Sunday, October 24, 2010
Record for the week: 1-2-0
After a perfect week in the first full week of play, the Caps stumbled, thanks to losing a home-and-home to the Boston Bruins. An overtime win over the Atlanta Thrashers salvaged the week, but it had to be looked at as a step back. What was most confounding was the Caps inability to get any reliable contributions from the top line. It is a result we don’t think will continue, but if the Caps are to right themselves as they take the road this week, it will have to change quickly.
None of the six goals the Caps scored this week came in the first period. In fact, as the second full week comes to a close the Caps are tied for dead last with Atlanta and Ottawa in goals scored in the first period this season. It is a far cry from last season, in which the Caps led the league in first period goals. What is baffling about the overall lack of scoring is that the Caps recorded 119 shots on goal in the four games. Scoring on five percent of those shots is not a long-term recipe for success. What’s more, the first line had 39 shots on goal for the week, and neither Nicklas Backstrom, nor Alex Ovechkin, nor Mike Knuble registered a goal. They didn’t register a single point in the three games, going a combined minus-10 in the process. The high octane offense was on the side of the road for much of the week.
The Caps were, if nothing else, an equal opportunity provider on defense this week. The ten goals allowed in the three games were scored by nine different players (Evander Kane getting two on Saturday). And it was another case of getting behind the eight-ball early. The Caps allowed the first goal in all three games, and in all three games trailed at the first intermission. That is a recipe for failure in this NHL, where scoring early is the most important ingredient in winning games. It wasn’t entirely a case of failure on the part of the roster. The Caps were (and are still) suffering injuries on the blue line. Mike Green missed two games, Tom Poti one. And, they are nicked on the lower half of the forward lines, contributing to a lack of continuity among those players most often charged with shutting down opponents.
Goaltending: 3.36, .885
Not a good week for either Michal Neuvirth or Semyon Varlamov. There were mitigating circumstances, Neuvirth being ill in the first Boston game and Varlamov getting his first action on no notice. Still, dealing with difficult circumstances is part of the job at this level of play, and the best one can say about it for this week is that it adds to the reservoir of experience for both young goaltenders.
Power Play: 0-11 (0.00%)
There is no way to sugar coat this at the moment. The Caps’ power play stinks on toast. You would think the Caps are getting shots from the right people. In the three games they managed 19 shots on 11 power plays, and of this number seven came off the stick of Alex Ovechkin, four from that of Alexander Semin. But it is worth noting, too, that Mike Knuble and Brooks Laich -- two players one hopes would be able to clean up loose pucks in front -- recorded a combined three power play shots on goal for the week. Not having Mike Green in the lineup for two games (and his being at less than full-strength in the third game) no doubt hurt production. But this is still an offense that should have more success than this (19th in the league as of Sunday).
Penalty Killing: 10-14 (71.4%)
The perfect 25-for-25 came crashing to an end in Boston when the Caps allowed three power play goals on four opportunities. Atlanta managed one in six chances to give the Caps a disappointing week on the PK. Again, with the team as nicked up as they are, it is not necessarily surprising that the Caps’ perfect run came to an end. But allowing four power play goals in the last ten power play chances for the opposition is something to be concerned, if not alarmed about. In the week to come, the question will be whether the early power play success was a mirage, or if this past week was just some indigestion brought on by injuries up and down the lineup.
Paying the Price: 85 hits/39 blocked shots
It was a somewhat more physical week for the Caps, owing perhaps to the whims of the official scorer and the nature of the opponents – Boston is one of the more physical teams in the league. But the Caps did record more hits than did their opponents (85-72), and while they trailed overall in blocking shots (39-60), the percentage of shot attempts they did block (24.4 percent) was much closer to that which their opponents blocked (27.0 percent).
Faceoffs: 98-for-175 (56.0%)
Well, it was one area in which the Caps won the week. Washington won the battle in the circles in all three games, but it was their whopping 41-for-64 advantage against Atlanta that contributed to the final result. The difficulty the Caps had this week in this area was winning defensive zone draws. Tomas Fleischmann and Nicklas Backstrom don’t generally get to take a lot of this variety, but this past week they went 3-for-15 overall. Not the stuff of giving them more responsibility in this area. If not for a good week from David Steckel in this regard (14-for-20 in the defensive end), it would have been a grim week. At the other end the star was Brooks Laich, who lost only once in 11 tries in the offensive end.
Again, the calculation here is the Caps’ takeaways plus opponent giveaways, less opponents takeaways plus Caps’ giveaways. The Caps were a plus for the week, but imbedded in the number is the fact that they were guilty of 28 giveaways, eight more than their opponents. And that number was largely the product of the 16 giveaways charged to the Caps in the game against Atlanta. There were 13 different Caps charged with at least one. Well, if you’re going to do something, do it as a team.
At the end of the week (through October 23rd) the Caps find themselves tied for sixth in total standings points and only a single point out of the top spot in the league. Yet, this is a club of which it can be said that only once in eight games did they fire on all burners, their 7-2 win over New Jersey. That game was not played this past week. This week, the Caps did not look overwhelmed by Boston in the two losses, but it was an early-season marker to remember in that Tim Thomas – a goalie they might see down the road – has it in him to thwart the Caps’ offense.
Part of the problem this week impressed us as a technical one – not getting elevation on shots. A lot of shots this week seemed to get lost in the pads of the goaltender, especially against Thomas. That would seem to be a fixable problem. The bigger problems at the moment are two – health and the top line.
The first has the potential of casting a bad aura over the club. Injuries are the kind of things that might peck at a team all year. Caps fans of some standing might remember the 1998-1999 season in which the Caps sustained 511 man-games of injuries, scuttling their season. It’s too early to sound that alarm, but it bears watching, especially with Semyon Varlamov going down for the second time this young season.
More frustrating is the play of the top line, which frankly, isn’t pulling its weight. Their combined production compared to last season through eight games is stunning. At the moment the threesome is a combined 6-8-14, minus-7. Through eight games last season they were 13-21-34, plus-21. Had this group even approached last season’s production in the early going that they enjoyed last year, we might be talking about how the Caps were running away from the pack in the first month. At the moment, though, the Caps are the very epitome of an also-ran. They are just a part of that pack. Fortunately, there is time to remedy that situation.