Sunday, January 29, 2012
That Was The Week That Was -- Week 16 (January 22-28)
It could have been better, and it could have been worse. Getting three points out of four has to qualify as a pretty good week, though, given the opponents. The Caps went to Pittsburgh to face a team that had won five in a row and managed to get a point out of it, even after falling behind, 2-0, in the first period. But the Caps did have a lead in that game, taking a 3-2 lead early in the third on a goal by Alex Ovechkin. Pittsburgh evened it later in the period, but the Caps halted any further Penguin marches and squeezed out a standings point, even as Evgeni Malkin converted a friendly bounce off the end boards for a 4-3 overtime winner. The Caps returned home to win in unexpected fashion against the Boston Bruins, 5-3, the first time the Caps scored five goals in a game in 21 games. It made for the first week since Week 11 that the Caps did not lose a game in regulation and only the second time since their seven game winning streak to start the season.
Offense: 4.00/game (season: 2.81/rank: 9th)
Last week it was five goals on 80 shots on goal (6.25 percent); this week, eight goals on 43 shots (18.6 percent). Neither would seem to be the norm. But what does seem to be the norm is that inability to get shots on goal. With 20 against Pittsburgh and 23 against Boston, the Caps now have gone 19 consecutive games without going over 30 shots in a game, and they have been outshot by opponents in 16 of those 19 games (their last ten in a row). They are, however, 11-6-2 in those games. We do not see this as a long term recipe for success.
Individually, it was the Mathieu Perreault Show this past week. Perreault was 3-2-5, plus-4, including his first career hat trick in the 5-3 win over Boston. The Alexes – Ovechkin and Semin – each had a three point week, both going 1-2-3. Ovechkin got his in one game, having to sit out the second game of the week as a result of his suspension for a hit on Pittsburgh’s Zbynek Michalek in the 4-3 overtime loss last Sunday.
Defense: 3.50/game (season: 2.81/rank: 18th)
It is a broken record by now, but the Caps were badly out-attempted in shots this past week. Opponents launched 145 shots toward the Caps net, and 59 of them got through, seven of them for goals. Compare that to 100 shot attempts for the Caps, 43 of which made it to the net, eight of which found their way over the goal line. The Caps just are not doing a very good job of keeping opponents out of the Caps' own end. They are now allowing 2.5 more shots at 5-on-5 per 60 minutes than they are getting for themselves (numbers from behindthenet.ca). that might not sound like much, but there are two things to consider here. First, that 2.5 shots is 9.2 percent more shots than the Caps are getting. Second, let’s say that a typical goalie’s save percentage at 5-on-5 is .920 (a reasonable conclusion, since 20 of 38 goalies having played at least 20 games have that mark or better). Caps goalies have to have a save percentage of ,927 just to stay even. What is Tomas Vokoun’s save percentage at even strength? You guessed it, .927. Which brings us to…
Can’t call it a great week, even with the strength of competition. Tomas Vokoun and Michal Neuvirth split the work this week, each getting a game and each allowing at least three goals. If there was a ray of sunshine, it was that the two combined to stop 19 of 20 third period shots in the two games. Trouble is, that one goal tied what was a 3-2 game in Pittsburgh, and the Penguins went on to win in overtime. If anything, this week was an early warning that some fine goaltending that had gone to waste over the previous month might be normalizing a bit, and that is not a good thing. Tomas Vokoun allowed three goals to Boston, and that makes three in a row and six of his last eight appearances in which he allowed three or more goals. The Caps are 2-4-0 in those six games. Neuvirth has allowed three or more in three of his last five appearances (one of those appearances being a 20 minute stint in which he allowed one goal on eight shots). If the goaltending starts to sputter, and the Caps’ offense cannot find its rhythm, this team is toast for this season.
Power Play: 0-for-5/0.0 percent (season: 18.5 percent/rank: T-12th)
In the space of two weeks, the Caps have dropped seven places in team power play rankings, this week dropping four places on the 0-for-5 effort. They managed only two shots on goal in eight minutes of man-advantage time, including 19 seconds worth of 5-on-3 time and 1:13 of 4-on-3 time. Sure, Boston and Pittsburgh are good penalty killing teams (seventh and fourth, respectively, in penalty killing), but this was just short of awful, the only mitigating factor being that the Caps were missing their biggest power play weapons in Alex Ovechkin, Mike Green, and Nicklas Backstrom against Boston, against whom they had no shots on goal on their only opportunity.
