More than halfway through the 2005-06 season, it looks as though the NHL’s promise to crack down on obstruction could actually last the entire season. And as penalty minutes have gone up for each team, the play of special teams has taken on an increased importance in the new NHL. With referees calling more penalties, teams that can score on the power play and are effective on the penalty kill can take advantage and have a better chance of making it to the postseason.
The Washington Capitals know they need to improve their special teams play in order to improve their 17-26-5 record. Currently, the Capitals penalty kill ranks dead last in the entire league at 78.8 percent and their power play has been just as ineffective ranking 29th, just ahead of Chicago, at 13.6 percent.
To help solve their special teams woes and in particular improve their penalty kill, the Capitals recalled right wing Boyd Gordon on January 3rd. Gordon, a first round draft pick in 2002, began the season with the Capitals and played in nine games before being sent down to Hershey on October 25th. The Saskatchewan native used the demotion to help work on his offensive game. In 29 games, he scored nine goals and 19 points for the Hershey Bears and recorded a +5 rating, second among Hershey forwards.
“I tried to work on my offensive part [in Hershey],” said Gordon. “I played on the power play and got a lot of offensive opportunities so I tried to work on that. I’m trying to come here and I’m just trying to be strong offensively and be good on the PK.”
In 19 games with the Caps this season, Gordon has yet to register a single point. Unlike his first season with the Caps, when he was playing on a line with Jaromir Jagr, Gordon has been seeing fourth line duty, and has not had many offensive opportunities since he is frequently matched up against the top two lines of the opposing team.
But the strong-skating right wing wasn’t recalled for his goal scoring ability. The Washington Capitals recalled Gordon in hopes that he might provide the spark needed on their penalty kill.
“He’s turned our penalty kill around,” said Washington Head Coach Glen Hanlon. “Tonight [the game against Anaheim] was another great night for our kill. He’s a young player, another one of our young players that we anticipate contributing for many years.”
Gordon has made an immediate impact on the Caps penalty kill and has averaged around five minutes of time on the ice per game shorthanded. In his first game since being recalled, Gordon helped shut down a red hot Senators power play, blanking them in all eight of their opportunities. In fact, Gordon has helped shut down the power plays of three different teams in eight games. Over that span, the Capitals have seen their penalty kill allow just 9 goals in 48 opportunities (81.25 percent), a small but effective improvement over their year average because the club has also gone 3-8 in that span, including three straight wins.
Washington’s penalty killing proficiency is continuing to rise, as last Saturday night, the Caps extended their season high winning streak (longest since 2002) to four games, and completely stifled the high powered Carolina Hurricanes, who are currently tied with Ottawa for the NHL’s best record. The Caps managed to kill off all nine Carolina power plays on the night, including 49 seconds worth of 5-on-3 time in the second period, and another 33 seconds of 5-on-3 in the third. Not surprisingly, Gordon and teammate Brian Sutherby were the prominent forwards on the ice against the ‘Canes during their odd-man opportunities. Gordon saw an increased workload in the game and finishing the contest with a total of 7:54 of total ice time.
Gordon was also featured in last Monday night’s contest against conference rival, Boston. Although Washington clawed back from a three-goal deficit, they were not able to complete the task, and fell to Boston, thus ending their winning streak at four games. However, the Caps penalty killers were able to contain the Bruins’ power play, and have not allowed a power play goal against in two straight contests. With Washington trailing the entire game, Gordon did not receive much ice time during even strength situations, but was always the among the first forward pairings on the penalty kill, and even served as the lone forward on a 51-second two-man disadvantage early in the second period.
As of now, Gordon has settled into his defensive role quite nicely and appears content with his current responsibilities.
“I try to work hard and I think that’s what I’m here for,” he said. “So I just try to bear down and focus on [the penalty kill] and try to do a good job. Whatever I can do to help the team I’m going to do it.”
Tanya Lyon and David Rathbun contributed to this article. Copyright 2006 Hockey’s Future. Do not reprint or otherwise duplicate without permission of the editorial staff.