Sunday, April 01, 2012
That Was The Week That Was -- Week 25 (March 25-31)
Week 25… Slow and steady wins the race.
The 3-1-0 record for Week 25 is the first time the Caps won three games in a week since Week 12. But it also marked the sixth straight week in which they were even or better in earning standings points from those available to be won. It was, though, a week of ups and downs. A 3-0 win over the Minnesota Wild followed by a 5-1 loss to the Buffalo Sabres. Then, games against the Boston Bruins and Montreal Canadiens in which the Caps went out to 2-0 leads, only to give them up and then win the games in the trick shot competition. Those two wins are only their third and fourth wins in The Gimmick this season. Three of those four wins for the season came among the Caps’ last five wins. The Caps had a good week, but more in the freestyle competition than in the hockey portion of the week.
Offense: 2.00/game (season: 2.63/rank: T-13th)
This was “The Week of the High Numbers.” Not on the scoreboard – the Caps had only eight goals scored in four games – but by jersey numbers. Mathieu Perreault (number 85 on your program) led the week with a pair of goals. Marcus Johansson (90) and Jay Beagle (83) had one apiece. The shooting percentages certainly left something to be desired. The Caps were 8-for-124 overall (6.5 percent). If you look at the top-five goal scorers, it wasn’t quite that good: Alex Ovechkin was 1-for-18 (5.6 percent), Alexander Semin was 1-for-14 (7.1), Jason Chimera was 1-for-7 (14.3 percent), Troy Brouwer was 0-for-6 (0.0 percent), and Brooks Laich was 0-for-9 (0.0 percent). As a group they were 3-for-54 (5.6 percent). At the other end there was Mathieu Perreault, who had two goals on three shots for the week. If he qualified among the shooting percentage leaders (oddly enough, he doesn’t have enough shots to qualify, despite having played in 61 games) he would lead the league with his 26.3 percent performance.
Defense: 2.25/game (season: 2.77/rank: 21st)
The Caps found themselves outshot in three of the four games this week. If not for the fact that the Caps had 19 shots of their own in the third period of a game long since decided (the 5-1 loss to Buffalo), the 128-124 advantage in shots for opponents would have been much wider. More disturbing was the inability to close out games with a lead. Three times this week the Caps had two goal leads, and twice they would give them back, having to win the games in the freestyle competition. And in those two instances the Caps displayed a lack of organization in their own end. There was Milan Lucic roaming free deep in the Caps’ zone to start a play that ended when the Caps could not tie up David Krejci’s stick for a tip in when the Caps had a 2-0 lead on Boston. There was the inability to clear the puck out of the zone that resulted in a goal by Andrew Ference to tie the Boston game at two apiece. There was Erik Cole left to swoop in and punch in a loose puck after Max Pacioretty walked around defenseman Dennis Wideman for the initial shot in a 2-0 game against Montreal. And Tomas Plekanec doing the same to Roman Hamrlik before roofing a shot over goalie Michal Neuvirth. Breakdowns… goals.
Goaltending: 1.92/.938, one shutout
From a strictly “tending goal” standpoint, it is hard to find much fault with Michal Neuvirth or Braden Holtby, for that matter. Holtby opened the week with a solid 28-save shutout on Sunday against the Minnesota Wild. That shutout streak ended, not because of a mistake by Holtby in defending a shot, but on trying to go all “Marty Brodeur” and handle the puck behind his net. He tried a no-look pass to Jeff Schultz midway through the first period of a scoreless game that was intercepted and converted to what amounted to an open-net tap-in that got the Sabres started in a 5-1 win for Buffalo. For Holtby it just sort of steamrolled from there until he was lifted for Michal Neuvirth after allowing three goals on 18 shots.
Then there was Neuvirth. He wasn’t exactly a brick wall in March coming into this week – 2-3-2, 3.07, .891 and one shutout in seven appearances. And after being the goalie of record in an ugly 4-3 overtime loss to Winnipeg in which the Caps gave up a 3-0 lead, he was given the baseball cap in favor of Holtby (Tomas Vokoun being out with a groin injury). When Holtby had his adventures against Buffalo, it was back to Neuvirth. And he warmed up to the occasion. He did allow two goals on 13 shots in mop-up duty in the Buffalo game. But he followed that up with 26 saves on 28 shots in Boston and 39 saves on 41 shots in the home win over Montreal. The question now is, can Neuvirth sustain that .927 save percentage for Week 25 in Week 26, the one that will determine whether the Caps play a Week 1 in the playoffs.
