Sunday, March 11, 2012
That Was The Week That Was -- Week 22 (March 4-10)
Week 22…something we haven’t seen in a while, a winning week. But it could have been a lot more.
It was the first winning week since Week 16, but if you consider that the Caps had three of the four games on home ice and won their only road game, there is a sense of unfulfillment with the week’s record. The Caps left three points on the table in losing two games (one in overtime). Those points would have put the Caps in front of the Florida Panthers and in first place in the Southeast Division. The week did end on a high note, though, with the Caps taking two points out of TD Garden in Boston in a 4-3 win. And for a team with as poor a record on the road as the Caps, getting what was their second straight road win (they won in Toronto on February 25th) was a good sign, especially since the Caps had not won consecutive road games since games at Ottawa and Winnipeg on December 7th and 15th (they had two home games between those contests).
Offense: 2.50/game (season: 2.66/rank: T-13th)
The good news is that the Caps spread things around on offense. Eight different players had goals, and 14 different skaters had points. The bad news was that no Cap had more than two goals for the week (Jay Beagle and Brooks Laich), and the leading overall points producer was rookie defenseman Dmitry Orlov (four assists). The hard part was the lack of production from the big three guns still in the lineup in the home portion of the week. Alex Ovechkin did have a goal (the overtime winner in a 3-2 decision over Tampa Bay), the only one among the trio of Ovechkin, Alexander Semin, and Mike Green to have one (Semin and Green had no points on the five-game homestand). Semin did have a fine game against Boston to close the week, but Green sat that one out, having been suspended for three games for his hit on Brett Connolly in the Caps’ win over Tampa Bay.
Defense: 2.50/game (season: 2.79/rank: 21st)
It would have been a pretty good week but for the game against Carolina on Tuesday. In that one, the Caps went out to a 2-0 lead, then let it get away when the Hurricanes scored three goals in less than 17 minutes to take a 3-2 lead in a game the Caps would lose, 4-3 in overtime. It would be hard to quarrel much with the Caps’ week outside of that game. They held the Philadelphia Flyers – a team that led the league in scoring when they faced the Caps – to a single goal. And even against Boston – a team that was second in the league in scoring heading into Saturday’s game – three goals on Boston ice was not an indicator of poor defense. If there was a problem it was in not being able to hold early leads. In each of the three games in which the Caps scored they scored first (twice having 2-0 leads) and lost the lead in each of those games.
Tomas Vokoun won both games this week in which he appeared. Michal Neuvirth lost in both of his appearances. Other than that, their weeks were almost identical, Vokoun stopping 54 of 59 shots in 124 minutes of play and Neuvirth stopping 54 of 59 shots in 123 minutes of play. If there was a bright spot in the week for the goaltenders, it was that in four games they stopped 45 of 46 first period shots (.978 save percentage), at least giving their teammates a chance to get off on the right foot at the other end. The second period was another matter – 26 saves on 32 shots on goal (.813).
Power Play: 1-for-6/16.7 percent (season: 16.5 percent/rank: 18th)
Until the Caps scored on their last power play of the week, they had been 0-for-18 over their previous seven-plus games. During this past week they finished 1-for-6 in four games, but there were two general problems with that performance. First, not a problem of a power play, per se, but still a lingering problem is the inability to draw penalties in the first place. Eighteen power play opportunities over seven games – 2.6 per game. Even if the Caps had the best power play in the league (that belonging to Edmonton at 21.8 percent), it would have meant a total of three more goals over those 18 games. In this week, it does not rise to the level of providing the Caps with as much as a single additional goal.
The second issue this week was shots and who was getting them. Dennis Wideman…four. Alex Ovechkin…three. Brooks Laich…three. Add in one apiece for Alexander Semin and Troy Brouwer, and the right people from those available were taking them (to a point…we’ll get to that). But the Caps need to have these people converting their chances, too. Only Laich among this group potted a goal among the 12 power play shots on goal for the week. Absent from the shot totals was Mike Green, who did skate 5:31 on three power plays in the middle two games of the week (the Caps had no power plays in the first game of the week, and Green was suspended for the last one). Getting Green going on the power play could only improve the Caps’ performance on the power play down the stretch. He still does not have a point in ten games since returning to the lineup.
Penalty Killing: 6-for-8/75.0 percent (season: 80.6 percent/rank:22nd)
The Caps did a lot right on the penalty kill this week. Eight shorthanded situations faced (two per game) did not put the Caps in too much jeopardy. They allowed only eight shots in 13:23 of power play time. And it was not as if the shots they allowed came from particularly dangerous players. No one from the Flyers registered a shot on goal on their lone power play against the Caps. Neither Eric Staal nor Jeff Skinner had one for the Hurricanes in their game against Washington. Justin Faulk, who is tied with Staal for the team lead in power play goals, had but one shot. Against Tampa Bay, neither Steven Stamkos (ten power play goals on the season) nor Martin St. Louis (four) had one. And against Boston, neither Zdeno Chara (seven power play goals) nor Milan Lucic (seven) had a shot on goal.
But the Caps let shots from Ryan Malone and Teddy Purcell leak through – a tap-in by Malone and a redirect off a Caps skate on a shot from Purcell. A fine line between a perfect week and one that wasn’t.
Paying the Price: 101 hits/55 blocked shots (season rank: 11th/7th)
Games against the Flyers and two against divisional opponents – as close as we get these days to rivalry games – and a total of 85 hits for the Caps in those three contests. It probably would surprise no one that Alex Ovechkin had 15 hits in four games for the week, or even that Matt Hendricks had 14. But with 13, there was Dmitry Orlov, who is expressing more and more facets of his game as the games roll on.
Faceoffs: 106-for-230/46.1 percent (season: 50.1 percent/rank: 14th)
It was a bit of an odd week in the circle. The total numbers – 46.1 percent – do not look all that good. However, the Caps did manage a 50.0 percent mark in the offensive end (33-for-66) and one better than 50 percent (44-for-87; 50.6 percent) in the defensive end. Perhaps stranger was that the best performances came from the bottom half of the lines, at least in the offensive end. Brooks Laich and Mathieu Perreault were a combined 14-for-37 (37.8 percent), while Marcus Johansson (who played a lot of wing this week) and Jay Beagle were a combined 14-for-20 (70.0 percent). In the defensive end, performance was generally good among those players who took high volumes of draws. Laich, Perreault, and Johansson all finished above 50 percent and a combined 35-for-58 (60.3 percent).
There is a logic in this result if you look at the Caps’ place in the standings. The threat of missing the playoffs (their being outside the top-eight for most of the week) begets a certain urgency. A more urgent team applies more pressure to their opponents. The stronger pressure leads to more takeaways. And that was the number that stands out this week – 46 takeaways in four games. And that includes only two takeaways in Boston, where the official scorer recorded a total of only eight turnovers for the two teams combined.
And it was guys one would normally call “grinders” who led the way. Troy Brouwer was credited with six takeaways, Jason Chimera and Brooks Laich four apiece. It was the sort of performance the Caps are going to have to have the rest of the way – aggressive on the puck on defense, stingy when they have it.
A 2-1-1 week is, at first glance, an improvement. As we noted, it is the first winning week since Week 16. But going 1-1-1 at home is a record one wants the Caps to have on the road, not what they need – or should accept – at home. And even the win was hard-earned with a late goal in regulation to tie and an overtime goal to win against Tampa Bay.
The home record for the week could have left a bitter taste in the Caps’ mouths with their heading off on the road to face a tough team in Boston. The Caps came out strong in that one and held fast when the Bruins made a push late. It was a preview of things to come if this team should make the playoffs, and they will have to demonstrate that they can go out strong and hold fast when they are on the road. They will get ample opportunity to demonstrate their ability to do that this coming week with the start of a five-game road trip after they host Toronto tonight.