Finally, caps are on the right side of the penalty differential

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As the season was about to kick off last year, we speculated that the arrival of Peter Laviolette, and his reputation for hyperdiscipline and structure, would reverse a trend that had been going on for a decade and a half. We thought eventually, maybe, the Capitals would take fewer penalties than they drew by a significant margin.

Unfortunately, we were wrong, and for the fifth straight season, as well as the 11th time in 14 seasons, the Caps have been given the task of killing penalties more often than enjoying a power play.

But maybe discipline takes time. About a quarter into Laviolette’s second season in the nation’s capital, it appears the penalty has been fixed. With a net penalty differential of +11 through 15 games, the Capitals are good enough to be tied for third in the league. And while positioning against the League is important, perhaps even more important is breaking the organization’s own trend in this regard. Take a look at this graph of differential penalty rate per season.

Now it’s more like that. So what makes the difference? Or rather, are there any players in particular who have seen the mistakes of their criminal tendencies and are now walking towards the light? Here’s a look at the Capitals roster and how they relate to sinbin one way or another, this year and last.

First, let’s address that huge negative bar given to Connor McMichael last year. McMike only played one NHL game last season, but managed to take a penalty, so his data is skewed. What really needs to be noticed is that there are relatively few blue bars (representing 2020) with a positive value. Alex Ovechkin, Conor Sheary, Lars Eller and Tom Wilson were really the only guys who had the referees pointing their arms in the right direction. But this year we see all of those guys doing it again, with Sheary doing it to even greater effect, with negative to positive shifts from Daniel Sprong, Evgeny Kuznetsov, Garnet Hathaway, John Carlson and Justin Schultz.

Here’s a look at the year-over-year delta value for each player.

Only Anthony Mantha, Carl Hagelin, Dmitry Orlov and Lars Eller have seen their penalty differential decrease.

Of course, this would all mean a whole lot more if Blaine Forsythe could get his power play back on track…but if Laviolette can back up this trend reversal for the boys in red, it’ll only mean good things on the sheet. match and in the standings.

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