Sunday, October 23, 2011

The Goals Project -- Update

After the second full week of games, the picture, well... paints a picture

(click on pic for larger image)

After seven games and 29 goals scored, you can see that not many of them are scored above the circles.  And of the six game-winners (the other win coming via shootout), only one could be considered of the long-range variety. It is worth noting that 19 of the 29 goals have been scored below the dots.  The Caps have been going to the net, and it has paid dividends.  It goes to show that there really isn't much of a secret to offensive success in the NHL.  Goalies being what they are, if you shoot from distance, you are going to be disappointed.  But get in close, and the chances for success increase substantially.  Seven wins in seven tries is testimony to that.

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).

A TWO-point night -- Game 7: Caps 7 - Red Wings 1

Before the puck dropped at Verizon Center to begin tonight’s game between the Washington Capitals and the Detroit Red Wings, most folks would have heard the words, “seven and seven” and thought, “hmmm…a shot of Seagram 7, some 7-Up, and ice.” When the final horn sounded the end of the game, folks might have been forgiven if they thought it meant, “seven in a row after a 7-1 win.”

The Caps scored early, scored late, and scored in-between in handing the Red Wings their first loss of the season, leaving the Capitals as the last remaining undefeated, unblemished team in the NHL. Detroit fans might fall back on the fact that the Red Wings came into the game having played the night before against Columbus, were starting backup goaltender Ty Conklin, and were missing the human brick wall, Tomas Holmstrom.

Still, seven goals against? One for?? Whatever the Red Wings were missing, or substituting, or missing for a lack of sleep (hey, it was only their second game in a week), it didn’t explain how it is that the Caps took away early on what they did best – control the puck. Detroit had only six shots on goal in the last 18:06 minutes of the first period (eight for the period) as the Caps took the lead on goals by Mike Green and Marcus Johansson. Green got another 4:59 into the second period to put the Wings down by three goals for the first time this season. After Detroit got one back on a 5-on-3 power play midway through the middle frame, the Caps abused goalie and the evening’s sacrificial lamb, Ty Conklin, for four goals on the last 12 shots they took in the contest to end the Red Wing’s attempt to tie their franchise record for consecutive wins to start a season.

Other stuff…

-- The game turned on a 7:34 stretch of time in the second period. It began with Matt Hendricks taking what might otherwise have been an innocuous hooking penalty at the 9:10 mark and the Caps holding that 3-0 lead. And then… Roman Hamrlik was whistled for a delay-of-game penalty at 10:39 for lifting the net from its pegs, putting the Caps down two men…Niklas Kronwall got the Red Wings back in the game 26 seconds later with only six seconds left in the two-man advantage on a slapper from the top of the zone that goalie Tomas Vokoun was screened from seeing. Only 2:17 after Kronwall’s goal, Alexander Semin was sent off for a high-sticking call, and then Marcus Johansson joined him in the box 1:22 later to put the Caps down two men for the second time in the period. But the Caps killed both of those penalties off, preserving the two-goal lead at the critical juncture of the game.

-- Over that 7:34 stretch in which the Caps took four penalties and were defending 3-on-5 twice, the Red Wings launched nine shots at the Capitals’ net, six of them getting through to Vokoun, but only one made it to the back of the net. It was the kind of situation the Red Wings often feast on, and it was their inability to do so in this instance that turned the game.

-- Mike Green had his first four point game since December 5, 2009 (against Philadelphia), but it was a brief sequence midway through the first period that illustrated how far he has come as a defenseman. In it, he had to make one of those decisions that is among the hardest for a defenseman to make – whether to step up at the blue line to check a puck carrier. Green did, and separated a Red Wing from the puck. The Caps could not get the puck out of their own end, though, and seconds later, there was Green – on the other side of the ice – deep in the zone blocking a centering attempt from behind the Caps’ net. He might not make that play last year; he certainly doesn’t make it two years ago.

-- In 2007-2008, Alex Ovechkin figured in 47 percent of the Caps’ goals (65 goals and 47 assists among 238 goals the Caps scored that season). The Caps barely made the playoffs. After tonight’s game to make the Caps 7-0, Ovechkin has figured in seven of 29 goals – 24 percent (3-4-7). There are games when Ovechkin is going to have to be “the man.” But he doesn’t have to be “the man” for this team 60 games out of 82. This is a deeper, arguably better team than the ones on which Ovechkin lit up the scoreboard largely by himself. Tonight he had one shot on goal, but he record two points tonight, anyway, assisting on both goals by Mike Green.

-- Your odd Ovechkin fact for the night... Alex Ovechkin skated 13:00 minutes at even strength tonight. That would be less than Jason Chimera (13:54) and Joel Ward (13:25).

-- The fourth line needs a new label. Jeff Halpern, Matt Hendricks, and Mathieu Perreault went 2-3-5, plus-6. As a group they are 3-7-10, plus-14.

-- Balance, balance, balance. After tonight’s game the first line has six goals, the second line has seven, the third line has six, and the fourth line has those three.

-- And speaking of balance, the defense now has six players with points (as in, “every defenseman to dress so far this season”) and is 6-15-21, plus-22 as a group.

-- Fourteen skaters recorded points; and even though the Caps had five even strength goals and didn’t allow one, no Cap finished greater than plus-2. But every skater ended in the “plus” column. More balance.

-- Joel Ward scored the fifth goal for the Caps tonight, but it might not have been possible but for Liane Davis. She is the power skating trainer that has been working with Brooks Laich on his skating for some time. And that work might have been reflected in the ability of Laich to keep his skates under him, control the puck while fending off defenseman Brad Stuart (a pretty sturdy player in his own right), separate himself from Stuart, and find Ward for the lay-up to stick the stake in the Wings’ hearts.

-- Since allowing five goals in his first appearance as a Cap, Tomas Vokoun is 5-0-0, 1.19, .965, with one shutout.

-- A couple of things about the Wings…watching Nicklas Lidstrom is always a clinic, but in the offensive zone he was amazing in a subtle sort of way. He earned the second assist on the Wing’s goal, but it was his work at the top of the offensive zone that was educational. He had nine shot attempts, and only one was blocked. He was credited with five shots on goal, but even the three misses seemed to have a point. They looked like “sight line” shots that were intended to get through to teammates either on rebounds from the end boards or for potential deflections. None of the misses looked like “misses.”

-- On the other hand, we understand that it was Fabian Brunnstrom’s first game with the Wings, but it doesn’t seem surprising in one respect why Detroit is his third organization. It looked amazingly easy to push him off the puck. Any contact whatsoever ended whatever skating momentum he had and usually resulted in his losing possession of the puck. It was the sort of game that might have had one scratching their head wondering what the big deal was when he was a sought-after free agent out of Sweden in 2008.

In the end…7-0, tops in the league in offense and the power play, and they are tied for fourth in goals allowed per game. They have scored five or more goals in three of seven games and allowed one or fewer goals in three (two or fewer in five straight). If you are a Caps fan and are not pleased, or you are inclined to complain about anything, you are beyond hope. Hockey is a hard game, and to perform at this level of efficiency and effectiveness, even for a seven-game stretch, is indicative of a very, very good team. Yeah, yeah…we’ll see in May or June. But a team – any team – can only play the game in front of it. And seven times the Caps have taken care of business. It was a very, very good night.

Good enough to send the Wings in search of seven and sevens.