Power Play: 1-for-13/7.7 percent (season: 16.8 percent/rank: 15th)
Not a good week for the power play. Thirteen opportunities was not a bad total to get (they had nine in four games in Week 24, only four in three games in Week 23), but 7.7 percent is not a trend the Caps will want to pursue. It was not as if the Caps were not getting shots from the players they wanted. They just did not hit the back of the net: Alex Ovechkin was 0-for-5 in shots, Troy Brouwer and Brooks Laich were each 0-for-4. Alexander Semin was blanked on two shots. Mathieu Perreault – he of the 26.3 percent shooting percentage for the season at week’s end – scored on his only power play shot, an insurance goal in the 3-0 win over Minnesota to start the week. All in all, the Caps had a worse shooting percentage for the week on the power play (4.8 percent) than they had at even strength (6.9 percent).
Penalty Killing: 8-for-8/100.0 percent (season: 81.4 percent/rank: 19th)
Going 8-for-8 was a good thing for the Caps, especially given their troubles on the power play. It was even better given that the Caps entered the week only 78.6 percent on the penalty kill for the month. And they were humming along nicely, first allowing only four power plays in three games to open the week, their shutting opponents down in each of them. But the Caps did allow 12 shots on those four power plays. The Caps were shorthanded four times against Montreal in the last game of the week and allowed 11 shots on goal in killing all of them off. Overall, the Caps’ penalty kill was 8-for-8, but it was the goalies going 23-for-23 in saves that made the week on the PK.
Paying the Price: 93 hits/68 blocked shots (season rank: T-9th/6th)
Matt Hendricks had an odd week. He led the team with 16 hits, but in the game in which the Caps had their highest hit total for the week – 26 in the 3-2 trick shot win over Boston – he had none. Almost half of the hits for the week were recorded by four players: Hendricks (16), Troy Brouwer (11), Alex Ovechkin (10) and John Carlson (nine). On the blocked shots side of the category, a little more than half (35) were recorded by the defensive quartet of Dennis Wideman (10), Roman Hamrlik (10), Mike Green (nine), and Karl Alzner (six).
Faceoffs: 121-for-237/51.1 percent (season: 50.0 percent/rank: 18th)
An up-and-down week in the circle. The Caps alternated winning in the circle and losing for the week with over-50 percent in the Buffalo and Montreal games and under-50 percent in the Minnesota and Boston games. Overall the Caps were marginally to the good, and that was a product of being good in the offensive zone (54.8 percent). It made up for being under 50 percent in the defensive zone (49.3 percent) and the neutral zone (48.7 percent).
It was an up-and-down week at the individual level, too. There was Brooks Laich going 14-for-23 in the offensive zone (60.9 percent) but 2-for-17 (11.8 percent) in the defensive zone. There was Mathieu Perreault going 7-for-17 in the offensive zone (41.2 percent) but 12-for-13 in the defensive zone (92.3 percent). Jay Beagle was 7-for-10 in the offensive zone (70.0 percent) but 6-for-15 in the defensive zone (40.0 percent). But there was a ringer at the end of the week – Nicklas Backstrom was 5-for-6 in the offensive zone and 5-for-7 in the defensive zone in his return to the ice in the last game of the week.
You might have thought it was Christmas. Of the 87 turnovers for the week the Caps had 59 giveaways. It helped leave them on the plus side only once in four games. Alex Ovechkin led, if that can be the right term, the way with eight giveaways. Brooks Laich had six, while Roman Hamrlik, John Carlson, and Karl Alzner had five apiece. On the other side, the Caps did have 30 takeaways, with the Alexes – Ovechkin (five) and Semin (seven) getting 12 of them.
“How” matters for the Beauty Contest System of ranking college football teams where a lot of data get thrown into a calculating engine and out spits a digital ranking. Here? Now? Results count. And a 3-1-0 record for the week is nothing to argue with. Sure, one can say that two of the wins coming in the Gimmick is not the most accurate reflection of the Caps’ play this week, that blowing two two-goal leads is playing with fire, that if it was Pittsburgh or Philadelphia or the Rangers they were playing instead of Minnesota, Boston, and Montreal, that the results would have been very different. That all might be true, but the Caps had these four games on their schedule this week and earned six points. At the moment, nothing else matters. If they can earn six points in Week 26, they can win the Southeast Division and get home ice advantage for an opening round of the playoffs, most likely against the New Jersey Devils.