While the penalty kill has always been a driving force for the Washington Capitals, the four players that grace the ice for their opponents’ power-play opportunities have been sensational, warranting deafening applause from the spectators at Capital One Arena.
The Capitals have killed off 22 straight penalties since allowing two power-play goals in Game 2 of their first-round series against Columbus. In Game 2 against Pittsburgh, Holtby and the penalty kill were key in securing a 4-1 victory.
“We’ve got a high level of commitment,” Holtby said. “We’re executing our clears really well and making it difficult to enter in our zone.”
The 28-year-old netminder had 32 saves en route to the Capitals’ Game 2 win, and the Penguins went 0-for-3 on the power play. He, as well as the Capitals defense and key penalty killing units, have been the key throughout Washington’s postseason campaign.
Capitals Shining on PK
So far this postseason, Washington has given up 29 power-play opportunities, only allowing four goals against when shorthanded. Their 86.2 percent success on the penalty kill is the best through these playoffs.
According to Jakub Vrana, what stands out about Washington’s PK is how each player is committed to doing whatever they can to shut down the likes of Sidney Crosby and Jake Guentzel among others, whether that means taking a hit or blocking a shot.
“We have a great line for penalties, but a big part of that I would say is just guys sacrifice,” Vrana said. “You can tell they really sacrifice their body and that’s what wins us the games.”
During the regular season, the Penguins finished first with a 26.2 power-play percentage. So far through the postseason, their power play has an 18.5 percent success rate.
While Crosby is their main weapon, they can also capitalize on point shots from defenders like Kris Letang, as well as deflections from players like Patric Hornqvist. But despite their heavy arsenal and the threat they pose on the man advantage, Pittsburgh has been unable to convert with five power-play opportunities so far, and the Capitals have been solid in shutting them down.
Center Lars Eller said that a lot of factors make the penalty kill as successful as it’s been, but ultimately, analyzing their opponents’ power play, as well as Holtby’s performance, have played the biggest role.
“We prepare ourselves very well,” Eller said. “We scout the other team to death, I mean we watch a lot of video and I think it’s really the preparation. But of course, your best penalty kill is going to be your goalie, and our goalies have been great.”
Capitals Still Making Adjustments
As the Capitals continue their postseason campaign with aspirations to advance beyond the second round, they acknowledged the importance of special teams, as well as other factors and continued improvement.
“Our penalty kill is doing a very good job right now,” Holtby said. “In order to win a playoff series, you need to keep making those little adjustments and pile them all together and keep pushing forward.”
While the penalty kill has been a rock for Washington, Holtby said that their performance thus far will be a thing of the past, as there is still room for improvement moving forward.
“I think we’re making the adjustments at the right times… but come Game 3, that stat means nothing,” Holtby said of Washington’s special teams. “We’re going to focus to do an even better job.”
The Capitals’ victory was an important one, as they tied up the series and secured at least a Game 5 heading into Pittsburgh. Still, they hope to keep the momentum rolling and build off their victory to try and take the upper hand Tuesday.
“It’s 1-1 right now, and we know we have lots of work to do,” Vrana said. “Playing here or there, we’re going to come out there and play hard.”
Sammi Silber covers the Capitals beat for The Hockey Writers and is an NHL contributor with Sporting News. She has also contributed to USA TODAY College, Huffington Post, FanSided and the Nation Network. Silber has written four books and recently worked on graphics for the film, The California Golden Seals Movie.