Penalty trouble at heart of Caps' slow start

Penalty trouble at heart of Caps' slow start
February 1, 2013, 9:45 am
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The Caps’ struggles with penalties and third-period collapses continued in their 3-2 loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs on Thursday night. Here’s a look inside the box score:

What it means: The Capitals are now 1-5-1 and dropped to 15th in the Eastern Conference standings, one point behind the Panthers and five behind the eighth-place Penguins.

Penalty trouble: The Caps took eight minor penalties and have been shorthanded 38 times in seven games. That not only disrupts the flow of 5-on-5 play, it keeps Alex Ovechkin on the bench. Troy Brouwer leads the Caps with five minor penalties, followed by Jason Chimera and Mathieu Perreault with four each.

Third period collapses: The Caps have blown one-goal leads in the third period of each of their last two losses and have been outscored 8-5 in third periods this season. That could be the result of all the wasted energy killing penalties or a sign of poor conditioning.

Stifling Ovi: Alex Ovechkin picked up another power-play goal on Thursday night, but because of all the penalties he saw limited ice time in the first two periods as the Caps played more than 12 minutes shorthanded. Ovechkin did not see any time on the penalty kill and played most of the game at left wing. That means seven games into the season Oates has abandoned two of his biggest experiments with Ovechkin: playing him on the right side and asking him to kill penalties.  Meanwhile, Ovechkin is still seeking his first even-strength goal of the season.

Quoting Ovi: “We got too many penalties right away. Lots of the guys sitting on the bench were cold. You want to be out there as much as you can. ... In the second period [we had] the kind of situations where we [were shorthanded] and I'm sitting and I was kind of not in the game. But again it's all about us; we took stupid penalties – everybody has to do their jobs and play hockey.”

Erskine watch: Defenseman John Erskine has been quite a revelation since entering the lineup. He delivered a team-high three hits and blocked four shots and was even on the plus-minus sheet in just under 18 minutes of work. Against the Leafs. Conversely, Jeff Schultz struggled in his 13:22 of ice time, finishing a minus-2 and recording just one block while playing alongside rookie Tomas Kundratek. With that in mind, look for Roman Hamrlik to replace Schultz in the lineup when the Caps face the Flyers tonight.

MoJo watch: Marcus Johansson showed bursts of speed against the Leafs after returning to the lineup following a two-game benching. Johansson finished a minus-1 and did not record a shot but looked far more effective in the offensive zone as a center.

Holtby return?: Michal Neuvirth played well in his fifth straight start, stopping 37 of 40 shots to keep the Caps in the game. But he allowed a Michael Kostka point shot to trickle between his pads, allowing Nikolai Kulemin to score the game-tying goal in the third period. With three games in four days, it will be interesting to see if Oates turns to Braden Holtby tonight against Philly.

Look ahead: Following tonight’s game against the 2-5-0 Flyers the Caps are expected to practice Saturday in preparation for Sunday’s 12:30 showdown against Sidney Crosby and the 4-3-0 Penguins.