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McPhee: Caps need fewer penalties, better play in net

by Ben Raby

ARLINGTON, Va. -- With the Washington Capitals occupying last place in the NHL standings and off to the fourth-worst start in franchise history, general manager George McPhee points to two areas in particular that must improve.

"I think the only -- the two areas we must get better is keeping pucks out of our net and it starts by not taking penalties," McPhee said Friday.

The Capitals are 2-8-1 and have allowed a League-high 15 power play goals against. Only the Edmonton Oilers (54) and Montreal Canadiens (52) have been shorthanded more than Washington (51) through 11 games.

After his team dropped to 2-8-1 on the season, Washington Capitals GM George McPhee says he won't "blow things up" and wants better goaltending and discipline. (Photo: Getty Images)

"The issue with our club right now, in my mind, is all these penalties that we're taking. It's too much," McPhee said. "We're playing a good game and then we start taking penalties and we take them in bunches. No system, no coach, no team can survive that. We've given up the most shorthanded goals in the League and for good reason -- we're taking too many. It's too hard on the goaltenders and it's too hard on the team."

In a 5-2 loss Thursday to the Pittsburgh Penguins, the Capitals once again took penalties "in bunches" with three minors in a 12-minute span in the second period. Pittsburgh converted on all three power-play opportunities and added two even-strength goals as well.

Through 11 games, the Capitals have had to kill four or more penalties seven times. Washington is winless in those seven games.

"When you start taking more than three penalties a game, it ruins the game," McPhee said. "Not only do you give up some goals, but you wipe the players out. Penalty killing is really tiring … Last night we're playing a good game [in Pittsburgh] and then in the second half of the second period you take three straight penalties and [allow] three straight goals and it's over."

McPhee also acknowledged that more is needed from his goaltending tandem of Braden Holtby, 22, and Michael Neuvirth, 24. The Capitals have allowed a League-worst 3.73 goals-against per game.

"They've got to be better," he said. "We think we've done a real good job of developing them. They've had their time in [the American Hockey League]. There is upside there with these goaltenders. But they can both play better and they know it. And it's time for them to play.

"Neuvirth is a good solid goaltender. Holtby played really well in the playoffs. It's time for these two guys to play. Give them lots of games and see how they do. And right now it's not going the way they had hoped."

"I really like the coaches, I love what they're doing and I like the way that we're playing in terms of our system … but the penalties and [lack of] timely saves -- the goaltenders have to be better -- are hurting the club right now."
-- Washington Capitals general manager George McPhee on his team's struggles

McPhee insists that he is still confident in his team's ability to succeed and the right coach and system are in place.

Adam Oates was hired as the 16th head coach in franchise history in June, but an abbreviated training camp and a lack of preseason play has created a learning-on-the-fly environment when it comes to teaching a new system.

"I thought, and still believe, that this is a solid team if we play the way we can play," McPhee said. "We're just not playing well enough. I really like the coaches, I love what they're doing and I like the way that we're playing in terms of our system … but the penalties and [lack of] timely saves -- the goaltenders have to be better -- are hurting the club right now."

Offensively, the Capitals remain the only team without a four-goal game and Alex Ovechkin has yet to score at even strength. Still, McPhee isn't overly concerned with his club scoring a conference worst 2.27 goals-per-game.

"It's how many [goals] you're giving up that matters and we've giving up 41 and it's way too much. That's what's most important -- we're giving up too many goals and it seems to be related to a lot of these penalties that we're taking. It's too hard on the team and it's too hard on the goaltenders."

Asked if he feels the need to makes changes to his team, McPhee said he won't be "blowing anything up," and that he likes the players and staff that he has in place.

"With respect to getting itchy fingers and whatever, if there's something I can do to make the club better, I will," he said. "I've had some real good discussions with ownership over the last couple of days and they're obviously not very happy. But they've been supportive. At times like this ownership can pile on and make things worse. Or ownership can say 'How can we help and what we can do to make it better?' And it's been the latter. It's been 'How can we help, what can we do to make it better?'… That being said, if there's something I can do to help the club out I will. But I'm not going to do anything stupid."

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