorthanded. Washington’s penalty kill ranks 23rd in the league, killing off only 76.9 percent of all power plays. That’s a dramatic fall from last season — when they ranked seventh at 83.8 percent.

Part of the difference can be attributed to the Capitals spending an additional 3:31 per game in the box. They’ve allowed nine power-play goals, second most in the league. 

As Trotz referenced, Washington plays worse when the penalties keep happening.

It’s also frustrating, Trotz said, because of the variance in how the Capitals are committing them.

“A lot of times, I felt early in the first couple of games, I thought they were happening in the offensive zone,” Trotz said. “[Saturday] a few of them were in the D-zone. It’s different people every game. If I could get a handle on it, I would have a handle on it. We just need to be better in controlling our sticks.”

The Capitals receive a fresh chance for a fix when they head west for a three-game trip through Canada this week. They face the Vancouver Canucks on Thursday, the Edmonton Oilers on Saturday and the Calgary Flames on Sunday.

Eller said the team will rebound, and added that fixing the problem comes down to discipline.

“It’s an easy fix,” Eller said. “It’s just a question of being a little bit more smart, taking an extra step. That will improve our game a lot.”

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