Monday, November 01, 2010
Record for the week: 2-1-0
Sometimes it’s not the “what” as much as how you get there. For the Caps a 2-1-0 record on the road isn’t half bad, especially when one of those wins comes in a very inhospitable place for the Caps over the history of the franchise. And there was the whole “three games in three time zones” thing, which frankly, we think vastly overblown. The record reflects the inconsistency that has been a hallmark of the early going for the Caps – fine games in Carolina and (well, at least the last 40 minutes) in Calgary, sandwiched around a real stinkeroo in Minnesota in which the Caps seemed to leave their get-up-and-go at the hotel. But four points on the road in six games is nothing to sneer at.
Don’t get the idea that the Caps’ offense is “back.” Not when seven of the 11 goals come in one game, and the power play still had trouble getting off the ground early in the week. Seven different Caps shared in the 11 goals this week, Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom leading with three apiece. Twelve different Caps had points. Backstrom led in total scoring with a six-point week. The cloud surrounding the silver lining is that the second line of Alexander Semin, pic-a-player, and Brooks Laich did not register a point all week. That was because they pulled a goose egg in Carolina, did ditto in Minnesota, and was broken up to re-create the 8-19-28 line in Calgary. Semin had two goals and an assist on the top line in Calgary, and Laich added an assist on what was now a Fleischmann-Laich-Knuble second line.
Four goals allowed in three games on the road. Any Cap fan have a complaint with that? We surely don’t. What is almost as good is that the Caps allowed only 75 shots on goal on the week (25.0/game), shaving four shots a game off their average from the previous week. But again, a cloud. Three of the four goals came in the first period, and in both the Minnesota and Calgary game the Caps allowed the first goal. Call us greedy, but if the Caps could find a way to start games on defense the way they have been ending them, they would lead the league in lowest goals allowed per game.
Goaltending: 1.34, .947
Michal Neuvirth ended the week as one of two goalies in the league who appeared in every game his team played in so far this season (Martin Brodeur being the other). He bore up well under the workload. He had a .978 save percentage in the second and third periods of the three games this week. Neuvirth is one Cap who has grabbed opportunity by the throat and not let go.
Power Play: 3-9 (33.3%)
The power play started week as feebly as it performed the previous week when it went 0-for-11. Going 0-for-5 in the first two games of the road swing were just a couple more shovelfuls of dirt the Caps were digging out of the hole that they had been working on going back to last season. But three power play goals in barely eight-and-a-half minutes of game time (the latter two in the series coming 12 seconds apart off the stick of Alex Ovechkin) ended the week on a high note for the Caps on the man advantage. It was a case of back to basics – shooting the puck from places the shooters find comfortable, particularly Ovechkin potting one on a one timer and the other on a wrist shot, both from the friendly confines of the left wing circle. Those areas had not been too kind (or too open) for Ovechkin thus far this season.
Penalty Killing: 15-16 (93.8%)
After the struggles against Boston the previous week (allowing three in four chances in the Bruins’ home opener), the Caps returned to their stingy ways this week. The one power play goal they did allow came against what was then the best power play in the league. Efficiency-wise, this was another area one can’t find much to complain about. But yielding 16 chances in the three games is on the high side of comfort. Getting that number down to three or four will keep penalty killers fresh, both for killing penalties and for their 5-on-5 work, not to mention providing for more continuity and flow.
Paying the Price: 67 hits/49 blocked shots
The physical pace was slower than the previous week, owing to the fact that: a) the Bruins (who the Caps played twice) often initiate a more physical game, and b) the last of the three game was for all intents and purposes settled long before the second period was over. The Caps lost the hits battle for the week (67-73), but they did block more shots (49-40). In fact, the Caps blocked almost 30 percent of the oppositions’ shot attempts for the week (49-for-164).
Faceoffs: 104-for-207 (50.2%)
The Caps won the week by the slimmest of margins, and that was a product of winning 41-of-70 draws against Carolina in the first game of the week. There were good moments, but no one seemed immune to the problem of winning draws consistently. Mathieu Perreault was 7-for-22 in two games (scratched for the last one against Calgary), Tomas Fleischmann followed up an 8-for-11 effort against Carolina by going 7-for-17 in the last two games. Even David Steckel had his problems, recording two games with losing records (a combined 15-for-35) after going 13-for-17 in Carolina. What was a strength of the club last season has been a weakness so far in this one.
It was a rough week for the Caps in this regard, losing each of the individual games and the week as a whole in turnovers. The Caps had more than twice as many giveaways as did their opponents (25 vs. 12). You might think this the product of a high-risk/high-reward offense, but it had the appearance of sloppiness, too.
At the end of the week (through October 30th) the Caps found themselves with a 7-4-0 record for the year. In two of the games they had one of their most complete efforts (against Carolina) and one of their most dominating ones (the second period against Calgary). It was not a “complete” week by any stretch, but we did see more signs of the kind of team this could be with a little more consistency.
Some of the same problems contributed to that inconsistency, again the nicked up blue line (although Mike Green looked pretty healthy in the Calgary game, at least for taking a spill into the end boards with little apparent ill effect as much as for the three points he recorded) and the absence of second line production.
We also wonder when Michal Neuvirth is getting a break. Sure, he’s young, and he can take the physical aspects of playing a lot of games in a row (or so the theory might go). But the mental toll doesn’t strike us as healthy for a rookie goaltender. He might have to bear that sort of burden in May; asking him to bear it now might have costs down the road in that regard.
The top line got out of its funk, even a little bit before the Calgary game (it scored three of the four goals in the first two games of the week). The problem was that its being held to one goal/one point against Minnesota meant that the second and third lines had to contribute and did not. What that meant was that by the time the Caps arrived in Calgary, the second line was blown up (Semin moved up to the first line, Knuble down to the second, and Laich spending more time at center), and the third line had Eric Fehr scratched and Boyd Gordon centering that line. It lends an aura of mystery to see what this week brings as the Caps move into November.