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Caps know they can't get boxed in vs. Pens

Thursday, 05.07.2009 / 11:47 AM / Conference Semifinals: Washington vs. Pittsburgh

By Dan Rosen - NHL.com Senior Writer

PITTSBURGH -- A smattering of players and coaches inside the Washington Capitals' dressing room didn't think their excessive penalties are a sign of a discipline problem, but more of an officiating problem.

"I don't think it's discipline," Capitals defenseman Shaone Morrisonn said.

But everyone in the red, white and blue, including the guys who wear the suits and stand behind the bench, know the Capitals can't keep putting themselves in positions that force the referees to call penalties against them.

Washington was called for seven penalties in Game 3 Wednesday and Pittsburgh converted on one power play in its 3-2 overtime victory.

The Capitals have taken nine minors totaling 18 minutes through three games in this best-of-7 series. They were called for seven penalties in Game 2, including five in the first period, and had five minors called against them in Game 1.

Pittsburgh is 3-for-16 on the power play, but Evgeni Malkin's goal with 4:59 to play in regulation in Game 3 proved to be a big one.

"It's a recurring theme now," said Capitals center David Steckel, who's spent a lot of time in this series killing off those penalties. "We just have to stay out of the box. When you have a potent power play like they do it's just bound to not end well for us. We obviously took some stupid ones."

Killing penalties as often as Washington has been has a cumulative effect on the team and the game plan. Washington used seven forwards on the penalty kill Monday, but four defensemen got the majority of the workload on the back end.

Tom Poti, who is already fighting sore groins, played a series-high 8:08 on the penalty kill. Milan Jurcina was on the PK for 5:16, Morrisonn for 5:08 and Mike Green for 4:45. Steckel also played 7:11, the most any forward has played so far in this series.

"It's more on the defensemen and the work they have to do," coach Bruce Boudreau said. "On penalties, you don't have the chance to be aggressive as a defenseman or as a team offensively."

There's the other problem for the Caps. They played well in the first 10-15 minutes of Wednesday's game, but they hadn't yet committed a penalty.

Once they did, the Penguins' offensive onslaught began.

Jurcina started the second period in the box after being called for delay of game, an indisputable penalty, at 19:34 of the first period. Green was called for slashing Jordan Staal at 10:02 and goaltender Simeon Varlamov was whistled for slashing Malkin at 19:16.

In total, the Caps had to kill nearly 4 1/2 minutes of penalties in the second period. When a team has to spend that much time killing penalties, it kills their offensive flow.

In the second period, the Capitals were outshot 15-4 and outscored 1-0.

"We have to step up a little bit more, skate a little bit more and move our legs a little bit more because we can't take this many penalties against a good team like Pittsburgh," Nicklas Backstrom said.

It was more of the same in the third as Alex Ovechkin went off for interfering with Sidney Crosby 4:54 into the period and Alexander Semin was in the box when Malkin scored his goal after he was called for hooking Malkin at 14:10.

Brian Pothier shot the puck over the glass 2:15 into the overtime to put the Caps on the penalty kill in the extra session.

The Capitals bristled when the word "undisciplined" came up. They didn't think they earned all of their penalties in Game 3 and that made for some raised eyebrows, including two from Ovechkin, who called the fact that the Capitals were called for seven penalties while Pittsburgh was whistled for only two "a joke."

"Sometimes it's unfair on penalties," Backstrom said, "but they played good and they deserved to win."

Contact Dan Rosen at drosen@nhl.com


Quote of the Day

Just the feel for the direction they were headed and what they're trying to do, it just felt that this is a really good thing for this organization. They've got the pieces. We can put something together and go on a run or two and be together for a while, and I'm really excited about that opportunity. The team we have here has an opportunity to win, and that's the most attractive thing.

— Washington defenseman Matt Niskanen on why he decided to sign with the Capitals