Sunday, December 05, 2010

That Was The Week That Was: November 28 - December 4, By the Tens

A full slate of games last week, so how did it fare?

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.

Offense: 2.00/game

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.

Defense: 2.00/game

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.

Turnovers: Plus-1

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.

Anatomy of a Shooting

Sometimes 46 shots is indicative of one team dominating another at the opponent’s end of the ice. And then there are games like last night. The Caps registered 46 shots on goal against the Atlanta Thrashers, managing a single goal among those 46 shots. It was not as dominating an effort as you might think, and here are a few reasons why…


Of the Caps’ 46 shots on goal last night, only 13 of them came from inside of 20 feet. Only two of those 13 shots from inside 20 feet came on the power play. With fewer Thrashers on the ice, one might have thought there would be more room to get shots from close-in scoring areas. Eric Fehr had four of those 13 total shots, Brooks Laich another three (two of them on the power play). The top line? One (Nicklas Backstrom).

On the other end, 22 shots were taken from outside of 30 feet. You might expect the defensemen to take the majority of such shots, but only eight came from the sticks of blueliners. Alex Ovechkin had five of his total of six shots in this distance category, two of them from more than 45 feet.


If you take 46 shots over a 60 minute game, you are averaging a shot every 1:18. It seemed the Caps were trying to flirt with that kind of frequency last night, meaning that they were not peppering goaltending Ondrej Pavelec with rapid-fire volleys that would require him to make saves in quick succession. Only twice all evening did the Caps record consecutive shots less than ten seconds apart without an intervening face off, one coming midway through the first period when Mike Green and Brooks Laich recorded shots at 9:55 and 9:57, the other on a power play in the second period when Alex Ovechkin and Jason Chimera recorded shots at 4:14 and 4:22.

It is worth noting that the Caps did not record a shot over a 5:36 period in the second period, their longest drought of the game. It was during that span that Atlanta scored their first two goals to put the Caps in a hole.

Special Teams:

The Caps had 15 shots on goal on the power play, failing to convert on any of them. Small wonder why when one looks at the distances and frequency here. First, of the 15 power play shots, only two came from inside of 20 feet. The Caps were not crowding Pavelec’s crease well enough to get rebound shots.

Then there was the frequency. The Caps had five power plays, and here is how the shots fell out in terms of game time

PP1: 9:55/9:57/10:41/10:53
PP2: 3:07/4:04/4:10 (after faceoff)/4:14 (after faceoff)/4:22
PP3: 11:54/12:32/12:53
PP4: 9:00/9:12
PP5: 12:12

Lots of shots, but not much in terms of "pressure" -- making Pavelec make saves on shots in quick succession.

Who and Where:

It is one thing for defensemen to take shots from the outside; it is the nature of the position. But Mike Green (average shot distance: 38.8 feet) taking shots from closer in than Alex Ovechkin (45.0 feet)? Or Nicklas Backstrom (47.0 feet)? Neither Ovechkin nor Backstrom are generally thought of as the kind of offensive player who spends a lot of time trafficking in the close-in regions, but this seems to us more than a bit outside their comfort range for scoring. Even Brooks Laich (32.0 feet), Mike Knuble (31.0 feet), and Alexander Semin (29.0 feet) provided more evidence that the forwards were not doing much of their work on the inside, although Laich’s number is skewed by getting credit for a 91-foot shot.

This little look does not include misses or blocks, but what it seems to indicate to us is that the Caps were more or less suckered into taking long shots that Pavelec was given an opportunity to see because Caps who might have been in close were getting tied up by Thrasher defenders and were not getting rebound chances. Or, the Caps just didn’t make much of a game of it in close. Either way, sometimes 46 shots seems like 46 shots.

And sometimes, they seem like just so much cotton candy.

A NO-point night -- Game 28: Thrashers 3 - Caps 1

When the week started, the Caps faced the prospect of going up against a goaltender capable of making their lives difficult. It turns out that the goaltender in question wasn’t in St. Louis but right under their own noses in Verizon Center. The Caps pumped 46 shots at Ondrej Pav-halak… uh, Pavelec… and managed to get only one behind him as the Atlanta Thrashers gave the Caps their second loss at home in regulation this season in a 3-1 decision.

The 45-save performance by Pavelec made the performance at the other end by Semyon Varlamov for the Caps seem downright ordinary, but Varlamov probably faced as many quality scoring opportunities in the 33 shots he faced that Pavelec faced in the 46 shots he saw. The difference was consistency. Whereas Pavelec made saves both big and small, Varlamov and the Caps might have been undone by a relatively simple play midway through the second period.

After Rich Peverley redirected a Dustin Byfuglien drive over Varlamov’s left shoulder for the first goal of the game – a goal that Varlamov had little chance to stop – Ben Eager won a battle along the wall for a loose puck (we’ll come back to this idea later). He poked the biscuit out to Nik Antropov at the top of the left wing circle, whereupon Antropov sent the puck deep to Alexander Burmistrov in the left wing corner. Burmistrov walked the goal line, Varlamov hugging the near post as he did so. As Burmistrov closed, it looked for just a split second that Varlamov cheated in anticipation of Burmistrov pulling the puck in front for a deke. It left just enough of an opening above Varlamov’s right shoulder, and Burmistrov picked it, flipping the puck high to the short side and just inside the post to stake the Thrashers to a two-goal lead. With the way Pavelec was playing, you had the feeling it would be enough. Even with Alex Ovechkin breaking his nine-game streak without a goal, it was.

