Week 10 was a light week for the Washington Capitals, but it did not lack for action or drama.
It was the first two-game week since Week 2, and it ended better than did that one. The Caps were flat against Carolina, a product of what might have been a disturbing attitude. The loss to Carolina dropped the Caps further behind the Metropolitan Division-leading Pittsburgh Penguins, but the win over the Nashville Predators to end the week preserved the Caps’ position in second place in the Metro. That lead is precarious, a one-point margin over the New York Rangers and Carolina Hurricanes, but the Caps have games in hand against both clubs. The Caps can extend that margin on Sunday when they visit the Rangers in New York.
Offense: 3.00/game (season: 2.83 / rank: 9th)
In a short week, it might be expected that the scoring totals would be light. What the Caps had, for good or for bad, was balance. Six different players scored one goal apiece – Mike Green, Alex Ovechkin (both on power plays), Troy Brouwer, Eric Fehr, Karl Alzner, and Nate Schmidt. The goals for Alzner and Schmidt were especially noteworthy. For Alzner it was his first goal at Verizon Center in 148 games as a Capital. For Schmidt it was his first NHL goal. The 32 shots on goal against Nashville was the first time in four games that the Caps finished with more than 30 shots on goal.
Defense: 3.00/game (season: 2.83 / rank: T-22nd)
From the “broken record” file… shots on goal remain an issue. The Caps finished the week allowing 68 shots in two games, which meant that their average shots per game actually went down (to 35.0 allowed per game), but only Toronto has allowed more shots per game (37.0) than the Caps.
The good news was that the Caps had a solid possession week. They finished the week with a Corsi-for percentage in 5-on-5 close situations of 56.8 and a Fensick-for percentage in those situations of 53.9. That is a bit inflated for the end-game possession numbers in the Carolina game. The Caps started that game well enough, holding Carolina to 15 total Fenwick events for a long stretch of the second period. But Carolina had a flurry, scored three goals, and the competitive portion of that game was over. The Caps got some mop-up possession numbers at the end. The Nashville game was much better in that the Caps had a persistent edge in Fenwick events, even after jumping out to a 3-0 lead in the first period. It was not until midway through the third period of that game that the Predators close the gap in that regard, and by that time, it was too late. The Caps pulled away in Fenwick events at the end, following their last goal in the 5-2 win.
Goaltending: 3.00 GAA / ..912 save percentage (season: 2.71 / .921 / 1 shutout)
Braden Holtby has been nurturing a disturbing trend. He can be very, very good. Or, he can be very, very not. He allowed four goals on 23 shots in 40 minutes of work against Carolina, giving way to Philipp Grubauer, who stopped all nine shots he faced in relief in the Hurricanes’ 4-1 win. The thing about Holtby, though, is that he seems to take poor performances personally. In his last ten games following one in which he allowed four or more goals, Braden Holtby is 9-0-1, including his win against Nashville to close the week. Grubauer’s week provides an interesting footnote. In three career NHL appearances he has appeared in relief twice. He is a perfect 23-for-23 stopping shots in those games.
Power Play: 2-9 / 22.2 percent (season: 23.2 percent / rank: 4th)
It was a decent week for the power play. It bordered on the superb for Mike Green, who finally got off the schneid, goal-scoring wise, when he potted his first goal of the season – on a power play – for the Caps’ only goal in their 4-1 loss to Carolina. It came on his 65th shot on goal of the season. As for the power play in general, a 22.2 percent week isn’t bad, it isn’t extraordinary. Two goals on 13 shots in 13:52 of man-advantage ice time is a workman-like week. Green figures in the ice time as well. He assumed a more active role on the power play, getting 7:54 of the 13:52 of ice time, compared to the 6:08 that John Carlson received on the man advantage.
Penalty Killing: 4-5 / 80.0 percent (season: 83.3 percent / rank: T-14th)
The key here was opportunities. The Caps allowed only five power play opportunities for the week and were an Andrej Sekera goal from being perfect in killing them. That was a difficult power play for the Caps, who allowed the Hurricanes more than a minute of offensive zone time and could not deal with Tuomo Ruutu setting a screen in front of Braden Holtby. You could see Holtby desperately trying to find a lane to see through, and he ended up guessing wrong, leaning one way to get a view and having the goal sail past him on the other side. Still, it was not a bad week on the penalty kill, if only for not having to kill too many.
Even Strength Goals For/Against: 4-5 (season: 54-60; 5-on-5 GF/GA ratio: 0.93 / rank: 19th)
After a run of “even” weeks, the Caps slipped here. They allowed three even strength goals to Carolina – two when the game was competitive -- and two to Nashville. Those two came after the Caps went out to three-goal leads. The made the game interesting, but not as much competitive. The Caps did a decent job of holding down opponents’ even strength shots, allowing 57 in all. That number is deceptively high. Carolina had only 23 for the game in the first game of the week (18 in the first two periods), and Nashville had 34 in the game to end the week (11 in the third period). Still, the comparison is against a low standard. The Caps need to clamp down further on opponent’s chances at even strength.
Faceoffs: 64-130 / 49.2 percent (season: 48.3 percent / rank: 23rd)
It was a better week than what the Caps experienced recently in the circle. This is not the same as saying it was a good one. The problem is that the Caps were underwater in the ends. They were 22-for-45 in the offensive end (48.9 percent) and 20-for-43 in the defensive end (46.5 percent). Much of that is the product of a poor night against Carolina, 44.0 percent in the offensive end and 45.0 percent in the defensive zone. Nicklas Backstrom and Martin Erat had interesting mirror image weeks. Backstrom was 10-for-17 in the offensive end (58.9 percent), but only 5-for-15 in the defensive end (33.3 percent). Erat was 6-for-10 in the defensive end (60.0 percent), but was shutout on five draws in the offensive end.
Goals For/Against by Period:
It was a”doughnit” week for the Caps in Week 10. Three first period goals, three in the third. They were shutout in the second period for the week. Given the Caps’ success in the second period of games this season (they are still eighth in goals scored in the middle frame), it was a bit odd. On the other side, the good news is that the Caps allowed only one third period goal, not bad for a team that has allowed the tenth highest total of third period goals this season.
In the end…
The Caps tread water this week. They are still in second place in the Metropolitan Division, but it is not a strong hold that they have on it. It was an odd symmetry for the week – one poor game, one good one. For a week with little on the schedule, that made for a lot to talk about and break down. What we are left with, though, is wondering which team the Caps are – the one that was flat against the Hurricanes, or the one that jumped on the Predators’ throats early in the second game of the week.
The difficult is that the same issues remain. The Caps struggle at even strength, they don’t get enough secondary scoring, too much of the offense still runs to – not through, to – Alex Ovechkin. It’s nice that he leads the league in goals, but having more than twice as many as the next Capital (and you would not think Joel Ward would finish the year with the second highest goal total) makes for the sort of imbalance that makes it difficult for the Caps to win games in which he does not score a goal.
Like this week.