Sometimes it is as much the “how” as the “what.” The Washington Capitals finished the week with the same record they had in Week 4, but it was a very different road they took to get there.
Washington finished the week with its third straight 2-1-0 record that, if not a signal of dominating play, does reflect a certain consistency. How they got there was very different than the week previous. In Week 4 the Caps won the first two games of their five-game road trip, beating Winnipeg and Edmonton, but fell flat in Calgary, dropping a 5-2 decision to the Flames.
This week started as if the Caps were going to spend the rest of the road trip marinating in constant disappointment after they lost a third period lead in Vancouver and lost to the Canucks, 3-2. Getting out of western Canada was a relief though, as the Caps pasted the Philadelphia Flyers, 7-0, then came home and eked out a 3-2 trick shot win over the Florida Panthers, finishing the 2-1 week on a higher note than that which they finished the 2-1 week last week. And if you are thinking a 2-1-0 record is unimpressive, if the Caps were to average that per week over the remaining weeks of the season they would finish with 104 points.
Offense: 3.67/game (season: 2.93 / rank: 13th)
It was an odd week for the offense. No, not odd as in “strange,” odd as in numbers. The offense was dominated by the first and third lines, a fact made, well, odd by the fact that Alex Ovechkin missed the last two games of the week with an upper-body injury. The top line of Nicklas Backstrom, Martin Erat, and Eric Fehr finished the week with three goals (all by Backstrom) and six assists. The three goals for Backstrom more than doubled his season total (from two to five), ditto for Fehr and his three assists (also jumping him from two to five).
Meanwhile, the third line of Mikhail Grabovski, Joel Ward, and Jason Chimera finished with six goals and eight assists. Joel Ward had his first career hat trick in the 7-0 romp over the Flyers, and Jason Chimera finished with a six-point week (2-4-6), more than doubling his points output for the season (from five to 11).
It was a week of firsts, too. Michael Latta recorded his first point in the NHL, assisting on John Carlson’s goal against Florida. The goal was only the second of the season by a Capital defenseman and the first from a player currently on the roster (Connor Carrick owns the other goal, and he is currently in Hershey). The goal was Carlson’s 100th point in the NHL.
Defense: 1.67/game (season: 2.86 / rank: 19th)
The Caps allowed each of their opponents 30 or more shots this week, making it nine games in a row that the Caps failed to hold an opponent under 30 shots (oddly enough, the only two times the Caps accomplished the feat this season, they lost).
The Caps did make some progress in one respect, though. They lost the even strength shots battle to Vancouver, 26-14, to open the week. In the last two games of the week they held opponents to a virtual draw, outshooting the Flyers and Panthers, 41-40. Before we make too much of that, however, the Flyers and Panthers are in the bottom five in the league in scoring offense and are in the bottom seven in shots on goal.
Goaltending: 1.63 GAA / .952 save percentage / 1 shutout (season: 2.76 / .918 / 1 shutout)
There was not much fault to find in either Braden Holtby’s or Michal Neuvirth’s performance this week. Neuvirth opened and closed the week with solid performances. He opened the week being shelled for 41 shots by the Canucks in Monday’s game in Vancouver. Neuvirth might have wanted the second goal back – a rebound goal scored by Ryan Kesler when Neuvirth could not glove down the original shot from the point – but in the context of the whole game Neuvirth was the Caps’ best defender.
Neuvirth closed the week with a solid 31-save effort against the Florida Panthers for his first home win of the season and the game’s first star.
Speaking of stars, Braden Holtby was that in his lone appearance of the week, a 30-save shutout of the Flyers in Philadelphia. It was his first blanking of the season and the eighth of his career. What he did not get out of it was a game star, that being reserved for his opposite number, Ray Emery who managed 11 saves on 15 shots in 22 minutes and change of ice time. Oh, but he did race the length of the ice and mug Holtby, who had no desire to fight in a 7-0 game he was winning. In Philadelphia that means something. It also is no surprise that the Flyers are a Buffalo chicken wing or two from having the worst record in the Eastern Conference.
Power Play: 2-14 / 14.3 percent (season: 23.6 percent / rank: 4th)
The Caps are in the midst of quite a dry spell on the power play. A 2-for-14 week makes them 2-for-20 over their last five games. It was not an especially efficient week with the man advantage. In 22:49 of total power play time the Caps were just 2-for-17 shooting (11.8 percent).
