Sunday, October 13, 2013

Washington Capitals: That Was The Week That Was -- Week 2

Week 2 for the Washington Capitals looked a lot like Week 1, just worse.  At least in Week 1 they were in games.  Not so, not really, in Week 2.

Record: 0-2-0

By the time the week was over, the Caps were 1-4-0, the first time they went their first five games of the season without a win in regulation time since the 2000-2001 season.  The silver lining there is that the Caps went on to finish with 96 points that season.  For the moment there is no silver lining here, other than to say that the Caps, with their 1-3-0 record against Western Conference teams, are hardly alone in their frustration against the other conference.  Through Saturday’s games the West holds a 23-6-3 edge against the East (3-0-1 against the Caps), and no Western team has a sub-.500 record against the East.

Offense: 1.50/game (season: 2.40 / rank: T-21st)

The third line of Jason Chimera, Eric Fehr,and Joel Ward had two of the Caps’ three goals this week.  Alex Ovechkin had the other, but he had his four-game goal scoring streak to open the season stopped in the Caps’ 5-1 loss to Colorado on Saturday.  The second line of Brooks Laich, Mikhail Grabovski, and Troy Brouwer did not record a point.  They have not yet recorded a point as a line this season.

The team continues to struggle as a group, not with getting shots on goal (they are averaging 34.0 per game), but with getting them into the goal.  Twelve goals on 170 shots – a 7.1 percent shooting percentage – ranks 25th in the league.  The even strength offense continues to be a problem.  The Caps recorded three goals on 66 even strength shots (4.6 percent) in their two games this week.

Defense: 4.00/game (season: 4.00 / rank: T-26th)

It was not a good week to be John Carlson.  He was on ice for four of the five even strength goals scored against the Caps, splitting them evenly -- two while paired with John Erskine against Carolina and two more while paired with Alexander Urbom against Colorado.  Twice pucks clicked off his stick and past his own goaltender.  Fifteen different skaters were on ice for even strength goals, which might not seem unusual, but over two games?

If you are going to look for a bright spot here, it would be in the Mike Green/Karl Alzner duo.  Green skated a total of 36:58 at even strength this week, Alzner a total of 33:47.  They were on ice together for one even strength goal against, that being Matt Duchene’s goal in the Colorado game on Saturday (although it was Alzner who was victimized on the play).

Goaltending: 4.04 GAA  / .875 save percentage (season: 3.78 / .880)

It would have been hard to think that the goaltending would be worse than in Week 1 (3.61/.883), but it was.  Braden Holtby was not bad in his start against Carolina, but he was just leaky enough with a high volume of shots faced (36) to come up just short in a 3-2 loss.  Luck…and bad eyesight… had a little bit to do with as well, though.  Not his eyesight, but that of the linesman on what would be Elias Lindholm’s first NHL goal.  The puck is circled in red in this screen shot, near Tom Wilson’s skates…

Jeff Skinner is clearly offside on this play, but play went on.  Lindholm would pick up the puck and pinball it off Wilson and the stick of John Carlson for a goal that would tie the game midway through the second period.  It should not have mattered, given that Alex Ovechkin would restore the lead less than a minute later, but it was indicative of the sort of “just short” week – one game, actually – that Holtby had.

Michal Neuvirth, on the other hand, had a difficult time with the Colorado Avalanche.  He gave up five goals on the first 22 shots he faced. He suffered some bad luck early – another Carlson stick deflecting another opponent’s shot past his own goaltender, but he could have/should have had Matt Duchene’s shot less than eight minutes later that gave the Avs a 2-0 lead, and the shorthanded goal he allowed to Alex Tanguay to end the competitive portion of the evening once and for all.  The score – one that Tanguay converted on a shot from just outside the goal line extended – was the kind that deflates a team.

In a week where almost nothing went right for the Caps, much of it their own doing, goaltending was just another part of it.

