Power play, penalty kill are the focus this week

After Monday's 5-3 loss to the San Jose Sharks, Capitals coach Dale Hunter made a promise that special teams work would be a major part of this week's practices.

With three full days in between games to stew over that disappointing performance, Hunter needs to get his crew on track if Washington is to rally to win the Southeast Division. The Caps have fallen to 12th on the power play in the NHL after a recent 4-for-37 dry spell dating to Jan. 15. The penalty kill is even worse at 25th in the league (80.1 percent) with 16 goals allowed in 62 tries (74.2 percent) since Jan. 3.

Up next
Capitals at Panthers
When » Friday, 7:30 p.m.
Where » BankAtlantic Center,
Sunrise, Fla.

Monday's three power-play goals allowed vs. San Jose certainly didn't help matters. So the coaching staff dedicated much of Wednesday's practice to both units in the hopes that things go better in the critical division game against Florida later this week.

"We've got run around a little bit too much on our [penalty kill], especially when we're tired, and it cost us a few goals," Hunter said, noting also that there was some bad luck involved for goalie Braden Holtby against the Sharks. "[A puck] was tipped over his back. Then the guy hits an empty-netter. Some games the hockey gods are against you, and that was one of them games."

But improved special teams are the best way Washington can turn around its poor road record (9-15-3). The Caps play five of their next six games away from Verizon Center, and their penalty kill success rate drops to a woeful 77.4 percent on the road.

"We had a pretty good stretch going," Hunter said. "By practicing here, you refocus on it and have the little things, and [assistant coach Dean Evason] is yelling at them during the practice here, 'Two feet this way or this way.' It's all technical."

There's no word yet on whether defenseman Mike Green will make the upcoming four-game road trip. He is still recovering from sports hernia surgery and took part in his first full practice Wednesday. Hunter said the team also hadn't yet made a final decision on adding a player to the roster, which stands at 21 without Green and has two spots open.

Washington (28-23-5, 61 points) entered played Wednesday four points behind the Panthers in the division standings and in ninth place in the Eastern Conference, placing Friday's game firmly in the must-win category with just 26 games left to go in the regular season.

"Would we like to be in a better position? Yeah. But the reality is we aren't," forward Brooks Laich said. "So we have some work to do. There's still a lot of hockey left, and our team has a lot to prove."