Sunday, December 15, 2013

Washington Capitals: That Was The Week That Was -- Week 11

It was one of the stranger weeks for the Washington Capitals in this first half of the 2013-2014 season, one that started better than it ended.  It was a week that ended with a record that the Caps might not have deserved, but it was one they surely will take without apology.

Record: 2-0-1

It was a week with a certain “Back to the Future” air to it.  Washington opened the week with a game against their recent post-season nemesis, the New York Rangers, and their world-class goaltender Henrik Lundqvist.  It was a long time since the Caps scored on Lundqvist – Game 5 of the Eastern Conference quarterfinals last spring, in fact.  After two shutouts to wrap up that series and a shutout in the teams’ only meeting to date this season, Lundqvist carried a 180 minute shutout streak into last Sunday’s game against the Caps.  Lundqvist added another period for good measure, but with just over two minutes gone in the second period Jason Chimera, himself a personal nemesis of Lundqvist, swept in a loose puck lying at Lundqvist’s side to break the streak at 202:28 of shutout goaltending.  The Caps added three more of goals, one on a penalty shot by Mikhail Grabovski, and won going away, 4-1.

The other two games rekindled old rivalries, such as they were, from the old Southeast Division.  The Caps hosted the Tampa Bay Lightning in the middle game of the week and nearly were run out of their own building.  The Lightning built a 3-0 lead after just 11:07 and chased starting goalie Braden Holtby.  The Caps came back with a vengeance, scoring late in that first period, then adding three in the second period while the Bolts were adding one of their own.  The teams exchanged third period goals and a scoreless overtime, leaving it to the Gimmick, which is becoming a Capitals specialty this season.  Washington won it on a Troy Brouwer strike to save what looked like a certain defeat.

That defeat came in the week’s last game, a 3-2 trick shot loss to the Florida Panthers.  The Caps were a step behind all night, twice falling behind by a goal to the Panthers.  It didn’t help that their own scoring was taken off the board by the officials, an early goal by Mike Green disallowed for Martin Erat being in the crease and a goal by Alex Ovechkin taken off the board for the official blowing the play dead.

Offense: 3.67/game (season: 2.91 / rank:7th)

It was the Nicklas Backstrom and Alex Ovechkin show this week, a product of big nights against the Tampa Bay Lightning in the middle game of the week.  Backstrom finished the three games 2-5-7 (1-4-5 against Tampa Bay), while Ovechkin finished the week 4-0-4 (all goals coming against the Lightning.  After that, the Caps had four goals scored, plus another on a conversion of a penalty shot by Mikhail Grabovski. Those four goals did not come from scoring lines.  Nate Schmidt and Steve Oleksy scored from the blue line, Jason Chimera scored from the third line, and Joel Ward scored on a power play.  The second line of Mikhail Grabovski, Eric Fehr, and Troy Brouwer was held without a goal, save for Grabovski’s penalty shot, and they had but one assist, that recorded by Grabovski (both Grabovski and Brouwer recorded power play assists).

Defense: 2.67/game (season: 2.81 / rank: 20th)

Another week, another week without a game allowing opponents fewer than 30 shots.  In three games the Caps allowed opponents 114 shots on goal (38.0 per game).  It was a pretty brutal week of possession for the Caps.  Overall, in all 5-on-5 situations, they had a Corsi-for percentage of 40.5 percent, a Fenwick-for percentage of 41.9 percent, and an overall shots-for percentage of 41.6 percent.  And that is with a game against the Rangers in which they were over 50 percent in all three measures.  Their Corsi-for of 29.9 percent against the Lightning is their worst performance of the season.  The game against the Panthers was their third worst of the season.  And that is the root of a team allowing 38 shots a game for the week.  On the basis of these numbers, it is a wonder that the Caps didn’t finish the week 1-2-0 at best.  

Goaltending: 2.55 GAA / .930 save percentage (season: 2.69 / .922 / 1 shutout)

Here is a big part of how the Caps finished the week 2-0-1 instead of 1-2-0.  Philipp Grubauer, who had 20 minutes of mop-up work in one game this season coming into this week, logged 177:29 of ice time in three games, one of them in early relief of Braden Holtby, who had one of the more forgettable weeks of his young career.  But back to Grubauer.  In those 177-plus minutes Grubauer stopped 101 of 106 shots (.953 save percentage).  As much as anything, Grubauer did what is the first thing a goaltender should do – give his team a chance. He was 27-for-27 in first period saves for the week, including four he made in relief of Braden Holtby against Tampa Bay when the Caps fell behind 3-0.

