This was the Caps’ first losing week since week 10 in which they went 1-2-0. Had they broken even, they would be in the top-eight, a point ahead of Toronto. As it is, they ended the week on the outside and with the Winnipeg Jets breathing down their necks for ninth place (Winnipeg jumped the Caps into ninth on Sunday). The Caps did get a win in the game in which they had to get one, a 2-1 win in Florida to at least keep the Panthers in sight (the Caps finished the week two points behind Florida for first place in the Southeast Division). Otherwise, it was a hugely disappointing week in which the Caps led for a grand total of 6:33 out of 240 minutes of hockey and finished the week with a 3-5-2 record in their last ten games, bookended by losses in Tampa Bay (4-2 in overtime on January 31st and 2-1 on Saturday).
Offense: 2.00/game (season: 2.72/rank: 13th)
It was a different Alex leading the way this week. Last week it was Ovechkin; this week it was Semin. Alexander Semin had a hand in half of the Caps’ eight goals for the week, getting two of his own and assisting on two others. Semin has been on a bit of a roll of late, going 4-5-9 in his last eight games and is 11-15-26 in his last 27 games. Other than Semin it was a rather weak week. Roman Hamrlik was 1-2-3, and four other Caps had two points. The biggest problem this week was an inability to take a lead or score early. They did not score first in any game, and they did not have a first period goal in any of the four games. It was something of an odd result, given that the Caps averaged more than 33 shots on goal per game for the week. But a 6.0 percent shooting percentage? Not good.
Defense: 2.75/game (season: 2.76/rank: 18th)
The defense did a good job in limiting shot attempts this week – 204 in all – and shots on goal (109). But there were mistakes made, especially early in games – a breakdown deep that allowed the Rangers to get Ryan Callahan open for a backhanded tap-in on a power play, Marcus Johansson losing track of Tomas Fleischmann to let the Florida forward get open for a one timer, Dmitry Orlov trying a backhand pass in traffic that allowed Tampa Bay to transition to offense and score. Add in a fluke 90-footer that clicked off a stick to beat Braden Holtby against San Jose, and the Caps allowed a goal – the first goal of the game – in each of the first periods this week.
Three goalies got work this week. Michal Neuvirth opened the week with Tomas Vokoun on the shelf with the flu. He was not bad against the Rangers (25 stops on 28 shots), but he was not especially sharp, either. Neuvirth is not getting enough work to get sharp, and his lack of an edge is preventing him from getting more work in relief of Vokoun. Which leads to Braden Holtby, who was called up to face the San Jose Sharks. Why? In the words of coach Dale Hunter, “"It’s one of those things where if [Neuvirth] was standing on his head every night, would Braden be playing?" No. So it’s always judged by how you play." Holtby gave up the transcontinental goal to open the scoring, and he was not a lot better after that, allowing five goals on 35 shots overall. On the other hand, Tomas Vokoun returned from his illness and stopped 43 of 46 shots (.935 SV) in back-to-back games, splitting the decisions. His work stands in stark relief to his relief, who stopped only 55 of 63 shots (.873). It is worth noting that Vokoun is 13-9-2 under Dale Hunter with a 2.15 goals against average, a .930 save percentage,and three shutouts. That the Caps are doing as poorly as they are with this level of performance is perhaps the biggest disappointment – a waste of discount ($1.5 million for this year) goaltending.
Power Play: 1-for-14/7.1 percent (season: 17.7 percent/rank: 13th)
If the power play might have been coming out of a slump at the end of last week (3-for-6 in the last two games of the week), it went back into hibernation this week. Alex Ovechkin got the only goal of the week as the Caps converted only one of 21 power play shots. It was a return to the ineffectiveness on the man advantage that has seen them go 8-for-55 over their last 20 games (14.6 percent). Almost as frustrating is the fact that in those 20 games the Caps have had two or fewer power play chances in nine of them, three or fewer in 14 of them. Those 20 games correspond to the absence of Nicklas Backstrom.
Penalty Killing: 13-for-16/81.3 percent (season: 80.9%/rank: 23rd)
If the Caps never had to play the San Jose Sharks, you might not find many Caps fans complaining. The Sharks came to Verizon Center this week and lit the Caps up for three goals in six power play opportunities. That made the Sharks seven for 12 in their last four games against the Caps. Other than that, the Caps were perfect, but that has a bit of the “otherwise, how did you like the play, Mrs. Lincoln?” quality to it. The Caps did, however, allow a total of only six power play shots in 19:19 of penalty killing time over those other three games (they allowed 13 to the Sharks). It was not so much a bad week as a bad game that marred an otherwise good week.
Paying the Price: 99 hits/52 blocked shots (season rank: 12th/7th)
The blocked shots were down (from 22.3 per game last week to 13.0 per game this week) largely as a result of the drop in shot attempts – only 204 for the week. But the percentage of shot attempts blocked was down, too – 25.5 percent, when the Caps had been topping 30 percent in recent weeks.
Faceoffs: 115-for-239/48.1 percent (season: 50.3 percent/rank: 12th)
The Caps had more or less an even week in the circle, except for the game against the Rangers to start things. Officially, the Caps were 19-for-50 in that game, 96-for-189 (50.8 percent) for the other three games. However, the Caps struggled in the offensive end, going 38-for-90 in the four games (42.2 percent). Brooks Laich was particularly off in the offensive zone. Laich was 3-for-20 for the week (15.0 percent). He was, however, even at the other end (14-for-28). Still, giving up possession in offensive zone starts didn’t help in what was a weak scoring week.
Well, at least they cut the margin in half from the previous week. There really isn’t much else to be said about that, although all of it is explained away by a minus-13 in the 2-1 loss in Tampa Bay on Saturday.
Last week we said…
“The Caps are seeing their season slowly bleed away. In their first 12 full weeks of the season they had six winning weeks and three .500 weeks. In their last six weeks that have had two winning weeks and four .500 weeks. They have avoided losing weeks, but they are not putting together any consistent run of good play that is reflected in wins and losses.”
And so it goes, still. The road woes continue (1-2-0 for the week), and the home record isn’t so hot lately, either (2-3-1 in their last six games at Verizon Center, including this week's loss to San Jose). The Caps did win the biggest game of the week – the 2-1 win over Florida on Friday – but if that is the only win in a week, all it does is delay the disappointment that could be coming. Capitals Nation has been waiting for that turnaround, that streak of five or six games when one could get a sense that the team is getting it. Getting Mike Green back into the lineup might help with that, but the continued absence of Nicklas Backstrom might be too much to overcome in the end. With a record of 8-9-3 since Backstrom left the lineup, the Caps are not showing enough depth or consistency to suggest that the magic “turnaround” is in sight.