Sunday, October 23, 2011

That Was The Week That Was -- Week 2 (October 16-22)

It was a fine week, a good week...nay, a great week.  For October, that is.  But while it didn't have the satisfaction that, say, maybe 16 playoff wins might have in the spring, it sure was fun to watch the Caps pulverize a couple of top-notch foes. So, how did the week go?

Record for the week: 3-0-0

The week began with the Caps setting a franchise record for consecutive wins to start a season (five) and ended with a dismantling of the only other remaining undefeated team in the league to extend that streak to seven. In between the Caps smacked around one of their most hated rivals.  Hard to imagine a better week unless your fantasies tend toward shutting out the Penguins three times by 10-0 scores. Shutting out Florida to start the week might not have qualified as an historic achievement (the Panthers have been shut out twice in their last three games), but the combined records of the Caps’ last two opponents of the week going into those games was 10-0-1. In each instance, Philadelphia and Detroit left the ice with their first loss in regulation on their record in emphatic fashion.

Offense: 5.00 goals/game (season: 4.14, NHL rank: 1st)

Fifteen goals for the week. The Caps have not scored that many total goals in three consecutive games since they scored 16 over a three game stretch, October 30 – November 5, last season (a 7-2 win over Calgary, a 5-4 Gimmick win over Toronto, and a 5-3 win over Boston…we do not count trick shot goals in the total). OK, in two of the games the goal barrage came against backups – Detroit’s Ty Conklin and Florida’s Jacob Markstrom (making his first NHL start), but two of the games were played against a pair of the league’s best defensive corps, too – Philadelphia and Detroit.

Nine players shared in the fifteen goals, and six of them came from the third and fourth lines. Of the 18 skaters dressing for the week, all of them had at least one point except Karl Alzner. And it is worth noting as well that the leading point-getters for the week were Alex Ovechkin (2-3-5) and Nicklas Backstrom (1-4-5).

The Caps have been accused of lacking the “ruthless” gene, lacking the killer instinct to put a team away. This week, they showed what they were capable of. They scored eight of their 15 goals (including an empty-netter) in the third periods of the three games. Six of them came against those vaunted Flyer and Red Wing defenses.

Defense: 1.00 goals/game (season: 2.00, rank: T-5th)

Allowing three goals in three games is impressive any time. But given that two of the three opponents were top-five offenses made it all the more so (explain that away with the “backup goaltender” argument). And the three-in-three extended the streak to four-in-four (goals in games).

Here is another way to look at it. In 180 minutes of hockey this past week the Caps trailed for a grand total of 4:15, the time elapsed between Claude Giroux scoring the first goal of the game against the Flyers and Mathieu Perreault tying it up. The Caps did not relinquish any lead they took during the week. Odd fact…the Caps allowed three goals for the week; Brooks Laich was the only Cap on the ice for all of them.

If there is one area that bears watching, it is shots against. The Caps yielded 95 shots on the week, 75 in the last two games.

Goaltending: 1.00/.968

Tomas Vokoun had a spectacular week, given the opponents. The 3-0, 20-save shutout of his former team was business-like. His performance against the Flyers, when Philadelphia was ratcheting up the pressure to try to get back into a game in which they fell behind (11 shots faced in the first period, 14 in the second, and 17 in the third), kept the notoriously rabid Flyer crowd out of the game. His performance against the Red Wings, in which his stoning of Pavel Datsyuk’s deke attempt with the game still scoreless (ok, the puck might have hit teammate Dan Cleary’s skate) kept things even until the Caps could get their bearings. His save percentage for the week when the Caps were shorthanded was .929 (13 saves on 14 shots). His save percentage when the Caps are shorthanded (.931) is fourth among all goaltenders who have faced at least 100 shots so far this season. 

Power Play: 4-for-11/36.4 percent (season: 29.6 percent; rank: 1st)

Three games played, three games with at least one power play goal. That makes five games in a row and six of seven with at least one power play goal. But perhaps more impressive is that the Caps netted four goals on eight power play shots on goal in exactly 15 minutes of total power play time for the week. Alex Ovechkin led the Caps in power play points with a 1-3-4 week. That’s a good sign. With five power play points for the season he is almost a quarter of the way to his total power play point total of last season (24) after only seven games. With Mike Green chipping in two goals and Nicklas Backstrom getting three assists, it was a good extra-man week for the Young Guns (although Alexander Semin did not get a point in 4:30 in power play ice time). It is worth noting as well that Dennis Wideman recorded a pair of assists to leave him at 1-3-4 in power play scoring for the season, adding another dimension to the power play from the blue line. That one power play goal – a game-winner – remains the only power play goal the Penguins have allowed this season in 33 shorthanded instances.