As for Holtby, he is in something of a mini-slump.  He allowed three goals on eight shots in 11 minutes and change this week.  Over his last three appearances he has only 111 minutes of ice time, having been pulled twice, and has a goals-against average of 4.86 with a save percentage of .866.

Power Play: 4-10 / 40.0 percent (season:  percent 24.6 percent / rank: 2nd)

It was a good week.  Then again, it had to be.  Four of the week’s 11 goals came via the man advantage.  It was the best week for the power play since going 7-for-16 in three games in Week 6.  Nicklas Backstrom figured in all four power play goals, scoring one on his own and recording assists on the other three.  Alex Ovechkin had two of the goals, Joel Ward getting the fourth. 

It was a rather efficient week for the Caps, too.  The four shots came on 17 shots in 17:39 of total power play time.  Ovechkin was 2-for-5 shooting, the rest of the club was 2-for-12.  Given that Nicklas Backstrom scored on his only power play shot of the week, 1-for-11 from seven other players is something the team needs to work on.

Penalty Killing: 7-9 / 77.8 percent (season: 82.9 percent / rank: 13th)

This was the fourth straight week that the Caps did not kill more than 80 percent of the shorthanded situations they faced (they were right at 80.0 percent in Week 10).  Over that time the Caps are 28-for-38 (73.4 percent), a far cry from the highly ranked PK unit through the first five weeks of the season.

It wasn’t the opportunities this week (nine in three games is manageable) as much as the shots.  Opponents recorded 18 shots on goal in only 15:54 of power play ice time.  What saved the week was Grubauer’s play in goal; he stopped all 15 power play shots he faced.

Even Strength Goals For/Against: 7-6 (season: 61-66; 5-on-5 GF/GA ratio: 0.93 / rank: T-20th)

Given the Caps possession statistics at 5-on-5, it is a wonder that the won the week in even strength goals.  In two of the three games their 5-on-5 Corsi-for and Fenwick-for percentages were under 40 percent. For the week they were at 40.5 percent in Corsi-for, 41.9 percent in Fenwick-for.  It was reflected in the shots.  The Caps dominated the Rangers, outshooting them at even strength by a 32-23 margin.  However, the Caps managed only 39 even strength shots on goal in the next 130 minutes of hockey to end the week while surrendering 72.

Faceoffs: 91-168 / 54.2 percent (season: 48.8 percent / rank: 21st)

It was a good week, to a point.  The Caps had been sliding into the lower half of the faceoff rankings in recent weeks but finished Week 11 well above 50 percent.  But the result has two parts to it.  Washington dominated the circle in the defensive end, winning 40 of 66 draws.  Nicklas Backstrom was especially successful, winning 16 of 24 draws (66.7 percent).  Joel Ward (6-for-10; 60.0 percent) and Mikhail Grabovski (7-for-13; 53.9 percent) also had good weeks in the defensive end.

In the offensive end, things were different.  The Caps won 22 of 49 draws overall in the offensive zone (44.9 percent) and had a devil of a time with Tampa Bay (3-for-15; 20 percent).  Troy Brouwer was the only Cap over 50 percent in the offensive zone for the week (5-for-8; 62.5 percent).

Goals For/Against by Period:

The Caps have had a knack for scoring in bunches in the second period this season, and they did it again this week.  They scored eight of their 11 goals for the week in the middle frame – three against New York and Tampa Bay, two against Florida.  They continue to struggle, though, in the first period.   They were 1-for-21 in first period shooting for the week, quite different from their 8-for-38 shooting (21.1 percent).  If there was a plus for the week is was in allowing only one even strength goal in the first period, that part of Tampa Bay’s three-goal burst in the first period of the Caps’ 6-5 trick shot win.  It was the only game of the three this week in which the Caps allowed any first period goals.

In the end…

When it comes to wins and losses, it’s not how, it’s how many.  The Caps were 2-0-1 this week, and in that context it was a good week.  That says nothing about the Caps’ ability to sustain such results in wins and losses by losing the possession battle, falling behind in games, relying on the power play (and, more specifically, Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom to bail them out), and getting top-notch goaltending from the number three goalie on the depth chart.

There are going to be times when the Caps play well and have little to show for it.  This week they did not play especially well, but reaped the rewards, anyway.  In the long run, the Caps are going to have to display more consistency in being able to win even-strength battles, minimize opponents’ possession advantage, and get better goaltending from Braden Holtby than what he has endured lately.  With four divisional games on tap in the upcoming week, getting to that happy place cannot come soon enough.

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