Throughout the regular season, much was made about the Washington Capitals' transition from a high-flying, offensive juggernaut to a tight, defensive team. While the Caps' new style of play limited the chances of highlight-reel goals, it lent itself to shutdown defense that resulted in much closer games.
The best example of this new-found approach was an improved penalty kill. But even though the Caps killed off six of seven penalties in Game 3 of their 2011 NHL Playoffs first-round series against the New York Rangers Sunday, the more glaring statistic was that they allowed seven power play opportunities, resulting in a 3-2 loss that cut their series lead to 2-1.
With no pun intended, killing penalties can give a team momentum, but it can also kill it. On Sunday, the Caps faced two 5-on-3 power plays and killed them both, including one late in the first period that kept them in the game. But the Rangers seized momentum when Erik Christensen took advantage of John Carlson's cross-checking penalty to score the game's first goal at 5:30 of the second period. The Rangers had four total power play chances in the second period.
Mike Knuble scored the game-tying goal on the power play with just over five minutes left in the game to give the Caps a chance to win, but instead of taking advantage of the momentum swing, Carlson took a roughing penalty less than two minutes later, along with Rangers forward Brian Boyle. The ensuing 4-on-4 play led to Brandon Dubinsky's game-winning goal.
The Caps' penalty ranked second in the NHL during the regular season at 85.6 percent, up from 78.8 percent in 2009-10, but undisciplined play that results in shorthanded situations in the first place is not conducive to winning in the playoffs. New York's seven opportunities with the man advantage were the second-most that Washington has allowed this season. In fact, the seven chances were more than the first two playoff games and the last regular season game combined (six). Not only that, but the Rangers had 35 shots on goal to the Capitals' 25, with the difference made by 10 power play shots.
Considering these statistics, the Caps must limit their penalties if they want to win Game 4 Wednesday. If not, momentum won't just swing in the game, but the series as well.