Power Play: 0-7 / 0.0 percent (season: 31.6 percent / rank: T-3rd)

Live by the power play, die by the power play.  The Caps took the o-fer for the week, misfiring on seven shots in 10:01 of total power play time.  There was an ominous note in there.  Alex Ovechkin, who is still tied for the league lead in power play goals, had just one power play shot on goal in the two games.  Further, Colorado seemed very intent on shutting him off, deploying a “triangle and one” defense, where the weak side defenseman played him man-to-man.  The Caps tried the occasional back-door play with Ovechkin ducking behind that defenseman and darting to the net, but none were successful.  Going forward it will bear watching if other teams play him this way.  John Carlson was the only Cap to record more than one power play shot over the two games (three).  And, there was that shorthanded goal that was allowed as the Avalanche were changing out their defensemen.  Ugh.

Penalty Killing: 6-8 / 75.0 percent (season: 79.0 percent / rank:13th)

It says something that 18 teams have penalty killing numbers below 80 percent, but we are not sure what.  For the Caps, who are one of those teams, this was another of those areas where they took a step backward.  The Caps were burned once with a taste of their own medicine, Alexander Semin converting a one timer from the left wing circle (very “Ovechkinesque”) while trying to kill a 5-on-3 power play.  On the other, they just lost Nathan MacKinnon circling from low to Michal Neuvirth’s right up into the slot behind Martin Erat.  Steve Oleksy could not close the gap soon enough, and all MacKinnon had to do was get the pass from Paul Stastny and shoot the puck on net.  He did, and he did, and the Avs had a 3-0 lead in what was a 5-1 win.

It was not a bad week from an opportunity standpoint, the Caps allowing eight power plays.  But teams got their shots, putting 12 on net in 12:46 of total power play time.

Even Strength Goals For/Goals Against (3-5 / season: 6-15; 5-on-5 GF/GA ratio rank: 27th)

Boy, this has to get better, and the sooner the better still.  The Caps improved their defense (2.5 goals against per game), yet it cannot be called “good” in this respect.  Still, it was a lot better than the offense.  The second line is still without a point as a line at even strength, and the top line, frankly, has not been a lot better.  This week the line was on ice for one goal, that scored by Alex Ovechkin (Nicklas Backstrom getting an assist for another top line point), but as a group this season they have two goals, both by Ovechkin, and four assists, split between Backstrom and Marcus Johansson.  The scoring lines are not scoring at even strength.

Faceoffs: 74-for-141 / 52.5 percent (season: 53.7 percent / rank: 8th)

The Caps won the week and once more were good in the ends, going 31-for-52 in the offensive end (59.6 percent) and 24-for-47 in the defensive end (51.1 percent).  There was that lost faceoff in the defensive end on the 5-on-3 power play goal for Carolina, suggesting that the when is often as important as the how many when it comes to faceoff wins.  Eric Fehr came back to earth some this week, going 11-for-25 (44.0 percent), but he still remains in the top-30 in the league (56.1 percent).  Mikhail Grabovski had a fine week in the circle, going 16-for-24 overall (66.7 percent), including 8-for-11 in the offensive end.

Goals by period:

Small wonder that the Caps lost each period for the week.  Those first period results are still a problem with but one goal scored in the first period in the two games.  After two weeks the Caps are tied for 22nd in goals scored in the first period (only three teams have scored fewer), tied for 27th in goals allowed in the first period (only Edmonton has allowed more).  Not a recipe for success.

In the end…

Five games should be enough to at least get an idea of how the lines are shaking out.  The fact that the second line has no points in five games has to have a great big spotlight shined upon it.  The obvious consideration here is whether Martin Erat needs to be given a shot in that spot.  But that could present problems as well.  Would moving Erat to the second line mean dropping Brooks Laich to the third line?  If so, that would mean breaking up the only line that seems to have any spark?  Does it mean dropping him to the fourth line in a one-for-one swap?  Well, that’s a possibility, too, one supposes.

Then there is the defense.  John Erskine, Alexander Urbom, Connor Carrick, Steve Oleksy, Nate Schmidt, Jack Hillen.  That is the roster of defensemen three through six having dressed so far.  As a group they have not been awful (well, there is John Erskine being on ice for more goals against than anyone in that group and tied for worst among defensemen despite having missed a game), but they – meaning Urbom, Oleksy, and Schmidt as the current contestants – have the look of a problem waiting to unfold.

Five games in, this is a team that is having trouble playing good periods, let alone good games.  It looks entirely too much like last year’s start, and that is not fire to be played with. 

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