Sunday, December 22, 2013

Washington Capitals: That Was The Week That Was -- Week 12

It was a heavy schedule for the Washington Capitals in Week 12.  At the end of it, one could find the good, the bad, and the ugly in it.  That’s why we’re here, so let’s get to it.

Record: 2-1-1

It was the eighth winning week for the Caps so far this season, their second in a row.  It also was “Metro Rivalry Week.”  The Caps had a home-and home set with the Philadelphia Flyers and games against the Carolina Hurricanes and New Jersey Devils.  When the week started the Caps had a two-point lead on third-place Carolina, a five-point lead on fifth-place New Jersey, and a six-point lead on the sixth-place Flyers.  At week’s end, the Caps’ lead expanded to four points over Carolina, while they held their own over the Devils and Flyers, maintaining the margins over those teams with which they started the week.  When you are the lead dog among those four teams, not losing ground has to be considered a good thing.  Perhaps, however, it could have been better.

Offense: 3.50/game (season: 2.97 / rank: 7th)

Ten Capitals shared in the 14 goals scored for the week.  Alex Ovechkin led the way with four goals, one in each of the four games. He is into round numbers lately – four in four games for the week, ten in his last ten games.  He became the sixth player in the post-1967 expansion era to record 30 or more goals in each of his first nine seasons.

Marcus Johansson had a pair of goals this week, the only other Cap to record a multi-goal week.  It brought him out of a drought in which he had only one goal in 16 games dating back to his scoring in consecutive games back on November 5-7.  When he was held off the score sheet against New Jersey to end the week, it broke a three-game streak of points for the week and a five-game points streak overall.

Speaking of overall, 13 different Caps recorded points for the week.  Nicklas Backstrom topped the list with seven point, all on helpers.  His four assist game against Carolina on Friday was his ninth career four-assist game, the most in the league since he came into the NHL in the 2007-2008 season.  In fact, he has as many as the second and third place players (Ryan Getzlaf, Sidney Crosby) combined.

Defense: 4.00/game (season: 2.94 / rank:24th)

Blech!  The Caps allowed nine goals over two games to the 22nd ranked scoring offense in the league, five goals to the 23rd ranked offense.  There is no way to put a prom dress on that pig and make it prom queen.  The Caps allowed 141 shots on goal – 35.3 per game.  True, that is precisely the Caps’ season average of shots allowed per game, but that is the second worst average in the league.  It caught up with them this week.

The possession numbers?  Yeesh.  For the week the Caps were sub-40 percent in both Corsi-for (37.8 percent) and Fenwick-for (39.9 percent) percentage in 5-on-5 close score situations.  They were sub-40 percent (38.0 percent) in Corsi-for and barely cracked the 40-percent level (43.2) in Fenwick-for in all 5-on-5 situations.  Graphically, the trend (depicted as a rolling 10-game progression for Fenwick-for, 5-on-5 close situations) is, from a hockey perspective, alarming. 

The last few games of that chart look disturbingly like the share price for Lehman Brothers leading up to their bankruptcy in 2008…

Let’s hope things turn around for the Caps more than they did so for Lehman.

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

A tale of two goalies.  One tale describes that of Philipp Grubauer, who was called upon twice this week. He won both games, stopping 63 of 69 shots in the process (.913 save percentage).  It was a good, if not extraordinary performance overall. 

Then there was Braden Holtby.  Two appearances, two losses (one in overtime), ten goals allowed on 72 shots (a .861 save percentage). It is part of a longer struggle Holtby has had recently.  In his last five appearances he is 1-2-1, 4.92, .863.  Holtby’s problem, at least this week, was later-game collapses.  In his two games he stopped 16 of 17 first period shots (.941 save percentage), but allowed four goals on 26 shots in the second periods of those games (.846) and four goals on 27 shots (.852) in the third periods of those games.

It was not a good week overall for the goaltenders, Holtby in particular, but then again they had a heavy workload, too.  They faced an average of 34.8 shots per 60 minutes of work for the week, part of a longer trend in which the Caps have yielded a lot of shots.  The word for this week might be “regression.”

