Sunday, January 15, 2012
That Was The Week That Was -- Week 14 (January 8 - 14)
The Caps started the week in the second game of a two-game road trip to California, which for the Capitals might as well be named, “Bataan.” We are loathe to compare a hockey road trip with a forced march of more than 75,000 prisoners of war, but it is the only simile we could think of this early in the day. It got better for the Caps upon their return home, but that is almost expected for a club that finished the week with the second best home record in the Eastern Conference. Those wins did come, however, against teams the Caps have to beat – against Pittsburgh, with whom they are fighting for a playoff spot, and Tampa Bay, who is struggling to win against anyone these days.
Offense: 2.33/game (season:2.90 /rank: 9th)
The Caps managed only two goals in that game in Los Angeles against the Kings and did not do a lot better when they arrived home for the last two games of the week. The Caps managed five goals in the two contests, but only two of them came at 5-on-5 with the opponent’s net manned. Two others came on power plays, and the fifth on an empty net goal.
It wasn’t all “meh,” though. Remember that the Caps were without the services of their leading scorer (Nicklas Backstrom) and their top offensive defenseman (Mike Green) this week. They got two goals from Marcus Johansson in Los Angeles, a hat trick from Troy Brouwer in the win against Tampa Bay, and between those they got a goal from Jason Chimera that was the only goal scored in the game against Pittsburgh. This the kind of secondary scoring the Caps need in the absence of Backstrom and Green, and especially since the Alexes – Ovechkin and Semin – were held to one goal for the week (Ovechkin). Even Mike Knuble, relegated to fourth line duty for most of the season, contributed two assists – his first points since he had an assist in a 4-2 win over Toronto on December 9th.
Defense: 2.67/game (season: 2.90/rank:T-20st)
The Caps are really a Jekyll and Hyde team when it comes to road and home games, and it manifested itself this week as well. Against the Kings, they allowed five goals – the fourth time in nine road games under Dale Hunter that they allowed four or more goals. Against the Penguins and Lightning they allowed a total of three goals. The shutout of the Penguins was the ninth time in 11 home games under Hunter that the Caps allowed two or fewer goals. But think of how this is unfolding, too. On the blue line, Mike Green is out; Tom Poti is out. Dmitry Orlov is getting the kind of minutes one would have expected he would have been getting in Hershey (he is averaging more than 16 minutes per game for the season and averaged more than 17-and-a-half minutes for the week). Tomas Kundratek was called up from Hershey and got more than 18 minutes of ice time in two games. This is not the defensive corps folks imagined at the start of the season. It’s not the one folks might have imagined at the start of 2012. In that respect, it hasn’t done badly.
Goaltending: 2.67 /.917, one shutout
Tomas Vokoun got most of the work for the week (again), sitting only for the last 20 minutes in the 5-2 loss to the Kings in Los Angeles to open the week. His was a glass half full/glass half empty week. There was stopping 81 of 88 shots (a .921 save percentage), but he allowed four goals on 27 shots against the Kings and three on 31 shots against the Lightning (.879 combined) wrapped around a 30-save shutout of the Penguins. He figured in all three decisions for a 2-1-0 week.
For Michal Neuvirth it was another week with the realization that absent an unforeseen circumstance, the number one goaltender issue is settled (as if anyone thought it would be settled any other way). Neuvirth got 20 minutes of mop-up duty this week (seven saves on eight shots in the loss in LA). He has appeared in nine of the 20 games played by the Caps under Dale Hunter, but two of those were relief appearances. He is 3-3-1, 2.61, .907 in his nine appearances overall. But given the situation at the moment, it would seem that Neuvirth’s apperances might be limited to spot duty – relief and/or playing one of a back-to-back set of games.
Power Play: 2-for-9/22.2 percent (season: 19.9 percent/rank: 5th)
Here we are with the Jekyll and Hyde theme once more. The Caps were 0-for-3 against the Kings to bring them to 9-for-66 for the season away from Verizon Center. That is 25th in the league in power play efficiency. Then, they were 2-for-6 in two home games (both goals coming against Tampa Bay), leaving them at 19-for-75 for the season, that 25.3 efficiency being tops in the league at home.
