Sunday, January 22, 2012

That Was The Week That Was -- Week 15 (January 15-21)

Week 15 started against Carolina, and with the Hurricanes it ended. In between the Caps played one of their better and one of their worst games of the season. It made for an up-and-down week against weak competition that made for disappointing results.

Record: 2-2-0

Coming into Week 15 the Capitals had a home record of 16-5-1, one of the best records in the league. With two games at Verizon Center to close a four-game home stand against teams not in the playoff-eligible top eight in the Eastern Conference, one might have thought – have expected, in fact – that Washington would leave town with a couple more wins in the bank. The Caps made good on half of that when they beat Carolina, 2-1, last Sunday. But a loss to the Islanders by a 3-0 margin on “getaway day” (the day before a road game in Montreal) made for a bitter end to a decent home stand. The Caps would close the week stuck on “3-0” scores, beating Montreal in that second of a back-to-back, then losing to Carolina on Friday to split the week. It was the first time the Caps were involved in three straight decisions settled by a shutout in ten years.

Offense: 1.25/game (season: 2.76 /rank: 11th)

Five goals on 80 shots on goal. A 6.25 shooting percentage is bad enough, but 80 shots on goal? The Caps closed the week having played 17 consecutive games without topping 30 shots in any of them and only once topping 25 shots in the nine games since the start of the new year. In 12 periods of hockey this week the Caps hit the ten-shot mark once, none in their last nine periods. The Caps found themselves tied for 27th in shots on goal per game at the end of the week. Their neighborhood includes teams that one normally associates with grind-it-out, defensive hockey – New Jersey, Calgary, Nashville, Minnesota. Edmonton and Anaheim are also in this neighborhood, but…well, they’re not very good.

If you could find a silver lining in this cloud band (more like a dull tin color), it would be that the Caps had balanced scoring. Five different players had the five goals for the week, and ten different players had points. None, however, had more than two points. Kudos, though, to Dmitry Orlov, one of those players with a goal, for that goal being his first in the NHL and a game-winner in the 2-1 win over Carolina to start the week.

Defense: 1.75/game (season: 2.78/rank: 15th)

A team gives up seven goals in four games, you might conclude they played pretty good defense. Well, maybe. Giving up 136 shots in four games to three opponents (including Carolina twice) ranking in the lower half of the scoring rankings and in the middle of the pack in shots per game is not necessarily the hallmark of tight defense. And the defense was, in one respect, almost a mirror image of the offense. Opponents recorded ten or more shots in eight of 12 periods of hockey this week. Part of this is scoring effect. Carolina had 18 of their 44 shots on goal in the third period of the 2-1 Caps win to start the week. Montreal had 17 of their 31 shots on goal in the third period of the Caps’ 3-0 shutout of the Habs on Wednesday. But even with that, the rink was tilted toward the Caps’ end of the rink this week. It has been for some time now.

Goaltending: 1.75 /.949, one shutout

Four games, and Tomas Vokoun got the nod in three of them, Michal Neuvirth the other. This is perhaps the way it will play out for the rest of the season. This week, it worked out pretty well. Vokoun stopped 98 of 105 shots on goal (a .933 save percentage), and Neuvirth blanked Montreal with 31 saves. In fact, goaltending has not been the problem lately. Since allowing five goals on 30 shots in a 5-1 loss to Philadelphia on December 5th, Neuvirth has stopped 149 of the 160 shots he has faced (.931 save percentage). In his last 12 appearances, Vokoun has stopped 338 of 362 shots faced (a .934 save percentage). The Caps are 7-5-0 in those appearances by Vokoun, and Neuvirth is 3-2-1 in six decisions (eight appearances) since December 5th. One gets the impression the Caps are wasting some pretty good goaltending.

