The week ended on a high note, but does that need to be tempered with a dose of reality? Well, let’s take a look at the week that was.
This was the third straight below-.500 week for the Capitals. It started with a pair of rematches of recent games, a pair of opportunities to gain a measure of revenge and redemption for losses to the Toronto Maple Leafs (a 3-2 loss in Toronto on January 31st) and the Pittsburgh Penguins (a 6-3 loss on February 3rd). The Caps came up short in both, falling to the Maple Leafs by a 3-2 margin and to the Penguins by a 5-2 score. The losses to start the week extended a Caps losing streak to three games, their second such streak of at least three games in their first three weeks (they opened the season 0-3-1). However, it all came together in the last game of the week, a 5-0 win over the Florida Panthers, in which they dominated on the scoreboard an on the stat sheet in a way they have not in any other game so far.
Offense: 3.00/game (season: 2.50/rank: 20th)
The Caps showed life on offense this week, primarily a product of the five goals scored on the Panthers to end the week. One problem that the Caps continue to struggle with on offense is scoring at even strength. Before getting four goals on 23 even strength shots against Florida, the Caps were only 1-for-42 combined in the first two games of the week, losses both. As it was, going 5-for-65 (7.7 percent) was still a rather weak week. Shooting, in fact, has not been the Caps’ forte so far. The Caps have three players in the top 30 in shooting percentage – Mike Ribeiro (tied for eighth), Joel Ward (tied for 13th) and Troy Brouwer (tied for 29th). They are a combined 14-for-57 (24.6 percent). The rest of the team is 16-for-277 (5.8 percent).
Defense: 2.67/game (season: 3.42/rank: 27th)
Shutouts are good for the soul. They are also good for the defensive scoring results. After allowing eight goals in the first two games of the week, the Caps shutout of the Panthers cut the goals allowed from four a game to 2.67. The second period remained a thorn – no, a railroad spike – in the side of the Caps. Six of the eight goals allowed this week came in the middle period. Even though the Caps did not allow a second period goal against the Panthers in the week’s final game, the Caps still find themselves having allowed the second highest total of second period goals, 19 to Buffalo’s 21. The Caps still have the worst goal differential in the middle frame at minus-11. If there was a silver lining in the week, it was that John Carlson was not on ice for a goal against in the 5-0 win over Florida. It marked the first time in 12 games that Carlson was not on ice for at least one goal against.
Goaltending: GAA: 2.69/SV: .895
Believe it or not, the 2.69 GAA and the .895 save percentage represents the best week thus far for the Caps in goal. That – the Florida game notwithstanding – should not be confused with the Caps having had “good” goaltending. It was not as if Michal Neuvirth and Braden Holtby faced a barrage of shots, either. Opponents recorded 76 shots on goal for the week (25.3/game). It was that second period that did Neuvirth and Holtby in for the first two games of the week. Six goals on 26 shots faced in the second period – a .769 save percentage – will result in what happened, two losses. The silver lining? The pair were 16-for-16 in third period saves for the week. Silver lining II? Braden Holtby had the swagger and confidence in defending his neighborhood that he has when things are going well in the 5-0 shutout over Florida. When he doesn’t he looks as if he overplays himself out of position, leaving himself defenseless for second shots. Not so against the Panthers. It could be something to build on.
Power Play: 4-7 / 57.1 percent (season: 22.7 percent / rank: 9th)
The Caps are quietly putting together quite a record on the man advantage. They scored power play goals in all three games this week, making it four games in a row. In fact, Washington has failed to record a power play goal only three times in 12 games and has not gone consecutive games without getting at least one. Not only was the power play effective with four goals for the week, but it was efficient. The Caps scored four goals on a total of nine shots. And, even though there were few shots needed to record the four goals, they came from the players who need to take them. Troy Brouwer was 1-for-3, his goal coming on a deflection of a John Carlson attempt. Alex Ovechkin was 1-for-2, Mike Ribeiro 1-for-1. Mike Green and John Carlson recorded two the remaining shots, and Marcus Johansson scored on his only power play shot.
Penalty Killing: 6-for-9 / 66.7 percent (season: 71.7 percent / rank: 28th)
What the power play taketh, the penalty kill giveth away. As well as the power play did, special teams were only plus-1 for the week in goal differential. And the penalty kill was just as inefficient as the power play was efficient. Three goals on 14 shots. But the problem was limited, as it were, to the middle game of the week. Pittsburgh scored three goals on seven power play shots in the second period (there is that second period thing again) in the 5-2 win over the Caps on Thursday. The rest of the week the Caps were a perfect 5-for-5 in penalty kills and allowed only seven shots. Now the Caps have to find consistency. Over the last five games they have alternated perfect nights (three times) with nights when they were not so perfect (2-for-7 in the two games combined).
Paying the Price: 56 hits / 32 blocked shots (season rank: 20th / 11th)
The blocked shots are once again worth noticing here. In the two losses the Caps blocked a total of 13 of 87 shot attempts (14.9 percent). In their lone win, they blocked 19 of 50 attempts (38.0 percent). It is far too small a sample to draw a conclusion that blocked shots as a share of attempts are a reliable indicator of a team’s success, but it was indicative of a much more engaged and energetic Caps club in the game to close the week.
Faceoffs: 71-for-161 / 44.1 percent (season: 47.5 percent / rank: 25th)
Offensive zone faceoffs have been an issue with the Caps so far this season. In neither of the first two weeks did the Caps finish above 50 percent in offensive zone draws. They are three-for-three in that respect after a 26-for-56 week (46.4 percent). They are only 47.5 percent in the attacking end for the season. This week they had two awful nights on offensive zone draws – 9-for 23 against Toronto (39.1 percent) and 7-for-19 (36.8 percent) against Pittsburgh, both of them losses. The Caps were 10-for-14 in the offensive end against Florida and won. Coincidence? Perhaps, but that kind of coincidence is what the Caps need more often.
The thing that marked the week here is the lack of turnovers. The Caps were on the good side for 38 turnovers this week (16 takeaways and 22 giveaways by opponents) and on the bad side for 35 (17/18). No Capitals was charged with more than one giveaway in any of the three games. The Caps have had trouble with discipline with regard to penalties, but they give at least the appearance of being more disciplined with the puck.
In the end…
A win to close the week is nice, but the fact is that the Caps are still 0-for-3 in putting together winning weeks. It cannot be one step up and two (or three) back. The Caps will go into their first game of Week 4 still in 30th place in the league. They will go into that game no closer than four points out of the top-eight, and the eighth place team – currently the Carolina Hurricanes – has two games in hand on the Capitals. Carolina plays on Monday night against the Islanders with an opportunity to extend that lead to six points with a game in hand.
The Caps are now at the point where they need to turn around their pattern set over the first 12 games. In those games they have a four-game (0-3-1), a three-game, and a two-game losing streak. They have yet to post wins in consecutive games. Losing streaks from here on out doom the Caps to finishing on the outside looking in on the playoffs. Alternating wins and losses will not do it either. The Caps need wins in bunches. It’s time to take a page from the renowned baseball manager Lou Brown, who once said after his Cleveland Indian charges won a game…
"All right you guys let's listen up. We won a game yesterday. If we win one today, that's two in a row. We win one tomorrow, that's called a winning streak. It has happened before."