Getting shots to the net seemed to make a difference. The Caps had only two shots on three power plays in Los Angeles and had nothing to show for it. They had one shot on two power plays against Pittsburgh and had nothing to show for it. Of course, the Kings (fourth in home penalty kill) and the Penguins (ninth in road penalty kill) are pretty good on the PK. Against Tampa Bay the Caps had seven shots on four power plays, and they scored on two of their first three shots. The Lightning are 18th in road penalty killing. You could say the week unfolded about as one would expect.
Penalty Killing: 6-for-8/75.0 percent (season: 82.1%/rank:T-18th)
The good… only eight shorthanded situations faced in three games. The bad, the Caps allowed a power play goal in each of the games in which they had to kill off a shorthanded situation. In the middle game of the week – the 1-0 win over Pittsburgh – the Caps did not face a shorthanded situation. There also was a certain symmetry to the week. Two goals allowed in eight shorthanded situations, two goals on eight shots faced in those situations. What you can say about the week is that neither power play goal allowed influenced the result too much. The first one was the fifth goal by Los Angeles, giving them a 5-1 lead midway through the third period in their 5-2 win. If there is a complaint about that one, it is that both Justin Williams and Dustin Penner got behind defensemen John Carlson and Karl Alzner to whack at a shot from the point by Drew Doughty. On the other one, a goal by Steven Stamkos that closed the gap to 3-2 in favor of the Caps late in the 4-3 win by the Caps, Stamkos worked his way into position among a triangle of Caps who seemed to lose track of him. He is the wrong guy on that team to lose track of. But with all that, the Caps are still the third best penalty killing group at home in the league.
Paying the Price: 98 hits/54 blocked shots (season rank:15th/14th)
Maybe it was scoring quirks, or maybe it was the opponents, but 98 hits? Against the Penguins (an arch rival) and the Lightning (a divisional opponent), the Caps were credited with a total of 72 hits. Fifteen of 18 skaters were credited with at least one hit in each of the games against the Penguins and the Lightning. Troy Brouwer (didn’t he have a busy week?) had a fourth of them – 18 of the 72 hits in those two games. On the other end, the other guy you would expect to have benefitted from the hit meter going haywire – Alex Ovechkin – had a total of only four in those two games. We wonder about that hit meter since the two opponents in those games – Pittsburgh (40) and Tampa Bay (25) registered a total of 65 hits themselves in the two games.
Faceoffs: 97-for-196/49.5 percent (season: 51.1 percent/rank:8th)
Again, not a bad week, not a great week. The Caps lost the week narrowly and lost two of the three games (winning the faceoff duel against the Penguins, 25-20). What is under the surface of the numbers, though, is this one – 38.6. That was the Caps’ winning percentage in the offensive zone for the week. None of the big three who took a majority of the draws for the Caps – Jeff Halpern (1-4), Brooks Laich (8-17), and Marcus Johansson (7-25) – were over 50 percent in the offensive zone. At the defensive end of the ice it was somewhat better. The Caps were 25-for-45 (55.6 percent), and two of the three of those same players were above 50 percent (Halpern: 57.1 percent; Laich: 53.6 percent).
The Caps found themselves on the short side of the turnover battle in each of the three games. It was not that they were especially charitable with the puck (The Caps had a total of 52 turnovers in three games, their own giveaways and opponents’ takeaways), but they generated so few turnovers from opponents – only 37 in three games.
It’s not how, it’s how many. That’s the way the story goes. But at some point one has to be concerned about the “how.” The Caps did just enough to win two games this week and had their lunches eaten in front of them in Los Angeles. They have lost their last four and eight of their last nine road games to teams currently in the top-eight of their respective conferences. The road record in general – and their making a fight of it against good teams in their rinks – has to improve. If it does not, the Caps are going to be hanging around the edges of the playoffs for their last 40 games. And it will not take much for them to find themselves on the wrong side of that divide.