It is possible to make too much of this week, though. One would expect that the Caps’ power play, when fully functioning, would have most of the shots come off the stick of Alex Ovechkin with a sprinkling of Mike Green and Troy Brouwer or Joel Ward in the middle of the 1-3-1.
This week, eight different Caps recorded power play shots, including the rarely-used Michael Latta and Nate Schmidt, who got ice time in the Philly beatdown. Missing Ovechkin for two games meant Eric Fehr took his spot on the left wing, and Fehr did record a pair of power play shots. It was Mike Green, though, who led the team with five shots on goal over the three games. He is still looking for his first goal of any kind this season, power play or otherwise.
Penalty Killing: 16-17 / 94.1 percent (season: 90.7 percent / rank: 2nd)
The streak continued deep into the week. A penalty killing streak that started in the third period of the Caps’ October 12th game against Colorado reached 35 PK’s in a row before they finally allowed a goal in the late stages regulation time of the Caps’ 3-2 Gimmick win over Florida to end the week.
The efficiency was nice – great in fact. A 94.1 percent penalty killing rate and a .971 save percentage while shorthanded is spectacular. It is also not likely to be sustainable. And that brings us to the skunk at the garden party: frequency. That the Caps had to face 17 shorthanded situations for the week is a bit disturbing, even with the hijinks that took place in Philadelphia on Friday night.
Six shorthanded situations against Vancouver, five against Philadelphia, six against Florida. If practice makes perfect (or almost so this week), the Caps sure got that. They spent 29:20 killing penalties, allowing those 34 shots in the process. That they got out of the week with just one goal allowed should be viewed with equal parts pride in skill and a deep breath for the good luck enjoyed.
Even Strength Goals For/Against: 9-4 (season: 26-31; 5-on-5 GF/GA ratio: 0.93 / rank: 18th)
This statistic, while welcome, is entirely a product of the smackdown the Caps applied to the Flyers in Philadelphia. Washington put up five even strength goals against the Flyers and otherwise broke even for the week, losing the ES battle to Vancouver, 3-2, and winning it against the Panthers, 2-1.
Still, it is improvement, and the Caps lifted their 5-on-5 goals scored to goals allowed ratio from 0.73 before the Vancouver game to 0.93 when the curtain came down on the week. It is as close as they have been to 1.00 as they have been all season so far.
Faceoffs: 86-182 / 47.3 percent (season: 49.2 percent / rank: 19th)
That the Caps lost the week was the product of having their lunch taken away in the circle in Vancouver on Monday. Winning only 17 of 51 draws (33.3 percent) made finishing the week a tough chore. They almost did, winning 34 of 65 draws against Philadelphia (52.3 percent) and 35 of 66 against Florida (53.0 percent).
The Caps were run over in their own end, winning just 21 of 57 draws for the week and doing poorly against both Vancouver (5-for-17/29.4 percent) and Philadelphia (7-for-22/31.8 percent). In the defensive end they were much better, winning 39 of 71 for the week (54.9 percent), a product of their effort against Philadelphia (16-for-23/69.6 percent) and Florida (16-for-30/53.3 percent).
The guys on the scoring lines taking most of the offensive zone draws did not have a very good week. Nicklas Backstrom, Brooks Laich (against Vancouver), and Marcus Johansson (against Philadelphia and Florida) were 8-for-25 (32.0 percent) for the week.
Goals For/Against by Period:
The problem for the week, if there was one, is right there hiding in plain sight. Twice the Caps had leads in the third period of games, and twice they lost them. It cost them two points in one game, and it cost them a regulation win in the other.
Although the Caps outscored opponents by a 3-1 margin in the first period of games this week, it remains that there are only five teams that have scored fewer first period goals than the Caps. They do seem to make up for it with their second period performance, both this week (a 6-1 advantage) and overall (21-12), but it still would be nice to get out to better starts.
In the end…
The saying goes that it is not “how,” it is “how many”…wins that is. But how a team arrives at those wins is something to think about as the team goes forward. Did the formula they used to win those games suggest a template to duplicate going forward?
We are not sold on that. Much of this week’s results was a product of the second period against Philadelphia. A great 20 minutes, to be sure, but 20 minutes nonetheless. Otherwise they had those lost leads against the other two teams that could have made it a much more disappointing week.
The good part is that the Caps did get two wins with their captain on the bench, and others (most notably Nicklas Backstrom and that third line) stepped up in his absence. There is still much work to be done before one could say this is a good team playing well, but they gave themselves a basis this week for building toward that goal.