With his team dead last in the NHL standings with a 2-8-1 record after 11 games, Capitals general manager George McPhee met with reporters Friday at Kettler Capitals Iceplex. In the first of a three-part series, McPhee addresses the state of his team, its goaltending and its penchant for taking costly penalties:
On how he assesses the slow start:
With respect to the way we’re playing [with regards to] systems, I like the way we’re playing. I think if you’re watching, our team has really adjusted to the system pretty quickly. We wanted it right away, but it’s quicker than we were hoping for. The issue with our club right now, in my mind, is all these penalties that we’re taking. It’s too much. 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 [power-play] 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.
On a reason for the penalties:
I don’t think it’s system-related or anything like that. I just think it’s undisciplined, lack of focus, selfish in some ways and in a short season, in any season -- playoffs or whatever -- you can’t be taking penalties. You can’t consistently take more penalties than your opposition. I think that the two games we didn’t, we won both of them. I can’t be angry at any individual. It just seems to be happening and it’s incredibly frustrating, but it’s got to stop.
On a lack of focus from the players:
I’m not sure. Players will say those kinds of things, they’ll speak in clichés after games. ‘We weren’t ready to play,’ that sort of thing. I’m not sure that that’s the case because in a lot of games we are ready to play. Last night we were terrific for the first [20 or 25] minutes and we’ve been like that in other games. I just don’t understand why we’re taking these penalties. I wish I had that answer. I’m not sure that I do.
On where that responsibility lies:
It’s on players. It’s always on the players. We have some players that are physical guys and never take penalties. You know, a guy like [Troy] Brouwer gets a lot of hits in the league every year. He’s a stand-up guy, a gritty guy, plays hard, plays honest and this year he’s probably taken more penalties [five minors] than he’s wanted to and it’s not his nature. It hasn’t happened to him in the past so it’s hard to explain. But it’s got to stop.
On whether he thinks the Caps’ talent is better than their record:
I do, yeah. I thought, and still believe, that this is a solid team if we play the way we can play. 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. We don’t spend a lot of time in our zone, we protect our defensemen, we’re consistently out-chancing the other team and we’re getting more attacks than we’ve had, so we’re doing a lot of things well. But the penalties and [lack of] timely saves -- the goaltenders have to be better -- are hurting the club right now. We can talk about goals and offense, we all like to score goals and you always want offense, but if you look at the team that won the [Stanley] Cup last year [Kings], we’ve scored five more goals than they have so far this year. The team that won the Cup the year before, Boston, I think they’ve got one more than we do. It’s how many you’re giving up that matters and we’ve given 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.
On the penaty kill, which ranks 27th in the NHL:
The PK can be better if you allow it to be. Any time you take three [penalties] or less, in most cases you can kill those. Any time we’ve done that this year, I think in every case except one, we’ve killed them all off. But when you start taking more than three penalties a game, it ruins the game. Not only do you give up some goals, but you wipe the players out. Penalty killing is really tiring. You know, we go into Toronto and take five straight penalties and you’re wiped out for the rest of the game. The game was winnable but a lot of guys were wiped out. Last night we’re playing a good game and then in the second half of the second period you take three straight penalties and [allow] three straight goals and it’s over.