Penalty Killing: 7-for-8/87.5 percent (season: 81.8; rank: 18th)

As much as the fine kill numbers for the week is the fact that the Caps allowed opponents only eight power play opportunities. Only four teams in the NHL have allowed fewer power play opportunities than have the Caps. But the story for the week was the 7:34 stretch in the second period in which the Detroit Red Wings had two five-on-three power plays totaling 1:04 in which they had six shots on goal and only one goal. They had two other 5-on-4 power plays in that window and failed to score on either of them. That could have ended much worse for the Caps, and had it done so would likely have spelled the end of the winning streak to start the season.

Paying the Price: 66 hits/39 blocked shots (season rank: 8th/15th)

We have become accustomed to Alex Ovechkin being the big bopper for the Caps, leading the team in hits. But he had only four for the week, none of them coming in either of the last two games. He had as many total hits for the week as Jeff Schultz. Of the 66 hits for the week, Matt Hendricks led the Caps with 11, and Troy Brouwer was close behind with nine.

The blocked shots were down this past week, but they were spread around. Three defensemen – Dennis Wideman, Roman Hamrlik, and John Carlson – had six apiece. Karl Alzner had another four for the defense. In all, 15 of 18 skaters recorded at least one blocked shot.

Faceoffs: 79-for-168/47.0 percent (season: 48.3 percent; rank: 23rd)

In recent years the Caps were one of the league’s best faceoff teams. Those were the days of Boyd Gordon and David Steckel. Things haven’t changed; those two are currently ranked second and fourth in the league in faceoff winning percentage. They also play for other teams. Meanwhile the Caps did not hit 50 percent in any game this week. And it was an ugly week, for the most part, for each of the principal centers. Jeff Halpern saved some respectability for the week by winning the majority of his draws in each of the three games and going 20-for-25 overall. But the others…ugh. Nicklas Backstrom was below 50 percent in all three games and was 12-for-35. Marcus Johansson was under 50 percent in two of three games and was 10-for-29 overall. Brooks Laich was under 50 percent in all three games and was 20-for-53 overall. No Cap qualifying among the league’s face off leaders is over 50 percent (Halpern’s 67.8 percent does not qualify on 56 draws, otherwise he would be first), and Brooks Laich is the highest ranking Cap at 69th.

Turnovers: Plus-24

This is always going to be one of those metrics one takes with a grain of salt because of the differences in scoring across NHL arenas. But 25 giveaways for the week is still a pretty good number (15 coming against the Red Wings, which wasn’t so good). In the first two games of the week (in which the Caps had five giveaways in each) defensemen were responsible for only two of the ten total recorded. Hard for opponents to generate much in terms of odd-man rushes when the defense is being responsible with the puck.

Of 19 players dressing this week (18 skaters and Tomas Vokoun) only two – Nicklas Backstrom and Vokoun – had more giveaways than takeaways. Backstrom was two and one; Vokoun was credited with one giveaway in the three games.


No, it’s not the playoffs, but there are items on the checklist for the regular season in preparing for the playoffs that need to be addressed… Demonstrate an ability to compete with elite teams, check. Demonstrate that you have balance on both offense and defense, check. Show an ability to close teams out with enthusiasm, check. It all part of the process in becoming a complete hockey team. Or, to put it as the great hockey sage Donnie Shulzhoffer once put it…
"This is hockey, okay? It's not rocket surgery. If you don't play this game with a lot of heart and a big bag of knuckles, you don't got dinky-doo."
The Caps bared their knuckles this week and left teams with big piles of dinky-doo in their wake.

Three Stars for the Week:

First Star: Tomas Vokoun (3-0-0, 1.00, .968, one shutout)
Second Star: Alex Ovechkin (2-3-5, plus-2; two goals against Philadelphia, two assists against Detroit)
Third Star: Mike Green (2-2-4, plus-3; almost 23 minutes of ice time per game)

Honorable Mention: Mathieu Perreault (3-1-4, plus-4), Nicklas Backstrom (1-4-5, plus-2), Joel Ward (2-0-2, plus-3, three giveaways).

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