Sunday, November 06, 2011

That Was The Week That Was -- Week 4 (October 30 - November 5)

If there was a theme for this three-game week, it was “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.” It could have been worse, and it should have been a lot better. What it was, was…well, let’s get to it.

Record for the week: 2-1-0

After returning from a fruitless two-game road trip to the Canadian west, the Caps returned home for a game against Anaheim. They were promptly smacked in the mouth, allowing the Ducks get off to a 3-0 lead 29 minutes into the game. The Caps clawed back into the contest, outscoring the Ducks, 4-1, over the remainder of regulation time to send the game into overtime. It was there that Nicklas Backstrom snatched victory from the jaws of defeat for a 5-4 win.

The Caps looked better, especially over the last 40 minutes, in stomping Carolina by a 5-1 margin in Raleigh on Friday. But the good luck deserted them, or more precisely a focused effort in the latter stages of games disappeared, when the New York Islanders beat the Caps in regulation for the first time since mastodons walked the earth, 5-3, with a three-goal third period.

It was a better win-loss week than the games looked, and it left the Caps atop the Southeast Division, but only in third place in the Eastern Conference. The Caps do, however, have two games in hand on second-place Toronto and three-games on first-place Pittsburgh, and is tied with Dallas – their next opponent – as tops in the league in standings points earned per game.

Offense: 4.33/game (season: 3.92/game, rank: 2nd)

The Caps bumped their goals-per-game average up a couple of tenths on a 13-goal week and yet dropped into second place (Philadelphia scored 15 in three games – nine against Columbus – to edge ahead of the Caps). Nicklas Backstrom led the Caps with a 3-3-6, plus-2 week. Backstrom extended his run of two-point games to four and his total of two-point games to eight. Alex Ovechkin and Brooks Laich each finished the week with a goal and three assists.

The odd part of the week was that the Caps won both games in which the fell behind and lost the one game in which they scored first. Stranger still is the fact that the Caps won both games in which they allowed goals and were shut out in the first period, yet lost the game in which they scored first – two goals in the first period – and shutout their opponent in the opening frame.

What that might indicate is that this is a team whose focus wanders too much. The prospect of losing after falling behind seemed to inspire them to refocus, while they stopped skating and lost their way after putting the Islanders behind the eight-ball with a pair in the first period on Saturday.

Defense: 3.33 goals/game (season: 2.75, rank: T-19th)

Let’s face it. This was a bad week for the Caps on defense. Allowing ten goals in three games to teams currently ranked 30th (Anaheim), 19th (Carolina) and 29th (the Islanders) should be cause for some concern. What is worse is that the Caps allowed nine of those goals to the 29th and 30th ranked teams.

Goaltending played a part (certainly against the Islanders), but the Caps looked lost in the first half of their game against the Ducks. On balance, this was probably a week that fell more on the goaltenders (or, as we will see, “goaltender”) than on the defense.

In three games the Caps allowed only 75 shots on goal. An average of 25.0 shots per game would rank them first in the league in shots allowed. Even the 142 shot attempts permitted was not especially high (the Caps managed 196 attempts of their own, 100 of them on goal). Consider that the Caps allowed 70 attempts in their 7-4 loss at Vancouver, and this week seems stingy by comparison. It was an uneven week, though, as a result of poor play in front of their goaltender in the Anaheim game, allowing Saku Koivu and Teemu Selanne (twice) to get what amounted to uncontested shots at the net for goals.

Goaltending: 2.98/.878

The “good” for the week was Michal Neuvirth allowing only one goal on 25 shots in the 5-1 win over Carolina. Neuvirth stopped the last 21 shots he faced in that one. The “bad” would be the start to the Anaheim game on Tuesday in which Tomas Vokoun allowed two goals on six shots in the first period (not that he got a lot of help from the defense). But he wasn’t exactly sharp thereafter, stopping only seven of nine shots over the last two periods. The “ugly” was the last two period against the Islanders. Vokoun allowed four goals on the last 22 shots he faced in the 5-3 loss.

It made for a rough week for Vokoun – 1-1-0, 3.96, .834. It should give pause to those who might think that Vokoun merely had a bad game. In his last four appearances he is 1-2-0, 3.89, .847. And the odd part of it is that Vokoun has seen so little rubber, comparatively speaking. In those four appearances he has seen an average of 25.4 shots per 60 minutes.

