During a normal season, good Penalty Killing can be the difference between golfing in May or still playing hockey in June. Over the last 3 seasons, in the playoffs, the team that wins the special teams battle in a game has won just under 69% of the time. (via Stathead Hockey).
Of course, this season is pretty much anything but normal. Which only goes to show that penalty killing will be even more important than typical. If we’re treating the restart like a brand new season, (which from an analytical standpoint you probably should) we’re going to see even more penalties than in a normal playoffs.
Teams tend to become more disciplined the longer the season goes on. By a lot. During the last ten seasons, in the first ten games of the season, teams average 11.88 PIM’s per game. By the end of the season though? That number drops to 9.73 PIM’s per game over their final ten games. In other words, the average team takes over a minor penalty per game more at the beginning of the season than they do at the end of the season. (via Stathead Hockey).
Normally, teams can take that discipline with them into the playoffs as there is only about a week’s break. But since the quarantine break will ultimately be the same length as a typical offseason, and there has been even less training camp than in a normal offseason, it’s safe to say these playoffs are probably going to be less disciplined than we’d typically see..
How does this impact the Caps?
Once upon a time, the Caps were known for having one of the most dominant Powerplays the sport has ever seen, while having a mediocre-at-best penalty kill. Take for instance the 2012-13 season, in which they had a 26.8% Powerplay% (3rd best in the salary cap era) but just a 77.9% PK%.
However, those days are now in the past, as their Penalty killing is, to be honest, better than their powerplay. This season, their penalty kill was 82.6%, sixth best in the league.
This was due in part to many factors, but most notably, it was practically impossible to get a shot off against the Caps this season while they had a man down.
Of course, that shutdown Penalty Killing team has been led by none other than PK Phenom Jonas Siegenthaler. Although 2019-20 was Siegenthaler’s first full season starting with the team, he lead the team in penalty killing minutes. This was for good reason too. His 10.33 blocked shots per hour of PK ice time lead the team (via Natural Stat Trick).
Other recent additions to the team have been making strong contributions to the team’s penalty killing. Carl Hagelin, added last season, is a known specialist, whose speed on the forecheck keeps other teams from making clean zone entries. Since Brenden Dillon’s acquisition at the trade deadline he has logged a decent amount of PK time as well.
What all of this boils down to is that the strength of the Caps penalty kill this year would be an asset in any year. But in this extra topsy-turvy year, on a team that takes a lot of penalties at the best of times, killing penalties will be one of the most important things this team can do and might just be enough to move the needle in their favor.