Sunday, January 08, 2012
That Was The Week That Was -- Week 13 (January 1 - 7)
It was a light week of game work for the Caps, splitting their only two contests of the week. In the first they extended their winning streak to four games at the expense of the Calgary Flames, the Caps’ longest winning streak since the seven-game streak to open the season. The 3-1 win improved the Caps’ record to 5-2-0 against Western Conference teams at home this season. Unfortunately, the Caps had to go on the road to play another Western Conference team – San Jose, where the Caps had not won since October 1993. The Caps lost, 5-2, to drop them to 0-11-1 in their last dozen visits to San Jose.
Offense: 2.50/game (season: 2.95 /rank: T-9th)
The Caps have not been a juggernaut under Dale Hunter, only six times scoring more than three goals in a game in the 17 played under Hunter through this week. But they have been consistent. Only six times had they been held to fewer than three goals in 15 games coming into the week, only one of the last six before this week. The Caps struggled a bit this week with only three goals in their win against Calgary and a pair in the loss to San Jose. But this might not be surprising given that Nicklas Backstrom missed all of the San Jose game and the last few minutes of the win over Calgary after the Flames’ Rene Bourque elbowed Backstrom in the head. It was a costly elbow for Bourque, who surrendered himself to a five-game suspension and five game checks totaling more than $200,000. It was costly for the Caps in that they were denied Backstrom’s services, and his absence pointed out the lack of depth the Caps have at center.
Defense: 3.00/game (season: 2.90/rank:T-21st)
Injury was the issue on the other side of the puck as well. The Caps held Calgary to one goal in the 3-1 win to open the week, the fourth time in the four-game winning streak that the Caps held their opponent to two or fewer goals and the sixth time in nine games in which the Caps held their opponents to fewer than 30 shots on goal. Mike Green returned to the lineup in the Calgary game after missing 23 games with a groin injury. It was only the second game (among 31 played by the Caps) he played since October 22nd. He played what for him were light minutes – 15:43 – and looked rusty in doing it. But his return did allow other Caps to play in situations more comfortable with their skill. However, Green lasted only nine shifts and 7:11 in the week’s second game, against the San Jose Sharks. San Jose scored four goals in a 5-2 win after Green’s departure. Green is not often on anyone’s short list of top defensive defensemen in the league, but he is underrated in that area. His ability to move the puck out of danger reduces the opportunities opponents have to pressure in the Caps’ end. And, given that he plays so many minutes, the hole in ice time left in his absence requires a lot of recombination of pairs, placing some defensemen in situations above their comfort level or, in the case of the game against San Jose, leaning heavily on the remaining top four defensemen, all of whom played more than 22 minutes.
Tomas Vokoun got the call in both games this week in an effort to extend a solid stretch of goaltending for the veteran. Coming into the week Vokoun had stopped 107 of 112 shots (.955 save percentage) dating back to his coming into the Buffalo game in relief of Michal Neuvirth on December 26th. Vokoun got light work in the first game of the week, facing only 19 shots on goal in the 3-1 win over the Flames. He got a lot more work against San Jose, facing 38 shots in the 5-2 loss to the Sharks. In allowing four goals it was less a case of Vokoun playing the position badly as much as it was his having to swim around in his crease because the skaters in front of him were not doing as good a job as they needed to do to prevent San Jose from making plays in tight.
Power Play: 3-for-4/75.0 percent (season: 19.7 percent/rank: 6th)
If there is one thing that went well, this week, the power play is it. The Caps spent only 3:21 on the power play for the week, took five shots, and three of them went in. In terms of sheer efficiency, it would be hard to match that performance. What’s more, they did it the way the Caps have done it with too little frequency over much of the year. There was Alex Ovechkin taking a feed from Marcus Johansson for a one timer that beat Calgary goaltender Miikka Kiprusoff cleanly on the short side. There was Troy Brouwer crowding Kiprusoff, screening the initial shot, collecting the rebound and sweeping it around Kiprusoff. There was Dennis Wideman jumping into a hole on the weak side of the San Jose defense, taking a feed from Alexander Semin from behind the goal line on the other side of the ice, and snapping it into the net before Sharks’ goalie Antti Niemi could get across the paint.
The week gave the Caps power play goals in six of their last eight games and made them 7-for-18 (38.9 percent) over those eight games, lifting them to sixth overall in the league. But the problem for the week is the “four” and for the last eight games the “18.” Fewer than three opportunities a game is not enough for the Caps to make teams pay, and the Caps are not a good enough 5-on-5 team at the moment (16th) to make up for the lack of man advantage opportunities.
Penalty Killing: 6-for-7/85.7 percent (season: 82.5%/rank:15th)
This is another area in which the Caps have played well of late. They did allow a power play goal to San Jose in the second game of the week, but that was the first one in which they allowed one since giving up a pair in a 4-2 loss to Buffalo on December 26th. In the four games following, including the first of this week (all wins), the Caps killed off all 11 shorthanded situations they faced. But, as is often the case, it was the one that got away that was critical. Brent Burns scored for San Jose with 8.2 seconds in the first period of the 5-2 loss to San Jose to give the Sharks the lead at the second intermission. If there was a dark side to the penalty kill this week, that goal against San Jose makes it three times in the last four road games that the Caps have allowed at least one power play goal.
Paying the Price: 46 hits/46 blocked shots (season rank: T-16th/16th)
Two more games with more than 20 blocked shots made it five in the last six games for Washington. The more impressive performance of the week in that regard was in the 3-1 win over Calgary. The Caps blocked 24 of 54 shot attempts (44.4 percent). Although the Caps blocked another 22 shots in the 5-2 loss to San Jose, they came on a total of 75 shot attempts (29.3 percent).
Hits tell another story, and that might be titled, “Matt Hendricks.” Hendricks has been engaging in fisticuffs with less regularity these days http://www.japersrink.com/2012/1/5/2684343/the-noon-number but this week, his hits came at a quite frequent pace. In only 15:22 of total ice time for the week, covering 20 shifts, Hendricks had eight hits to lead the Caps for the week.
Faceoffs: 69-for-128/53.9 percent (season: 51.2 percent/rank:T-8th)
The Caps split the games and won the week. But there was a disturbing set of numbers attached to this category. The Caps were spot on in taking draws in the offensive zone, winning 23 of 33 in the two games (69.7 percent). However, they were poor in their own end – 22-for -51 (43.1 percent) – and the 18 faceoff difference between those taken in the offensive zone and those taken in the defensive end is not the sort of difference one would like to see.
It was a much better week in this regard than last week (minus-24). Twelve different Caps split 15 takeaways. They spread it around rather well, if the volume was not especially high.
As a fan, sometimes we get greedy, thinking that wins are expected and losses are unacceptable. The Caps won four games in a row, including one this week, renewing fans’ hopes that they had turned a corner. And then, they went west to a place they had not won in more than 18 years. Yes, the Caps have a long history of struggles on the left coast (25-47-9 against team in California, including the defunct California Seals). But the San Jose Sharks took the ice for their fourth game in six nights and yet won with a finishing kick of three goals in the third period. It was a game that the Caps very well could have won. But they were missing two essential ingredients to their success – Nicklas Backstrom and (for the last half of the game) Mike Green. If there was a takeaway from the San Jose game it is still that the Caps are not getting as much as they need from the undercard of roster to win games like this, even against a good team that might have been tired. Remember that when late February rolls around and teams are looking for those last pieces to make a run at a Stanley Cup.