Other stuff…

-- The game began with 8:50 of play that was uninterrupted by any whistle. It seemed to go by in a blink.

-- One strange moment in a hockey game… Atlanta on a power play, and Brooks Laich tying up four Thrashers behind their own net and playing keep-away with the puck.

-- It was one of the few moments in which the Caps competed successfully along the boards. All night long it looked to be a case that whenever a Cap and a Thrasher contested along the wall for a puck, the Thrasher would win the battle. It was indicative of a game in which the Thrashers were much more successful in playing the game they wanted than the Caps were in playing theirs.

-- Part of that game the Thrashers played made the 46 shots on goal very deceiving. And here is an example of how… Mike Knuble had three shots on goal all night. Given the nature of Knuble’s game and the total number of shots, you might have expected that he would have had opportunities to whack away from in close. In fact, his shots came from 26, 39, and 28 feet, according to the official play-by-play. Nothing in-close there. Atlanta was content to let the Caps wail away from far out and to tie up anyone in close to prevent rebound shots. Brooks Laich and Eric Fehr – two other players counted on to get opportunities from in-close – had some more success in getting those shots, but not much.

-- The Caps had 15 shots on the power play, nine of them from the sticks of Alex Ovechkin, Alexander Semin, and Mike Green. How many times in a season will you see that many power play shots, that many power play shots from the right guys, and none of them go in? Well, against goaltenders not named “Halak” in a playoff series, anyway…

-- Speaking of Mike Green, he’s going to see Pavelec in his sleep for a few nights. He had 12 shot attempts, six shots on goal, and maybe four or five of them being from places Green can be counted on to score.

-- The Caps were credited with 11 hits in the first period. They finished the game with 17. Just an observation.

-- The Caps out-attempted the Thrashers 80-43. That’s like a football team winning the time of possession 40 minutes to 20 and losing 14-10.

-- The Thrashers blocked 20 shots (17 by defensemen), the Caps had four blocked shots. Frankly, we thought the Caps had five (missed one by Boyd Gordon early on), but that is quite a discrepancy.

-- From the “actions have consequences” file… David Steckel skated 10 shifts totaling 6:40 over the first two periods – about normal, even with having taken a roughing penalty (roughing?) in the first period. Then he was whistled for kneeing Tobias Entstrom 2:19 into the third period, after which he was locked up with Jim Slater in an ensuing fight. The Thrashers scored on the power play eight seconds later, ending the momentum the Caps had built late in the second period with dominating puck possession. Steckel’s night was over. He did not see the ice again for the remainder of the game.

-- About the fight. Rule 46.11 says the following:

Instigator - An instigator of an altercation shall be a player who by his actions or demeanor demonstrates any/some of the following criteria: distance traveled; gloves off first; first punch thrown; menacing attitude or posture; verbal instigation or threats; conduct in retaliation to a prior game (or season) incident; obvious retribution for a previous incident in the game or season. A player who is deemed to be the instigator of an altercation shall be assessed an instigating minor penalty, a major penalty for fighting and a ten-minute misconduct.

Jim Slater traveled quite a distance to get at Steckel after the collision with Enstrom. His gloves came off first, he threw the first punch, we’re betting his attitude was “menacing,” it was obviously retribution for a previous incident in the game (that occurring immediately before the fight, albeit to a teammate). If that’s not “instigating,” there is no such penalty in the NHL.

-- The Caps might have had 46 shots to the Thrashers’ 33, but the Thrashers’ shots came from everywhere, or more precisely, everyone. Only two skaters – Niclas Bergfors and Nik Antropov – did not register a shot on goal.

-- Another way in which the 46 shots for the Caps might be deceiving… The Caps won 10 of 22 faceoffs in the offensive end. Not a bad number, but consider that Nicklas Backstrom won only two of 11 draws in the offensive end. Not much ability to run set plays out of that.

-- These teams face each other once more in this regular season – on January 26th in Atlanta – and we wonder if there won’t be some long memories on the part of the Caps. A good number of Caps – Jason Chimera, John Carlson, among others – spent time counting their teeth after taking Thrasher sticks to the face. Atlanta was whistled for two high-sticking calls. It could have been three times that and it still might have been light.

In the end, there is nothing to see here… unless the Caps and the Thrashers were to meet, say, in the first round of the playoffs. There is an uneasy similarity to the way the season series between the Caps and Thrashers is playing out and last year’s season series between Montreal and the Caps. Last season the Caps split four games with the Canadiens (both teams went 2-1-1). It’s true that the Caps did not face Jaroslav Halak in any of the four regular season games last season, but they did face a team that was unintimidated in playing them. This season, Atlanta hasn’t sung from the hymn book this year the verse that the Caps are the gold standard in the Southeast. The Caps have scored only 12 goals in regulation in the five games played against the Thrashers, only one goal in their past two games. You could say it is early in the season, but in some ways – uncomfortable ones – the ground work is being laid for what could be an interesting playoff matchup down the road.

Be warned.