Power Play: 5-12 / 41.7 percent (season:  percent 26.1 percent / rank: 2nd)

The Caps are making teams pay, and pay dearly for stepping outside the rule book.  This week it was power play goals in three of the four games, five power play goals overall on 13 chances.  The Caps recorded those five goals on 21 shots in 17:14 of power play time.  Four different players had power play goals for the Caps this week, Marcus Johansson being the only one to hit the twine twice.  The one thing each power play goal had in common was that Nicklas Backstrom recorded an assist.  Five of Backstrom’s seven assists for the week came on the man advantage.  Backstrom finished the week with 21 power play assists for the year, a five assist lead over Evgeni Malkin for the league lead.

Penalty Killing: 12-17 / 70.6 percent (season: 81.3 percent / rank: 20th)

It seems so long ago now, all those penalties killed off in a row back in October and early November.  In the here and now, the Caps’ penalty kill stinks on toast.  First, there were the opportunities.  The Caps allowed opponents four or more power play opportunities in three of the four games for the week.  When the penalty kill is struggling, you don’t want the penalty killers on the ice.  Then there were the shots.  Opponents recorded 30 shots on goal in 26:03 of power play time.  It seems almost inevitable, absent some herculean effort from the goaltenders, that the penalty kill would continue to struggle.

Even Strength Goals For/Against: 9-11 (season: 70-77; 5-on-5 GF/GA ratio: 0.92 / rank: 20th)

Despite the minus-2 week at even strength the Caps did not sink lower in the league standings in 5-on-5 goals for/goals against ratio.  That’s the good part.  Seven of the even-strength goals against either tied the game or gave opponents a lead.  Washington was out-shot at even strength by a 107-88 margin for the week.  The Caps out-shot their opponents at even strength in three of the first four periods in regulation for the week and failed to out-shoot opponents at even strength in any period thereafter for the week.  It is not as if these are isolated circumstances.  The Caps have been struggling at even strength for most of the season.  Only Ottawa and Toronto allow more shots perminute at 5-on-5 than do the Caps.  Only five teams allow more even strength goals per minute of ice time than do the Caps.  This is not a good even strength team.

Faceoffs: 125-232 / 53.9 percent (season: 49.3 percent / rank: T-18th)

It was a uniformly good week in the circle for the Caps.  The Caps won all three zones – 55.2 in the offensive zone for the week, 53.7 percent in the defensive zone, 53.3 percent in the neutral zone.  Nicklas Backstrom was a good reflection of the consistency, going 55.0 percent in the offensive zone (11-for-20), 55.0 percent in the defensive zone (11-for-20), and 52.2 percent in the neutral zone (12-for-23).  Martin Erat carried the biggest load in the defensive zone, taking 25 draws for the week and winning 14 of them (56.0 percent).  Jay Beagle was right there, though, winning nine of 15 defensive zone draws (60.0 percent).  No Capital taking more than ten draws this week finished below 50 percent for the week.

Goals For/Against by Period:

The second period was once more good to the Caps, but again, it might have been better.  Eight of the 14 goals for the week scored by Washington came in the second period, but they allowed six to opponents.  And, the Caps allowed another six goals in the third periods of games.  It made for a difficult week, especially since the Caps still cannot seem to get off to good starts on a consistent basis.  They had only one first period goal for the week.  Only five teams have fewer goals scored in the first period this season than the Caps.  They are a minus-11 in goals scored for and against in the first periods of games this season.

In the end…

A 2-1-1 record is not bad.  It shows a certain consistency of results, the Caps having recorded winning weeks in three of the last four weeks (the other being a .500 week) and eight winning weeks in the last ten.  But scratch the surface, and the question remains, is this a team playing to its record?  If you answer that question in the negative, then the question becomes one of whether there is a correction – and perhaps a big one – to come that aligns the Caps’ record more cleanly with their underlying performance numbers. 

The Caps are not playing well at 5-on-5, their penalty killing has been fair to awful, they allow too many shots, their possession numbers are weak, they are being carried more or less by Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom.  Yet, they win.  For now.

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