There was much that was good about the Caps’ play this week, but in terms of how this was translated into progress in climbing the standings, less so. Here is how things shook out…
One of the things the Capitals did when they were winning Southeast Division titles and earning top seeds in the Eastern Conference was beating Southeast Division teams regularly. This year did not start so well with the Caps losing their first two games against division opponents. However, the Caps had a three-game stretch in the schedule (two of them played this week) in which they would face Southeast Division opponents again. After the Caps opened that three-game set with a win over Florida to close last week’s play, the Caps beat the Panthers again to open this week – a 6-5 overtime win – then beat Tampa Bay by a 4-3 margin. The wins made for the Caps’ first consecutive wins of the season, a streak that would reach three games. It ended, though, when the Caps lost to the New York Rangers, 2-1, at Madison Square Garden on Sunday. The three one-goal games left the Caps with a 4-4-1 record in one-goal games for the year.
Offense: 3.67/game (season: 2.73 / rank: T-13th)
After limping along having scored 30 goals in their first 12 games, only once scoring more than three in a game (that coming in Game 12 in a 5-0 win against Florida), the Caps potted 11 in three games this week. The week in offense represented a reversal of a disturbing trend. Coming into the week the Caps had allowed the first goal in five games and went 1-4-0 in them. This past week they scored first in every game and posted that 2-1-0 record.
The difficulty the Caps had was their inability to capitalize on their good fortune by putting opponents further under their heel after scoring first. They did manage to go out to a 4-1 lead against Tampa Bay after scoring the first goal of their game against the Lightning, but could not gain as much as a two-goal lead in either of the other games, despite scoring that first goal. As it was the Caps had a certain balance, recording three goals in the first and second periods of games, four in the third periods, and an overtime goal in their 6-5 win over Florida. If there was an oddity in the week’s results it was that the week’s leading goal scorer and point-getter was Eric Fehr (3-2-5). Four players tied for the team lead in helpers – Mike Ribeiro, Joel Ward, Nicklas Backstrom, and Mathieu Perreault.
Defense: 3.33/game (season: 3.40 / rank: 29th)
Three times the Caps took a lead this week, and three times they let it get away. They scored first against Florida before allowing two goals, then spent the rest of the game in a job of catch-up, finally catching the Panthers for what would be the third time before winning in overtime. They scored first against Tampa Bay, but allowed a tying goal. Then they almost let the Lightning all the way back into the game after leading 4-1, finally escaping with a 4-3 win. They scored first against the New York Rangers on Sunday, but wilted under a barrage of shots, losing 2-1.
The simple fact is that the Caps did not relieve themselves of enough pressure in their own end, despite the winning week. They were outshot, 102-96, for the week. While their Fenwick values (an average of 43.7 allowed compared to 45.0 of their own) was indicative of the close-to-the-margin week they played, it breaks down into comparatively dominating performances against Florida (43-40) and Tampa Bay (53-40), but a weak one against the Rangers (39-51), the game that they lost.
Goaltending: GAA: 3.32 / SV: .902
The week had its moments, good and bad. All of them belonged to Braden Holtby, who faced 102 shots and stopped 92 of them. Against Florida there was some poor defense in front of him (think of Jonathan Huberdeau’s second goal, when there was weak coverage by Mathieu Perreault as Huberdeau was going to the net), and there was an inability to clear the puck out of their own end (what led to Tomas Fleischmann’s goal), but Holtby might of wished he had back two or three of the five goals he allowed, too (Fleischmann’s goal, which went five-hole, and Shawn Matthias’ goal, which Holtby missed with his blocker).
Holtby was better against Tampa Bay – excellent, in fact, during the early going – before he seemed to lose focus, if not his mind (the Nate Thompson’ breakaway goal, when Holtby tried to charge out for a poke check) late.
Against the Rangers, though, Holtby almost single-handedly kept the Caps in the game. He stopped 35 of 36 shots over 44 minutes and change before allowing the game-winning goal on what was a defensive breakdown in front of him. On balance it was not a great week for Holtby, but the improvement he displayed made it a better week than the overall numbers would suggest.
Power Play: 3-8 / 37.5 percent (season: 25.0 percent / rank: 6th)
When the Caps scored a power play goal 4:26 into their game against Tampa Bay on Thursday they were 3-for-4 on the power play for the week and were on a run of going 8-for-13 over a span of 14 periods of hockey. What is more, they were efficient, perhaps uncommonly so. The power play goal against Tampa Bay gave the Caps three goals on four shots on the power play to that point of the week. Then the wheels fell off against the Rangers to close the week. The Caps were 0-for-4 with the man advantage, failing to get a goal on any of the nine shots they had against goalie Henrik Lundqvist. Still, that game was only the fourth this season (in 15 games) in which the Caps failed to record a power play goal.
Penalty Killing: 11-12 / 91.2 percent (season: 75.4 percent / rank: T-24th)
It could have been a perfect week, both in terms of record and performance on the penalty kill. And had the Caps been perfect against the Rangers on the latter, they just might have finished perfect on the former. But against the worst power play team in the league – 10.4 percent going into the game – the Caps allowed the Rangers a third period power play goal that broke a 1-1 tie. It was the fourth of what would be five power play chances for the Rangers, which proved to be too many for a club that is not very efficient at killing penalties. The Caps finished the week 1-7-1 in games for the season in which they allowed more than three power play chances, and in those games they had a penalty killing success rate of only 72.0 percent.
Paying the Price: 70 hits / 36 blocked shots (season rank: 20th / T-15th)
The flip side of so many shots on goal for the week is that fewer of them were blocked. Only 12 blocked shots per game, and barely half of those by defensemen. Shot were getting to the net. And of the 20 blocked shots by defensemen for the week, the Johns – Carlson and Erskine – had 13 of them. Maybe it was indicative of defensemen not moving their feet, getting into shooting lanes. Maybe it was just an odd week.
Faceoffs: 111-for-191 / 58.1 percent (season: 49.7 percent / rank: 18th)
The Caps won the week, and they won each game in the circle, not bad for a team with a sub-50 percent record in the circle for the season. Not that there were not blips along the way. For example, the “offensive” centers – Mike Ribeiro and Nicklas Backstrom – were a combined 19-for-42 in the offensive end (45.2 percent). On the other hand, these two were 25-for-40 (62.5 percent) in the defensive end. But, it was the defensive zone draw the Caps lost -- Brad Richards winning a faceoff against Jay Beagle, that led to the Rangers' game-winning goal seven seconds later. Strange week.
The Caps were charged with only ten giveaways for the week, and three players had two apiece – Mathieu Perreault, Eric Fehr, and John Erskine. Scoring idiosyncrasies in different arenas might explain high or low values overall, but since opponents were charged with a total of 22 overall, it would seem as if the Caps did a passable job of being responsible with the puck.
In the end…
Two wins in three games are certainly nice, but that win against the Rangers would have been nicer still. It is the difference between being in 11th place and only two points out of a playoff spot (where they would stand had they won) and being in 15th place, six points out of eighth place. As it is, the week ended with a cruel reality. When the Caps took the ice against the Florida Panthers on February 9th in a game that would begin their three-game winning streak, they were in 15th place in the East, five points out of eighth place. After the loss to the Rangers to end the week, the Caps were still in 15th place, five points out of eighth place... right back where they started.
It is going to be a hard climb.