Sunday, November 20, 2011

That Was The Week That Was -- Week 6 (November 13 - 19)

Week Six was a week to forget. The Caps looked bad on the ice, were subjected to any manner and number of “what’s wrong” navel-gazing exercises from hockey intelligentsia, and fell almost all the way out of the Eastern Conference’s top-eight. Four weeks ago they were 7-0-0 and dreaming sweet dreams of success. Four weeks later they are 3-7-1 since then and have nightmares that they are playing like also rans. So what did this week have in it?

Record for the week: 0-3-0

The Caps are not entirely strangers to the kind of adversity they endured this past week. This is the first week the Caps have gone without registering at least one standings point since losing three in a row in regulation during the week of December 27, 2009 – January 2, 2010. Now here is the thing. After that three-game losing streak the Caps finished the 2009-2010 regular season 30-4-7. In 2008-2009 they had an “oh-fer” week to open March, but they finished the regular season 10-3-3. In 2007-2008 they had a five-game losing streak with no standing points earned just before Thanksgiving, the streak that cost Glen Hanlon his job as Caps head coach. But they then went 37-17-7 to finish the regular season. Remember that even last season the Caps had that eight-game losing streak in December (0-6-2; they did not lose all their games of any week in that streak in regulation). They finished the regular season 30-11-7.

It is not the losing streak, which is bad enough, it is what the Caps now do in the midst of it. The Caps have demonstrated a resiliency – again, in the regular season – in responding to this kind of adversity. If they cannot this time, then it will be a clear sign that changes should be made.

Offense: 1.00/game (season: 3.17/game, rank:4th)

This was an embarrassment. At the end of the week, the teams the Caps lost to this week – Nashville, Winnipeg, and Toronto – were 13th, 25th, and 27th in goals allowed per game. It is one thing to be held to one goal by the likes of Pekka Rinne, a truly elite goaltender. But when did Ondrej Pavelec become the second coming of Dominik Hasek, or Jonas Gustavsson the cloned offspring of Patrick Roy? The latter two offer two disturbing images of the Caps’ ineptitude. Pavelec is 7-7-3, 3.17, .898 so far this season, a thoroughly pedestrian record. But in his last four decisions against the Caps he is 4-0-0, 0.50, .986, with two shutouts. Gustavsson allowed a goal on the first shot he faced in Saturday’s game in Toronto but stopped the last 40 he faced. Until that effort he had faced 40 or more shots three times in his career and allowed at least five goals in all of them. It was a pitiful week.

Defense: 4.67 goals/game (season: 3.06, rank: 23rd)

If the offense was bad, the defense certainly challenged it for ineptitude. True, the three opponents this week finished the week all in the top-15 in goals scored per game. But it was a complete meltdown on the defensive side of the ledger. Seventeen of 18 skaters dressing for the week were on the ice for at least one goal (Cody Eakin was the only Cap not to have been on ice for a goal in any of the three games). Dennis Wideman and Alex Ovechkin were on ice for five goals against; Nicklas Backstrom, Brooks Laich, and Jeff Schultz were on for four against.

But it is worse than that. The meltdown is in the landslide of goals that followed each of the Caps’ goals this week. They scored first against Nashville, then the Predators answered with three unanswered tallies. Winnipeg…the Caps scored first, then allowed four unanswered goals. Toronto…Washington tied the game 51 seconds after the Maple Leafs scored the first goal, then Toronto scored six unanswered goals. Pitiful, pitiful.

Goaltending: 4.68/.856

No one is going to say that either Tomas Vokoun or Michal Neuvirth were sharp, although Vokoun did stop 28 of 30 shots against Nashville. But they had so little support in front of them. There were too many instances in which the Caps were broken down high in the defensive zone resulting in odd-man matchups deep. Vokoun and Neuvirth were left on too many occasions defending 3-on-2 or 2-on-1 situations at the edge of their own creases. But it wasn’t as if they were stealing chances away from the opposition, either.

Neuvirth’s week was especially troubling. In 93 minutes and change he allowed seven goals on 42 shots (.833 save percentage). It is part of a longer slump in which he has allowed 14 goals on 97 shots (.856) in 218:26 since he beat Carolina, 5-1, on November 4th.