Power Play: 1-for-11/9.1 percent (season: 19.1 percent/rank: 8th)

The Caps dropped three places this week in team power play rankings, a product of converting only one of 11 opportunities. It should not be surprising that the Caps had so little success. They had a total of nine shots on goal in those 11 opportunities. And if there is anything noteworthy about the shots, it is that they were perimeter shots, or at least from perimeter shooters – Alex Ovechkin had three (getting the only goal on a shot from the point in the 3-0 win over Montreal), Dennis Wideman had two, Alexander Semin had two, and Dmitry Orlov one. Only Jason Chimera could be thought of as a “grinder” getting a shot, but his shot came from 65 feet in the same power play on which Ovechkin scored in the win over Montreal (actually during the first half of a double minor penalty to Mathieu Darche for high-sticking Marcus Johansson). The Caps just did not generate anything from in close on their own power play, and they would end up the week “even” on their own power play, allowing a shorthanded goal to Carolina in the 3-0 loss to close the week.

Penalty Killing: 15-for-20/75.0 percent (season: 81.2%/rank: 23rd)

Not much good to talk about on the penalty kill this week. First, there were too many opportunities allowed. The 20 shorthanded situations was the high for any week so far this season. Oddly enough, the game in which they faced the most – seven shorthanded situations against Montreal – was the one in which they killed off all of them. The Caps were only 8-for-13 in the other three games and lost two of them. In the 20 shorthanded situations the Caps faced this week, they faced 26 shots on goal, allowing five goals (19.2 percent shooting for the opponents). You give up more power plays than you earn, 20-11, and you get out-shot on power plays, 26-9, it is not bound to be a very good week. And the penalty killers certainly did not have one.

Paying the Price: 95 hits/81 blocked shots (season rank: 15th/12th)

An average of 20.25 blocked shots a game. It does show a willingness to pay a price. But a price for what? For allowing 272 shot attempts in four games, an average of 68 a game. Compare that to the Caps getting 170 shot attempts – more than 100 fewer than their opponents – over those four games. Spending so much time in the defensive end of the ice, giving up so many shot opportunities with so few of their own, having to do what needs to be done to try and keep those shot attempts out of the net. The blocked shot totals might look nice, and they might reflect positively on the players who piled them up – Dennis Wideman had 12, John Carlson had 11, Brooks Laich had 10. But they are another symptom of too many chances – good scoring ones or not – taking place at one end of the ice at the expense of chances at the other end. Can a team keep doing this and not be worn out by March?

Faceoffs: 122-for-226/54.0 percent (season: 51.3 percent/rank: 8th)

The Caps won the week, but that was somewhat deceptive. Overall, if you look at the three players taking the most draws for the week – Jeff Halpern, Brooks Laich, and Marcus Johansson – they were 95-for-185 (51.4 percent), but the 50-plus share of that group is explained by Jeff Halpern winning 22 of 32 draws (71.0 percent). By zone, the faceoffs paint a chilling picture of possession. The Caps won more faceoffs in the defensive zone (52) than they took in the offensive zone (50) for the week. The totals were 96 draws taken in the defensive zone (54.2 percent wins) and only 50 in the offensive zone (54.0 percent wins). It is not that they are not winning offensive zone draws to start plays, the Caps are not getting them in the first place.

Turnovers: minus-22

The Caps were charged with 44 giveaways in four games this week. To put that in perspective, to average 11 giveaways a game would leave the Caps with the fourth worst total of giveaways over the season so far (they ranked 11th through games of Saturday). It all seems part of a piece; the Caps find themselves in positions where they have to end up defending a lot more than they are attacking. And being on the wrong side of turnovers is just another part of that.


A team hovering on the margins of playoff-eligibility 42 games into the season, then going 2-2-0 for the week, is not doing themselves any favors, especially since the competition was not the strongest imaginable. All four games this week were played against teams below the Caps in the standings, and to finish the week splitting the four games has to be viewed as disappointing. And what’s more the Caps seem to be settling into a pattern that cannot end well. They get out-attempted, out-shot, out-turnovered, rely too much on goaltending to win games on a regular basis, and are not getting nearly enough from the guys who have to drive scoring. And getting Nicklas Backstrom and Mike Green back at some point might help halt that trend, but it is hard to think that their return alone will reverse it. Much as folks would like to think otherwise, at the moment this is a very average team that played a very average 2-2 kind of week.

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