Four straight “green” weeks of winning records. What seemed like an Everest to climb a month ago is now a case of being within site of the summit. But with just two weeks left, there are dangerous steps yet to take. Let us first look at the week that was.
The Caps started the week on a nice 4-0-0 run, and when it ended they added three more wins to the streak. It marked the sixth straight season in which the Caps recorded a winning streak of at least seven games. It was the ninth consecutive non-losing week for the Caps over which they are 20-9-1. Those 41 points in 30 games is a 112-point pace. Having played 30 games at that pace, the Caps might not be among the consensus contenders for the Cup, but neither are they undeserving of a playoff spot.
Offense: 4.00 (season: 3.00 / rank: 6th)
Alex Ovechkin gets the ink for taking the league goal-scoring lead away from Tampa Bay’s Steven Stamkos this week, but it was Troy Brouwer who led the Caps for the week in goals with three, including a two-goal game against Carolina on Thursday. Brouwer was one of five Caps with at least two goals this week, Ovechkin, Eric Fehr, Mike Green being on that list, too. Also on that list, though, was defensemen Jack Hillen, his first two goals with the Caps. Nicklas Backstrom was the points leader for the week, posting four assists in the three games. Right behind him was defenseman Steve Oleksy, who with three assists this week is now second on the team among defensemen in assists. His eight helpers trail only John Carlson (14).
Defense: 2.67 (season: 2.81 / rank: 20th)
Strange week for the Caps in the defensive end. In the first two games of the week, against Montreal and Carolina, the Caps gave up goals in the first period, then dug in, allowing only a third period goal to Montreal after they took a 3-1 lead. This despite allowing a total of 51 second and third period shots in those two games (almost 13 shots on goal per period). Playing on that edge came back and almost cost the Caps two standings points in the last game of the week. The Caps held Tampa Bay to six first period shots in the last game of the week, but again, the shot volumes ramped up significantly in the second and third periods – 32 in all – and the Lightning scored five goals. Overall the Caps allowed 83 shots over six periods constituting the second and third periods of the three games (13.8 per period). This is not a trend that is conducive to winning.
Goaltending: 2.62 / .929 (season: 2.77 / .913 / 4 shutouts)
The shot totals faced – 113 in three games (37.7 per game) – accounts for the two directions in which the goaltending numbers went this week. A 2.62 goals against average is not especially impressive, but it looks a lot better when taken with the .929 save percentage recorded by Michal Neuvirth and Braden Holtby. Neuvrith impressed in what was his second straight start in the first game of the week, holding a potent Montreal Canadiens team to just two goals on 29 shots. By comparison, though, Braden Holtby was shelled more than the free peanuts on Saturday night at the sports bar. Holtby faced 84 shots and stopped 78 of them, a .929 save percentage. It is part of an oddly consistent run for Holtby. Since a lackluster couple of games to close the month of March, he has a, yes, .929 save percentage over his last five games, all of them wins.
Power Play: 3-10 / 30.0 percent (season: 25.5 percent / rank 1st)
I was a good week and a bit of a misleading one in two respects. First, the ten power play opportunities seems a bit light, but the Caps did manage four against Carolina and five against Tampa Bay, the games in which they scored all their power play goals. And that is part of a trend. Getting three power play opportunities seems an important threshold. In 34 games in which the Caps were awarded at least three power plays, they scored power play goals in 25 of them. Overall in such games they are 34-for-131 (26.0 percent). In the eight games in which the Caps have two or fewer power play opportunities they scored power play goals in three of them and are 3-for-14 (21.4 percent).
Penalty Killing: 5-6 / 83.3 percent (season: 76.1 percent / rank: 29th)
The Caps had a decent week, made more so by the fact that they faced only six shorthanded situations. That, and the fact that two of the teams – Carolina and Tampa Bay (the ones against the Caps were a perfect 5-for-5) – ranked 19th and 23rd in road power play efficiency. The one team that scored a goal – Montreal (1-for-1) – has the seventh best home power play mark. And the same threshold seems to apply here as on the power play. In 26 games in which the Caps faced three or more shorthanded opportunities they allowed at least one power play goal in 17 of them and killed penalties to a 75.9 percent efficiency rate (85-for-112). In 16 games in which they faced less than three shorthanded situations they allowed goals in only seven. The efficiency rate is not much different (76.7 percent), but once more, the best hope for the Caps in killing penalties seems to be not taking them.
Hits/Blocked Shots: 86/71 (season rank: 19th / 5th)
The thing to note here is that the Caps blocked almost a third of the shot attempts taken by opponents this week (71 of 217; 32.7 percent). But almost half of those blocked shots came in the first game of the week against Montreal. In fact, the Caps blocked more shots (34) than the Canadiens managed to direct on goal (29).
Faceoffs: 95-196 / 48.5 percent (season: 50.6 percent / rank: 12th)
Overall it was a non-descript week, the Caps being a few faceoff wins short of 50 percent. But there was a warning sign. Washington was just 24-for-65 against Montreal, only 5-for-18 in the offensive zone. And, there was the matter of taking 25 defensive zone draws against those 18 in the offensive end in teat game. One would like the Caps tilting the ice a bit more in the other direction.
The Caps were once more in double digits on the minus side of the turnover ledger. It was the product of being minus-15 on giveaways in the last two games of the week, against Carolina and Tampa Bay. This would seem to go hand-in-glove with what were the substantial shot volumes against the Caps in those games (84 in the two games).
In the end…
A seven game winning streak is much better than the alternative, but the Caps had their adventurous moments against Southeast Division also-rans Carolina and Tampa Bay. And sometimes, as we pointed out in last night’s post-game, “this is what a team looks like when a winning streak might be coming to an end.”
The Caps are going to move up in weight class this week. They get Toronto, Ottawa, and Montreal, the latter two games being on the road in the last road trip of the regular season. At the moment those teams are ranked fifth, sixth, and second in the Eastern Conference, respectively. Allowing an average of almost 38 shots a game this week could have much worse results than allowing that many this past week. And if they suffer a letdown in the last 20 minutes as they did against Tampa Bay on Saturday, these opponents might just come all the way back from a deficit. This race is not over yet, not with two weeks and six games left.