Sunday, December 05, 2010
That Was The Week That Was: November 28 - December 4, By the Tens
Record for the week: 2-2-0
The week started well enough with wins over Carolina and St. Louis, but ended with a thud with losses to Dallas and Atlanta. This is a little more than stubbing one’s toe; the Caps are in a bit of a valley. Since putting together a six-game winning streak to push them to the front of the NHL standings they are 6-4-2 in their last dozen games. Buried within that was a four-game winning streak, but otherwise it looked like a club already hitting something of a wall of indifference.
Seven goals in four games when the net was defended by a goaltender (the Caps had an empty netter in the 4-1 win at St. Louis on Wednesday). A very dry week on the offensive side of the ledger. It is not as if the Caps have lacked for shots on goal. They recorded 150 shots in the four games this week. Of three four-game weeks played so far this season, the eight total goals scored is the low total, despite two of the three games so far this season when the Caps recorded at least 40 shots in a game. The best that can be said for the week is that the Caps spread things around. Seven players shared the eight goals (only Nicklas Backstrom had more than one goal), and 13 different players had points.
The other side of the coin, and likely a point that will be lost in all the hair pulling over two losses this week, is that the Caps had a very good week defending their own net. The three goals Atlanta scored last night was the worst outing of the week, and the Caps held opponents to a 6.7 percent shooting percentage. In fact, since the Caps took one in the teeth in a 5-0 loss to New Jersey on November 22nd, the Caps have allowed only 10 goals in six games.
Goaltending: 1.99 GAA /.939 SV
No problems with the goaltending this week. If the most that Semyon Varlamov and/or Michal Neuvirth allow is one three-goal game in every four played (those three goals allowed by Varlamov last night), the Caps will be just fine. And, Varlamov and Neuvirth held their opponents without a goal on 36 shots in the first period of the four games for the week. They gave their teammates a chance to take control of games. They did allow a combined three third period goals, but coming as they did on a total of 47 shots (.936 save percentage), it was not a bad week in that regard.
Power Play: 2-11 (18.2 percent)
Not a bad week, but not overwhelming, either. It is the 11 opportunities that is once more disappointing. The encouraging part was that the goals were scored by Brooks Laich and Mike Knuble, guys who are depended upon to create some havoc on the power play. The disappointing parts are: a) the Caps went 2-for-29 on power play shots for the week (0-for-15 against Atlanta), and b) that Alex Ovechkin was 0-for-4 on power play shots and didn’t have any power play shots on goal in two of the games this week.
Penalty Killing: 13-15 (86.7 percent)
One would have trouble finding fault with the penalty killers this week. It is part of a consistently solid – and improving – part of the Caps’ game. The Caps are now eighth in the league in penalty killing. This should not be overlooked. The Caps have not ranked higher in penalty killing in any season since finishing the 1999-2000 season seventh. In fact, in the nine seasons since that seventh overall finish, only twice have the Caps ranked higher than 23rd.
Paying the Price: 103 hits/ 60 blocked shots
The Caps won both games in which they outhit their opponents this week. Ditto on blocked shots. It says something about “paying a price,” perhaps. And given that the Caps played a team that ranks ahead of it in hits (Dallas) and one that ranks ahead of it in blocked shots (Atlanta), it wasn’t necessarily a bad week on that score. But the Caps were held even with Dallas in hits (33 apiece) and were topped in blocked shots (20 to 4) by Atlanta, so maybe it wasn’t as good a week as it might have been.
Faceoffs: 119-225 (52.9 percent)
The Caps won three of the four games in this measure. But embedded in the result is the fact that the Caps were only 40-for-84 in the offensive zone for the week and only split the week in the defensive zone. The highest ranked team they faced this week was Atlanta (19th), and no team was a 50 percent team, so the week was a bit disappointing in the circle.
Not much to see here. The Caps were 1-1 in games in which they won the turnover battle (win over St. Louis, loss to Atlanta), 1-1 in games in which they lost the turnover battle (win over Carolina, loss to Dallas). For the season the Caps are firmly settled in the middle of the pack in takeaways-minus-giveaways (14th at minus-25). The odd thing is that of the six teams in the Eastern Conference ranked ahead of them, four are in the top-eight (playoff) mix, but two of those teams are on the minus side, too (Philadelphia and Boston).
It wasn’t the best of weeks, it wasn’t the worst of weeks. The lasting impressions are those left most recently, though, and that means the two losses. The first thing that comes to mind is the two goals on 84 shots, only one goal on 62 even strength shots. And what comes to mind is that “quantity does not equal ‘quality.’” Specifically in the last game of the week, against Atlanta, the Caps didn’t have much quality in the 46 shots sent Ondrej Pavelec’ way. Even though paying a price might be measured in a team’s collective willingness to inflict punishment (hits) and take it (blocking shots), part of it is also a product of going into high traffic areas to make one’s own opportunities to score. That was not evident at the end of the week. The upcoming week offers something of a weaker challenge, with Toronto and Florida on the bill. But still, this past week had the feeling of a test offered and not passed. A similar test will present itself in the week after this, with the Rangers, Anaheim, and Boston on the schedule, but let’s get one week of good play back under their belts before considering that.