Power Play: 2-for-9, 22.2 percent (season: 25.0%, rank: 3rd)

“Efficiency” and “effectiveness” are not the same thing. The Caps were “efficient” on the power play – a 22.2 percent conversion rate testifies to that. However, getting only nine chances in three games points to a lack of effectiveness in getting opportunities. Only 12:20 in power play time for the week did not put enough pressure on defenses to upset their rhythm or force them to expend more effort that might affect their 5-on-5 effectiveness.

Even the shots were a bit deceptive. Scoring three goals on 13 power play shots for the week (15.4 percent shooting) is not bad, but getting only 4.33 shots per game and scoring on their only power play shot against the Islanders make that number look better than it is. The Caps high-powered offense might be more so if they were ranked higher than a tie for 20th in total power play opportunities.

Penalty Killing: 6-for-7/85.7 percent (season: 78.6%, 23rd)

It was a pretty good week for the penalty killers. First, having to kill off only seven chances in three games is what one is looking for if a team is struggling with penalty killing efficiency. The Caps came into the week ranked in the bottom third in the league, so keeping the chances to a minimum worked out fine. That they killed off all but one might be signaling an improvement in that area. Allowing only 12 shots on the seven shorthanded situations (a .917 shorthanded save percentage) was a nice touch, too.

Paying the Price: 49 hits/44 blocked shots (season rank: T-21st/T-21st)

The blocked shots number did not improve much on the previous week on a per game basis, but that might have been a product of teams not getting a large number of shot attempts. That they were outhit in the three games, 71-49, suggests that the Caps were a bit more passive this week.

If there was news in this category this week it pertained to the Alexes. Alexander Semin registered his first blocked shot of the season in the 5-1 win over Carolina. As for Alex Ovechkin, he had but one hit recorded on his score sheet for the week, which might be a career weekly low. His 18 hits for the season is currently ranked in a tie for 103rd in the league in hits among forwards, tied with such notables as Nathan Gerbe and Andrei Kostitsyn. It is worth noting, though, that he has one more than Jarome Iginla, who isn’t generally considered soft. As for team leaders for the week, they would be Troy Brouwer (seven hits) and John Carlson (a positively Volchenkovish nine blocked shots in three games).

Faceoffs: 80-for-164/48.8 percent (season: 48.1 percent, rank: T-23rd)

It was another losing week in the circle, but there was progress, if you can call breaking even in each of the last two games “progress.” The Caps were grim in the offensive end, winning only 17 of 47 offensive zone draws for the week. If there was anything noteworthy here this week, it was that Marcus Johansson, who came into the week winning fewer than 40 percent of his draws, was 17-for-33 for the week (51.5 percent). By the time we turned the clocks back on Saturday night the Caps found themselves ranked in a tie for 23rd in faceoffs. Only two other teams in the top-eight of their respective conferences (Edmonton and Philadelphia) were ranked lower.

Turnovers: plus-4

It was an uneven week for the Caps in this area. They were poor against Anaheim (minus-7), very good against Carolina (plus-11), and middle-of-the-road against the Islanders (even). The Caps still have an excellent takeaway to giveaway ratio (1.38:1, fifth best in the league). Alexander Semin had seven of the 35 takeaways the Caps recorded this past week.


It could have been worse. The Caps were almost run out of their own building on Tuesday, but they came back to grab two points out of that mess. It should have been better. Giving up a two-goal lead to a team as offensively challenged as the Islanders was a product of lost focus and laziness. That is one of those “bad habits” that the regular season serves to help eliminate. Overall the Caps were entirely too lackadaisical on defense and had uncharacteristically shaky goaltending from Tomas Vokoun. In these respects the Caps still have work to do.

Three Stars of the Week:

1st Star: Nicklas Backstrom (3-3-6, plus-2, 47.9 percent on faceoffs)
2nd Star: Michal Neuvirth (1-0-0, 24 saves on 25 shots)
3rd Star: John Erskine (0-1-1, plus-1, five hits, on ice for only one goal against in almost 48 minutes of ice time)