A couple of weeks ago, I wrote an article on how the Senators were rather undisciplined, taking far too many penalties. Somewhat surprisingly, it went mostly ignored -- not just my article, but the fact that the Senators had a problem with taking too many penalties. I guess it was easy to ignore back when the Sens' penalty kill was the best in the league, but now that it's starting to falter, the problem cannot be ignored any longer. As Peter mentioned in his recap yesterday, the Senators lost the game because of penalties: all three goals against were scored by the Devils on the powerplay.
The abundance of powerplay goals (seven in the last five games) can be blamed on a number of factors. First, Ottawa lost one of its best penalty killers in Anton Volchenkov, which makes a huge difference. Second, its penalty kill is simply not as effective, down to 82% efficiency (9th in the league). Third, the team is taking far more penalties than it can afford. Ottawa averages 20.2 penalty minutes per game - a full period of hockey with a man in the box. That's the worst in the league, more than double what teams like Detroit and Nashville are doing, and it's unacceptable. Spending more time short handed doesn't just increase the opponent's time on the powerplay, it also means that Ottawa's penalty killers get worn out and are less effective. This is especially true when Ottawa heads right to the box after they finish killing a penalty - Chris Kelly and Daniel Alfredsson are great penalty killers, but their legs get tired if they never leave the ice. Plus, four shorthanded goals aside, it really prevents your own team from scoring.
Who are the main offenders? Ignoring fighting majors (because that's usually offsetting), the top five penalty-takers, in order, are: Chris Neil (10 minors), Jarkko Ruutu (8), Nick Foligno (7), Jonathan Cheechoo (6), and Alex Kovalev (5). I actually thought Cheechoo was far higher, but then I realized something: you just notice his penalties more because they usually conclude with the other team scoring. He has good luck like that. On the other end of the scale? Daniel Alfredsson has somehow only taken one penalty, despite the huge minutes he logs.
Just like in minor hockey, Cory Clouston has to start shortening the bench when players take stupid penalties. It doesn't matter if you are Chris Neil or Alex Kovalev -- a stupid penalty is a stupid penalty, and Ottawa is taking far too many of them. If they continue to take these penalties, then goals like this will become an even more common occurrence: