Sunday, March 25, 2012
That Was The Week That Was -- Week 24 (March 18-24)
Week 24… and we can’t tell if the Caps were treading water or drowning.
The Caps brought their five-game road trip to an end with an ugly loss to Chicago, a nice win against Detroit, and what might have been a good point in a Gimmick loss to the Flyers, except when you have left a lot of points on the table this season, that extra point left on the table in Philly was big. It would look a lot better than that one-point result against Winnipeg in which the Caps coughed up a 3-0 lead in the last 33 minutes of regulation time, then lost in overtime. In terms of standings points, it was the fifth consecutive week in which the Caps had a .500 or better week, but having gone 8-6-3 in those five weeks.
What was frustrating about this week is that the Caps managed the first goal in three of the four games and lost two of them (both in extra time). What was anger-inducing was that the Caps scored five goals in each of the first and second periods of the four games this week, but only one in the third period and none in overtime. Meanwhile, the four opponents scored six second period, four third period, and an overtime goal among the 13 scored against Washington this week. That is the kind of wandering focus that has plagued this team for more than three games…more like three years.
Offense: 2.75/game (season: 2.67/rank: 12th)
The Caps had 11 goals for the week. Alex Ovechkin had six of them. That Ovechkin would have six goals in four games is unusual over the last couple of seasons, but it is not unheard of in his career. But five goals from the rest of the lineup? And when you realize that two of those came off the stick of Mike Knuble, who had not scored goals in consecutive games since getting three in two games last March 31/April 2, and the Caps’ offense was otherwise absent.
One of the problems was the shots not being there in the third period. The Caps had five goals on 32 shots in the first period of games (15.6 percent shooting percentage) and five goals on 41 shots in the second period of games (11.9 percent). In the third period, though, only one goal on 21 shots (4.8 percent), and the Caps did not have a shot on goal in 7:23 of overtime play.
Defense: 3.25/game (season: 2.80/rank: 21st)
It would be tempting to say that if the Caps went into a shell in the third period of games on offense this past week, it cost them at the other end of the ice. The Caps did go into that shell, but it was not as if the Caps allowed a significantly larger number of shots as their own number diminished. Opponents registered 42 first period shots, 44 second period, an 41 third period shots in the four games this week, plus four overtime shots for good measure.
One could argue that part of that was a scoring effect in the Detroit game, the Caps holding a 4-1 lead after 38 minutes. But the Caps almost gave up that lead (they got an empty net goal late in a 5-3 win), and then they lost a 3-0 lead built over the first 26 minutes in their game against Winnipeg, a game that they lost, 4-3, in overtime. It is one thing to resist the urge to take chances at one end, but one has to clamp down at the other too, and the Caps didn’t do that, a combination of passive play and goaltending that did not come up big when the need arose.
The Caps lost one game by getting behind early, another by not being able to score, and another by going to sleep after getting out to a big lead. If there was one thing in common about those games, and the win over Detroit for that matter, was a weak performance in goal in the second period of games. Caps goaltenders were a combined 41-for-43 in the first period of games (.954 save percentage), including a perfect 31-for-31 in the last three games of the week. They were 37-for 40 (.925) in the third period of games. But that second period? They were 38-for-44 (.864) and allowed at least one second period goal in each of the four games for the week. Third period comebacks do not get completed if they do not get started, and they got started in that second period. It almost cost them against Detroit; it did against Winnipeg.
Power Play: 3-for-9/33.3 percent (season: 17.3 percent/rank: T-14th)
It was something of a deceptive week. The Caps came into it only 4-for-44 over their previous 17 games (9.1 percent). They failed on their only opportunity against Chicago to open the week, then they lit up the Detroit Red Wings for three on four chances on Monday. They reverted to form to close the week, going 0-for-2 in each of their last two games of the week. Getting two goals from Alex Ovechkin on five shots is what the team is looking for. Getting no shots on goal from Alexander Semin in 5:25 of power play ice time is not. Getting three shots from Mike Green is good, getting no goals isn’t (he hasn’t had a goal of any kind since October 22nd). The raw numbers looked pretty good, and even though the Caps don’t beat Detroit without those three power play goals (one of which was an empty netter), it was at best an uneven week.
Penalty Killing: 6-for-7/85.7 percent (season: 80.8 percent/rank: 21st)
On the other hand, the Caps penalty killers had what was probably a better week than killing six of seven shorthanded situations suggests. The one power play goal allowed did let the Detroit Red Wings start to crawl back into the game on Monday, but overall the Caps allowed only the one goal on nine shots in 12:55 of penalty killing time. It was a case of few opportunities allowed, few shots allowed, and as a result just one goal in a game the Caps won. That has to be considered a good week.
Paying the Price: 105 hits/67 blocked shots (season rank: 10th/6th)
The surprising number in this category might be “12.” That would be the number of hits credited to Alex Ovechkin this week, five of them coming in the 4-3 overtime loss to Winnipeg. Not a big week for the big guy in that regard. On the other hand, there was Matt Hendricks with 18 hits in just 60 minutes of ice time for the week.
Faceoffs: 113-for-231/48.9 percent (season: 50.0 percent/rank: T-15th)
If there was a strange number in this category this week, it was 56.3. That was the faceoff winning percentage of the “non-centers” who took draws this week – Jason Chimera, Mike Knuble, and Troy Brouwer. The players who play at least some amount of time regularly as centers were 48.4 percent for the week. Brooks Laich continues to take the lion’s share of draws – 73 of 231 (31.6 percent of all draws), of which he won 32 for a 43.8 percent winning percentage. Mathieu Perreault was far behind in total faceoffs taken with 38 (24 wins for a 63.2 percent winning percentage). Overall, the fact that the Caps took 69 draws in the offensive zone and 87 in the defensive zone was an indicator of too much time spent in the defensive zone. And winning only 46.0 percent of their defensive zones did not help.
The Caps did a pretty good job of managing the puck, at least in terms of turnovers. Then again, the fact that they had only 17 giveaways for the week might be another reflection of not having the puck a lot late in games.
Splitting games in Chicago and Detroit could be seen as a plus. But given the points the Caps have left on the table this season, the two they left there in the last two games of the week, both extra time losses to Philadelphia and Winnipeg, is just that much more disappointing. At a minimum it undid a lot of the good that winning in Detroit provided. The loss to Winnipeg, coming after the Caps went out to a 3-0 lead, will be the one that haunts them if they should miss the playoffs by a single point. The Caps didn’t lose ground this week, but it sure felt that way with what was there for the taking.