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Preparation, commitment boosts Capitals penalty kill

by Corey Masisak /

ARLINGTON, Va. -- Jay Beagle knew he was going to feel the effects later, but getting in the way of a Johnny Boychuk slap shot is just part of his job description.

Beagle took Boychuk's shot off the leg during Game 4 of this Eastern Conference First Round series and hobbled to the bench. He was OK and continued in the game, one the Washington Capitals won 2-1 in overtime against the New York Islanders.

The Capitals are 10-for-10 on the penalty kill in this best-of-7 series, which is tied 2-2 with Game 5 at Verizon Center on Thursday (7 p.m. ET; CNBC, SN, TVA Sports 2, MSG+, CSN-DC). Beagle's block was one of several key moments during Game 4. New York had a chance to take control of the game in the second period but could not, in large part because of Washington's work on the penalty kill.

"I think the biggest thing is preparation," Beagle said. "Last game it was pretty tough because we had some back-to-back kills and teams can feed off momentum from that. We did a great job of shutting them down."

Washington was a middle of the pack team on the penalty kill during the regular season, erasing 81.2 percent of its opponents' extra-man opportunities. The Islanders were also a mid-pack team on the power play, but the Capitals have won that battle to this point.

The Capitals have yielded the third-most shot attempts per 60 minutes on the penalty kill during the Stanley Cup Playoffs, a way-too-high total of 119.1 per (the Islanders have allowed the most at more than 124 per 60 minutes), but Washington has dulled the impact of that by getting in the way of a lot of shots. The Capitals have allowed the seventh-most unblocked shot attempts per 60 minutes.

"The guys have been really committed to it," forward Troy Brouwer said. "You look at all the guys like [Beagle] blocking shots, [Nicklas Backstrom] blocking shots without a stick. Our D-men have done a great job fronting guys when pucks do get through. We still have some work to do. I feel our clears could be a little better. All in all, guys are doing what it takes to try and limit their opportunities on the [power play]."

The Islanders have the components to possess a strong power play. Boychuk's slap shot is a weapon, and just getting him the puck in a position to shoot can open up space for other players. Kyle Okposo is one of the best players in the NHL at winning puck battles along the wall, a very underrated part of keeping extra-man situations alive instead of forcing the team to retrieve the puck at the other end of the ice.

Then there is John Tavares, who can be both trigger man and finisher. Many of the top power-play facilitators in the League are generally pass-first players. Tavares possesses the creativity of those players, but can also shoot on a level of some of the best snipers in the sport.

"He's definitely a key on their power play," Brouwer said. "He logs a lot of minutes just like the top guys on our [power play] do. He's got tendencies, but he's one of those players that when you think he's got them contained, he is still able to make a great pass or a great play. You always have to be on guard with him, and respect his ability and respect his skill."

An injury to Eric Fehr meant Backstrom spent a little more time on the penalty kill, and having a cerebral, skilled player out there can certainly help. Beagle credited assistant coach Lane Lambert for his scouting reports and video work with the penalty killers.

Sometimes it is just up to goaltender Braden Holtby to make some saves. To this point in this series, the combination of all of these things has worked in Washington's favor.

Even if, as Beagle found out, there can be a price to pay for it.

"It's not the first time I've gotten in the way of a Boychuk clapper," Beagle said. "He's got a heavy shot, one of the heavier shots in the League. Obviously they use him on the power play and it is our job as penalty killers to get in the way as much as we can.

"You just do the best you can to get in a shot lane. We've got a great coach who goes through our [penalty kill] in depth a lot with us. Everyone knows their job. Lane does a great job of breaking down their [power play] and helping everyone know what to expect, knowing what their habits are. It is everything from winning a draw, which is crucial in the D-zone, to sticking to what we've worked on all year."

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