Penalty Killing: 5-for-7/71.4 percent (season: 80.8%/rank:23rd)
Well, at least they didn’t drop any more places in the league rankings. Other than that, it was not a very good week. The Caps have now allowed at least one power play goal in eight of the last nine games in which they faced at least one shorthanded situation. They are 28-for-38 over that span (73.4 percent) and have a record of 4-4-1 in those games. Allowing nine shots in 8:27 of penalty killing time isn’t awful, but the Caps are slowly digging themselves a hole by allowing power play goals on what is has become a regular basis. It is just one more thing that has to be corrected if this club is to have a chance at making the playoffs.
Paying the Price: 59 hits/46 blocked shots (season rank:14th/9th)
The Caps keep getting chances to block shots, so they block shots. Another two games this week with at least 20. On one level, that’s a good thing. The Caps are showing a willingness to try to make things easier on their goaltenders. On the other hand, it is a symptom of a lot of shot attempts against – the Caps blocked more shots this week (46) than they had shots on goal of their own (43). And there is this. The Caps rank ninth in the league in blocked shots. Of the eight teams ahead of them, only three – Minnesota, the Rangers, and San Jose – are among the playoff eligibles of their respective conferences.
Faceoffs: 55-for-116/47.4 percent (season: 51.1 percent/rank: 8th)
Faceoffs – another element that seems to reflect the inability of the Caps to start and keep plays going in the offensive end. Going 55-for-116 for the two games this week is by no means awful, being three wins short of a 50 percent week, but it is the numbers by zone that continue to be troubling. The Caps took 27 draws in the offensive zone this week (winning 13) and took 51 in the defensive zone (winning only 23 of them). That the Caps would earn three points for the week while starting plays in the defensive zone by almost a two-to-one margin compared to starts in the offensive zone either speaks to their goaltending or to a bit of Perreault-fed luck (or poor Boston defense in the 5-3 Caps win).
One cannot help but think that this week’s results were a reflection of the scoring differences one finds from rink to rink. The Caps and Penguins combined for only 11 turnovers in the 4-3 Penguins win last Sunday in Pittsburgh (the Caps being minus-3 in that game), while the Caps and Bruins combined for 42 turnovers in the 5-3 Caps win on Tuesday at Verizon Center (the Caps finishing plus-6). Boston had a particularly sloppy game that played a pivotal role in the Caps’ win. On balance, though, there was not much to take away from the turnover numbers this week.
A 1-0-1 week is not to be sneered at, but the way the Caps won these points is not the kind of method one can or should count on over the last 34 games of the season. They had to claw back from an 0-2 hole on the road to get a point in the first game of the week, then they had the benefit of an opponent playing a poor defensive game to get a win in the other contest. Make no mistake, that win was a good one, coming as it did while the Caps skated with three big pieces out of the lineup in Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, and Mike Green. But in neither game did the Caps mount any consistent offensive pressure, and they showed cracks in their defense and goaltending in giving up seven goals in the two contests.
We made a point a couple of weeks ago that the Caps had six games on each side of the All-Star break that could very well make or break their chances to make the playoffs. We speculated on their chances to match their standings points mark last season after 54 games, which would come at the end of this 12-game stretch. Well, having finished the first half of that stretch of a dozen games with a 3-2-1 record, even a sweep of their next six games would leave them short of last year’s points mark after 54 games (they can finish with 67 points in 54 games, compared to 68 last season). And given the way the Caps have lurched from winning to losing in short spurts over the last two-and-a-half months, no reasonable person should be thinking “sweep” in the next six games.
The Caps have played this season like the story about a frog in a pot of water. Turn up the heat too fast, the frog jumps out. But if the water is heated gradually, the frog doesn’t have a clue what is happening until it is too late. The Caps have avoided the long losing streak for the most part this season, not having one of more than four games so far. But they have lost often enough in bits and pieces that the heat has been turned up gradually on their chances to make the playoffs. And if they don’t make something of these next six games, when the schedule favors them with four divisional games and another against a team behind them in the standings, the Caps might find themselves cooked.