Sunday, December 04, 2011
That Was The Week That Was -- Week 8 (November 27 - December 3)
Record for the week: 1-2-0
Last week we said that it’s not how you start, it’s how you finish. Last week the Caps started fast – two wins – but finished poorly. This week, the Caps continued their misfortunes with a pair of losses – their second four-game losing streak in three weeks – but finished with a dramatic 3-2 overtime win against Ottawa on Saturday. Nevertheless, it is the third week in a row the Caps finished without a winning record, and the team finds itself clinging to the eighth and last playoff position in the East.
Offense: 1.67/game (season: 2.96/game, rank: 8th)
Five goals in three games for the week means the Caps dropped four places in the league scoring rankings. And the scarcity in scoring was matched only by the odd nature of it. One would not expect Nicklas Backstrom to lead the team in goals for the week (two) without an assist or Alex Ovechkin to lead in assists (two) without a goal. Although the Caps did not have many goals, they had balance. Four different players had goals, ten had points. Among them were Karl Alzner and goaltender Tomas Vokoun, and this might be the only time this season that pair will find themselves recording a point in the same week. But five goals every three games is not going to win a lot of games.
Defense: 2.00 goals/game (season: 3.12, rank: 25th)
Last week: awful. This week: better. Pretty good, in fact. It is the best three-game stretch of goals allowed (six) since the three games that ended with a 2-1 loss to Edmonton on October 27th (five). There are things that might need some further tweaking, though. One, the Caps gave up leads in two of the three games this week (St. Louis and Ottawa). Second, they allowed goals in the third period of two of the three games this week, one a game-winner for the opponent, the other a game-tying goal. There is also the matter of allowing at least 30 shots in all three games, the first time the Caps did that since a three-game stretch ending on November 11th. It is only the second time this season the Caps have had such a streak.
A pretty good week for the Tomas Vokoun/Michal Neuvirth pair. But it was a strange week here, too. Tomas Vokoun stopped 61 of 65 shots in two games (.939), yet he lost both games. Since the Caps’ seven-game winning streak to open the season ended, Vokoun has allowed two or fewer goals in five games in which he played the entire contest. He lost four of them, including his last three. He did not allow a power play goal this week. That makes five appearances in a row and nine of his last ten that he did not allow a power play score (he’s allowed more shorthanded goals – three – than power play goals – one – in that span; none of either category this week).
Meanwhile, Neuvirth allowed two goals on 34 shots in his only appearance of the week. It was his first win this season against a team not named “Carolina” and his first since beating Carolina 5-1 on November 4th. The win over Ottawa having come in overtime this week, Neuvirth still has only one win this season in regulation, that win on November 4th (of course, he has only three wins of any variety so far). In giving up the two goals, it was the first time he allowed fewer than three since November 12th, although he had only three appearances since then until Saturday’s game.
Power Play: 0-for-7/0.0 percent (season: 15.0%, rank: 21st)
The Caps are in quite a rut on their power play. With no goals in three games this week they are without one in each of their last four contests, 2-for-45 in their last dozen games (4.4 percent). It got so bad that Jason Chimera, who until last night had a total of 7:18 in power play time for the previous 24 games, had 4:11 on Saturday against Ottawa out of a total of 8:00 for the Caps. Of the “big three” of Alex Ovechkin, Alexander Semin, and Nicklas Backstrom, Semin is the only one who has scored a power play goal since November 1st (one, on November 8th against Dallas), and he sat out Saturday’s game. Mike Green, who has less than eight minutes of ice time since October 22nd, is still tied for the team lead in power play goals (three).
Penalty Killing: 8-for-8/100.0 percent (season: 81.8%, rank:19th)
A good week for the PK’ers. Part of it was having to defend only eight power plays in three games, but this has been a “trending up” facet of the club since it was torched for three on five chances by Toronto on November 19th. Since then the Caps are 17-for-18 on the penalty kill over seven games. Last week they did an especially good job against Pittsburgh and Ottawa. Against the Penguins the Caps allowed five power play shots on goal, three of them from Evgeni Malkin. But Malkin hasn’t been an especially prolific power play performer over the last couple of seasons. Against Ottawa the Caps allowed four shots by the Senators on their only power play, but all of them came from defensemen.
Paying the Price: 99 hits/who knows how many blocked shots since NHL.com has no record of the Caps and St. Louis having played (season rank: 10th/20th)
The story of this week was hits (even with the absence of record of the St. Louis game). Getting 99 in three games (33 per game) after recording 130 the week before (32.5 per game) meant that there was something the Caps wanted to do with some enthusiasm (or at least get scored with enthusiasm). Almost half of them came from three forwards. Jason Chimera had 11, Troy Brouwer had 13, and Alex Ovechkin led the team for the week with 16, ten of them in the 2-1 loss to Pittsburgh. Somehow, though, getting 29 hits, 12 shots on goal, and one goal from two thirds of the top line (Ovechkin and Brouwer) is not the kind of outcome folks are looking for.
Faceoffs: 89-for-154/57.8 percent (season: 51.1 percent, rank:T-9th)
The Caps won the week, and it was largely due to winning 37 of 54 against Pittsburgh. But in winning the battle, they lost the larger war in that game, getting only eight faceoffs in the Penguins end that night (Brooks Laich had six of them) while taking 24 in the defensive zone. The unfortunate thing about that is that the Caps won all eight draws in the Penguins’ end. Had they taken a few more draws in that end, gotten a few more opportunities with possession... Well, if wishes were nickels, I could buy a lot of pickles.
Not having the results of the St. Louis game, the Caps lost each of the last two games of the week, going minus-4 (minus-2 in each of them). It was quite an improvement over the minus-28 of Week 7, though. One thing that did not look too good, though, was that 16 of the 24 giveaways in the last two games of the week came from defensemen/goaltenders. That last line of defense thing and all that.
With the 3-2 overtime win over Ottawa to end the week, the Caps might have stopped the bleeding that came with having gone 3-9-1 in their previous 13 games. Of course, if the Caps had lost in overtime on Saturday, we would be talking about how the Caps lost after giving up a tying goal late in regulation and how the team is marching toward a season of oblivion. That is often the thin margin separating success and failure in the NHL, and the fact is that the Caps came off the precipice, at least for one game.
But this is still a team that is struggling to find its way offensively. On one hand, the Caps had ten different skaters finish with points. On the other hand, no Cap finished the week with more than two points (Backstrom, 2-0-2; Ovechkin, 0-2-2; Laich, 1-1-2; Chimera, 1-1-2). In the game against Ottawa on Saturday the Caps scored all three goals off rushes, usually with the Caps having an advantage of numbers as they were creating opportunities in the Ottawa zone. It is something to build on, which is more than we could say at this time last week.
Three Stars of the Week:
1st Star: Brooks Laich: 1-1-2 (game-winning goal), even, eight hits, 28-for-52 on draws (53.9%)
2nd Star: Nicklas Backstrom: 2-0-2, plus-1, 31-for-50 on faceoffs (62.0 percent)
3rd Star: Jason Chimera: 1-1-2, even, 11 hits