Power Play: 0-for-13/0.00 percent (season: 17.1%, rank: 16th)

What can you say? The Caps are getting more opportunities (13 this past week and 17 in their last four games) and doing less with them (no goals in those 17 chances). In the three games this week the Caps had 22 shots on goal in 22:06 of power play time. Less than a shot per minute isn’t the kind of peppering of the net that is going to generate much in the way of second and third chances. Consider that Toronto had eight shots in 6:03 and scored on three of them. Of the 22 shots on goal, 19 of them came from Dennis Wideman (six), Brooks Laich (five) and Alex Ovechkin (eight). It is hard what to make of this. In the absence of Mike Green, these are the guys you want shooting the puck. But there is a name conspicuously absent from the shot totals despite getting 11:23 in power play ice time this week – Alexander Semin.

Penalty Killing: 7-for-12/58.3 percent (season: 78.3%, rank: 25th)

Another case of one side of the ledger being every bit as ghastly as the other. Allowing 12 power plays over three games is not bad, but allowing five goals in those 12 chances is. But here is what is worse. Those five goals were allowed on the last nine chances of the week. Opponents’ shooting percentage over those nine chances was 33.3 percent (5-for-15). It is often said that a team’s best penalty killer is its goaltender. Neuvirth was the goaltender of record for four of those five power play goals this week. Draw from that what conclusions you will.

Paying the Price: 27 hits/29 blocked shots (season rank: 24th/24th)

Sometimes these statistics (and their sisters in arbitrariness – takeaways and giveaways) are products of official scoring. But in three different cities this week the Caps registered much lower totals than the previous week, 69 hits, 34 blocked shots). It was indicative of a week in which the Caps just did not seem to have much energy sustained in any of their games. The Caps you would expect to do the hitting didn’t (Alex Ovechkin had five hits for the week, Troy Brouwer had one). The Caps you might expect to have the blocked shots didn’t, either (John Carlson had seven, Karl Alzner had two).

Faceoffs: 101-for-182/ 55.5 percent (season: 50.4 percent, rank: 15th)

The Caps won the week and each game of the week. Not that it mattered much. The top four Caps in terms of total draws – Nicklas Backstrom, Brooks Laich, Marcus Johansson, and Jeff Halpern – were a combined 90-for-159 (56.6 percent). And even situationally it was better than the Caps’ performance so far this season. For example, Nicklas Backstrom was 21-for-27 in the offensive zone (77.8 percent), while Brooks Laich was 12-for-20 (60.0 percent) in the defensive zone. This is the sort of result one is looking for. But again, not that it mattered much.

Turnovers: plus-15

It was 48 up and 33 down for the week. The Caps won each of the three games, but it was a light week. Again, these are often the product of the variations in official scoring, but it was not a high-volume week on either side of the ledger for the Caps, especially in the first two games of the week (a total of 43 turnovers combined for the Caps and their opponents).

The Caps only had 17 giveaways for the week, but in thinking about it we wonder if it wasn’t the case of not having enough possession time to provide more opportunities. The Caps were credited with only seven takeaways for the week in three games, six of them coming in the game against Nashville. Joel Ward was the only Cap with more than one (two).


We look at this week and the season as a whole, and we are left scratching our head. But if you look further back, going to last season and the way it unfolded after the eight-game losing streak, there is a bit more clarity in what we are seeing. And that is the talk of Bruce Boudreau and his job security is like looking for lost keys under the lamppost, even if you lost them in the alley. The light might be better, but it isn’t where you are going to find what you are looking for.

Boudreau might be a casualty of poor play at some point – just about every coach suffers that fate sooner or later. But the picture that emerges after looking at the last 65 games or so is that when the Caps are faithful to the systems and strategies that Boudreau and his staff teach, the Caps are successful. When they are not, they are not successful.

This is on the players. When this season started, George McPhee said with respect to the core of Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, Mike Green, and Alexander Semin:

“They have to lead the team. They’re exceptional talents and they have to play better than they did last year. All of them underperformed, to some degree. They weren’t at the levels they’ve been at before and we need them to get back to those levels. It looks like they’re prepared to have good years, because they’re physically and mentally in the right place now.”

It’s their team, and they need to take on the responsibility for how it plays at least as much as Bruce Boudreau. Right now, they are shirking their responsibility.

Three Stars of the Week:

What, are you kidding me?

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