Penalty killing a key when Caps visit Oilers (Oct 28, 2017)

October 27, 2017

EDMONTON, Alberta -- When the Washington Capitals and Edmonton Oilers meet at Rogers Place on Saturday night, both teams should be focused on staying out of the penalty box.

That's because both have been absolutely dismal when it comes to killing penalties. Edmonton is dead last in the NHL, killing off only 70.3 percent of their short-handed situations. Washington is only marginally better at 73.3 percent.

On Thursday, each of them gave up three power play goals but only Edmonton survived its short-handed issues, beating Dallas 5-4 to break a two-game losing streak. As coach Todd McLellan has called it many times, the Oilers were able to "outscore their mistakes."

Meanwhile, the Canucks swamped the Caps by a 6-2 count. So, it's not like either team's penalty-killing unit is showing signs of recovery.

Special teams are big reasons why both of these teams, both pre-season favorites to be near the top of their respective conferences, are off to such slow starts. The Caps are 4-5-1, while the Oilers are at 3-5-1.

"It's the group," said McLellan. "When I look at the goals we have up (against Dallas), they went through us. When teams go through the heart of the slot, from one side to the other, they're scoring. Eventually, it's going to happen. ... We weren't middle-strong, we didn't have good sticks."

"We've just got to execute," Edmonton veteran defenseman Kris Russell said. "We're just giving them too much time and space and too many lanes."

While the Oilers need to work on not letting opposing power plays pass the puck from side to side with ease, Washington's penalty-killing units need to be more physical and make sure clearing attempts go down the ice.

"We can't kill anything," Capitals coach Barry Trotz said. "A lot of extra pucks, a lot of failed clears. When you're spending a lot of time in your zone and they're putting pucks there, they're going to find the back of the net. It starts with the failed clears, we've just got to be better back there."

So, with both team struggling when a man down, the key might not be in fixing the penalty kills in short order, but to stay out of the box. The best way to kill penalties is, well, not to take them.

"If we make mistakes, we don't execute the play, take lots of penalties, we're not going to win any games," said Washington superstar Alexander Ovechkin, who has 10 goals this year but only one in his last five. "It doesn't matter if we have the best goalie in the league or whatever."

Capitals right winger Brett Connolly left Thursday's game in Vancouver and went through the NHL-mandated concussion protocol. Nicklas Backstrom, who has 12 points this season, missed the Vancouver game Thursday due to illness. Both are question marks for Saturday's game in Edmonton.

On Friday, the Capitals called up forward Anthony Peluso from their AHL affiliate in Hershey, Pa. Peluso played 142 career games for the Winnipeg Jets and owns 14 career points and 209 penalty minutes.