Sunday, February 26, 2012

That Was The Week That Was -- Week 20 (February 19 - 25)

Week 20 was the pain and the ecstasy. Well, perhaps not quite either, but it did start poorly – potentially disastrously, in fact – before righting itself somewhat at the end..

Record: 2-2-0

Even though this week was not the losing week the previous one was, it was arguably a worse one. At least it sure started that way. It wasn’t as if the Caps had not allowed ten goals in consecutive games lately – they did it on January 7/9 against San Jose and Los Angeles. But that was against teams on the west coast, where the Caps always seem to struggle. In this instance they opened the week by allowing five goals in successive games to Carolina and Ottawa, teams against which the Caps had a 6-1-0 combined record this season, 14-2-1 over the past two seasons. But the Caps turned it around in the last half of the week, knocking off Montreal and Toronto by 4-1 and 4-2 margins, respectively. It was the first time that the Caps scored as many as four goals in consecutive games since December 7/9 against Ottawa and Toronto. Oh, Canada.

Offense: 2.50/game (season: 2.71/rank: 13th)

"Listless" was the term to describe the first half of the week’s games, "hopeful" to describe the second half. The Caps managed only 17 shots on goal in a 5-0 loss to Carolina to start the week, despite facing a goaltender – Justin Peters – who was making only his 26th appearance in the NHL. Peters, who had not recorded a shutout in any of his previous 25 appearances, recorded his first against the Caps. Washington managed only 52 shot attempts in the loss, and the 17 shots on goal tied for the second lowest for a game this season (they had 16 shots on goal in a 3-0 win over Montreal on January 18th). The Caps followed that up by scoring two goals after Ottawa ran out to a 4-0 lead in what would be a 5-2 loss.

The Caps did right by their fans in the last two games of the week, though. They scored four goals in each of the two games – 4-1 over Montreal and 4-2 over Toronto – to earn fans a discount from a local pizza establishment on the days following the wins.

For the week the Caps had balanced, if not especially prolific, scoring. Nine different Caps recorded at least two points, led by Alexander Semin (1-3-4), while Jason Chimera (1-2-3), Alex Ovechkin (1-2-3), and Marcus Johansson (1-2-3) all finished with three points on the week.

Defense: 3.25/game (season: 2.79/rank: 20th)

It was all in the period this week. In two losses the Caps allowed a total of five goals in the first period; in two wins, none. They allowed a few more shot attempts this week (216) than last, but the percentage of shots to attempts on goal was up from 53.4 percent last week to 58.5 percent this week. That was the product of shots on goal up from 27.3 to 31.8 per game.

Still, it came down to periods. The Caps allowed those five goals in the first period of two losses this week, and they also allowed five goals in the third period of games this week. Three of those third period goals, however, came in two wins, when the outcome was no longer in doubt. If there was good news, though, none of the goals came from 90 feet away, something that happened on a couple of occasions in recent games.

Goaltending: 3.01/.905

This week’s principal drama came in the crease. In the first two games of the week, Tomas Vokoun was pulled early, once after allowing two goals on seven shots in just over five minutes, and in the second game after 32 minutes upon allowing four goals on 11 shots. It made for a difficult week for the number one netminder: 0-2-0, 9.68, .667. It was left to Michal Neuvirth, himself a struggling goalie (1-3-2, 2.87, .906 in nine appearances since December 23rd), to pick up the pieces of the week. With the Caps facing the potential to fall behind by what could be an insurmountable deficit to the teams in front of them in the playoff race, Neuvirth came up strong. He stopped 58 of 61 shots in the last two games of the week (.951 save percentage), but perhaps more important, he stopped all 38 first and second period shots he faced to give the Caps a chance to get off on the right foot.

Power Play: 1-for-14/7.1 percent (season: 17.0 percent/rank: 16th)

It was the second straight 1-for-14 week. Two for 28 in two weeks – 7.1 percent – is not going to get it done. It just was not a very good week. In 23:59 of total power play ice time the Caps had but the one goal in 14 tries – an inconsequential goal in the 5-2 loss to Ottawa (the Senators were up 4-0 when the Caps scored at 2:19 of the third period). They recorded that goal on only 13 power play shots for the week. Almost half the shots came from Mike Green and Troy Brouwer (three apiece). Only two came off the stick of Alex Ovechkin (both in the 4-1 win over Montreal), none from Alexander Semin (although Semin did assist on the only power play goal of the week, scored by John Carlson).

Penalty Killing: 12-for15/80.0 percent (season: 80.8%/rank: 21st)

Another case of a tale of two weeks, first and second half. The Caps were only 4-for-7 on the penalty kill in the first two games of the week, a perfect 8-for-8 in the second half of the week. The Caps skated shorthanded for 22:27 in the four games, allowing three goals on 19 shots. Again, it was the bad and the good. In two losses the Caps gave up those three power play goals in seven chances, Carolina and Ottawa shooting 3-for-12 in shots in in 8:51 of power play time. In the last two games the Caps shut out Montreal and Toronto on the power play on eight chances, allowing only seven shots in 13:36 of ice time.

Paying the Price: 91 hits/65 blocked shots (season rank: T-11th/5th)

It was not a week that was much different from the previous week (99/52 in four games). If there was an odd dynamic to the week, it was in blocked shots. In their two wins, the Caps were credited with 21 blocked shots after they took the lead into the first intermission (5.3 blocks per period). In the other eight periods – where the Caps were either trying to get a lead or falling behind – they had 44 blocks (5.5 per period). It just struck us as a bit odd; we might have wondered if a lead would result in the team trying to deny more shots to the net.

Faceoffs: 133-for-274/48.5 percent (season: 50.3 percent/rank: T-12th)

A second straight losing week, the Caps won only one game in the circle, and that was a loss on the scoreboard (the 5-2 loss to Ottawa; they were 37-for-72). The Caps had most of their trouble in the offensive end, going only 32-for-81 for the week (39.5 percent). None of the big four taking draws for the week – Jeff Halpern (42.9 percent), Brooks Laich (45.5 percent), Mathieu Perreault (46.7 percent), or Marcus Johansson (35.3 percent) hit the 50 percent mark. They did offset that some with a 54.3 percent mark in the defensive end, all of the big four hitting 50 percent or better except Johansson (33.3 percent).

Turnovers: minus-5

It would have been a lot better but for a ghastly game on the score sheet against Carolina. The Caps earned 11 turnovers of their own, but gave up 26. The Caps were a much more responsible team with the puck in the other three games of the week, finishing even or on the high side of the ledger in all of them and going plus-10 overall.


In boxing, a cardinal rule is, win the end of the round. It looks better to the judges. The Caps won the end of the week, and things look a bit better in doing so than they did after the Caps dropped the first two games of the week by a combined 10-2 margin. With the wins in the last two games the Caps still find themselves on the outside looking in at the playoff eight. With 20 games left – three of which will be played against the two teams immediately ahead of them (two against Winnipeg, one against Florida) – the boxing analogy is apt. The Caps are now in the fight of their lives for a playoff spot.

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