Sunday, March 02, 2014

Washington Capitals: That Was The Week That Was -- Week 20

There were two-and-a-half weeks separating Weeks 19 and 20 for the Washington Capitals, but they started Week 20 as they finished Week 19, as winners.  When the Caps won the second game of the week to close Week 20 they matched their longest winning streak of the season at four games. 

Record: 2-0-0

Week 20 was the second consecutive winning week for the Caps, their first consecutive winning weeks since turning the trick in Weeks 11-12.  The win over Florida to open the week had its harrowing moments, the Caps giving up two-goal leads twice before Alex Ovechkin scored the game-winner with less than five minutes in regulation.  It was a game that served as an example of playing down to an opponent.

In the other game of the week the Caps served as an example of playing up to an opponent.  Washington went out to a 3-0 lead on the Atlantic Division-leading Boston Bruins, held off a charge in the middle period, then won going-away, 4-2.  It made the Caps 17-1-2 in games in which they and not their opponents took “the most dangerous lead in hockey,” a two-goal lead.  Given the nature of the Caps schedule in March, it was a welcome win and a welcome week.

Offense:  4.50/game (season: 2.82 / rank: 10th)

Nine goals represented a continuation of improvement in the Caps’ offensive output.  When added to the two games that closed the pre-Olympic portion of the season, the Caps had 16 goals over their previous four games at the end of Week 20.  It was the first time that the Caps scored 16 goals over a four-game period since recording 16 over four games from December 7-13.

Alex Ovechkin led the Caps in goals (3) and points (5) for the week.  Since going four games without a point to close the 2013 portion of the season Ovechkin is 13-11-24 in 19 games since the calendar flipped to a new year.  Nicklas Backstrom had three helpers for the week and finds himself third in the league in assists (48) behind Sidney Crosby (51) and Joe Thornton (50).

John Carlson also had three assists for the week, securing three of the four points registered by defensemen (Dmitry Orlov had an assist). Carlson is 2-7-9 in his last ten games.  No Capitals defenseman recorded a goal this week.

Defense: 3.00/game (season: 2.85 / rank: T-21st)

The week’s first game of the week was haunted by a demon that has plagued the Caps all season, dicey play with two-goal leads.  The Caps have had at least one two-goal lead in 22 games this season, including two instances when both they and their opponent held a two-goal lead.  In nine of those games the Caps surrendered two-goal leads.  They did so again this week in their game against Florida, twice in fact, allowing the Panthers to tie the game after taking 2-0 and 4-2 leads.  Fortunately for the Caps, they had Ovechkin, and the Panthers did not.  Ovechkin scored the game-winner with under five minutes remaining for the 5-4 win.  Still, the Caps were fortunate to escape with a win after being out-attempted in shots, 63-43, and out-shot, 34-32, against a team that is 28th of 30 teams in scoring offense.

The Caps were better against Boston, at least in terms of not surrendering a two-goal lead.  Not that there lacked interesting moments.  After extending a 2-0 lead to 3-0 against the Bruins, Boston scored twice in the second period of Saturday’s game to make things close.  Washington added an insurance goal for the 4-2 win.  Still, Boston out-attempted the Caps in shots, 67-44, and out-shot them, 38-31, including 30-16 at even strength.

Goaltending: 3.02 GAA / .917 SV (season: 2.76 / .916 / 3 SO)

Braden Holtby got both starts this week and it was, as many weeks have been for him this season, uneven.  Complicating the issue was persistent chatter that the Capitals were interested in procuring the services of Buffalo goaltender Ryan Miller.  Perhaps that was a distraction that had something to do with Holtby’s recent performance.  In his last 14 appearances before the start of Week 20, Holtby was 5-5-1 (three no-decisions), 3.29, .887.

Holtby’s first game of the week suffered from weak support in front of him.   That is a lingering problem as well. Still, the four goals allowed by Holtby was the seventh time in 14 appearances in which Holtby played the entire game that he allowed four or more goals, and it does not include a four-goals allowed performance in 39:57 against Carolina in December.

His second game this week was much better.  Holtby had not lost to the Bruins in s three career appearances and was the goalie of record when the Caps ousted the Bruins in the first round of the 2012 playoffs.  He continued that mastery in stopping 36 of 38 shots by Boston, including 16-for-16 in the third period of the Caps’ 4-2 win in Boston on Saturday.  The good part ending the week as he did was that he finished Week 20 with a personal four-game winning streak in which he has a goals-against average of 2.00 and a save percentage of .940.  If this is a trend, it comes just in time.

Power Play: 4-for-8 / 50.0 percent (season: 22.7 percent / rank: 2nd)

Week 20 was about as good as it gets as far as the power play goes. Two games, two power play goals in each.  One game was the picture of efficiency, the Caps scoring power play goals on each of their power play opportunities against Florida, requiring only 80 seconds of combined ice time to achieve that result.  The other instance was one of persistent pressure, the Caps recording two power play goals in six opportunities, peppering Bruin goalie Tuukka Rask with 14 shots in just 8:09 of total power play time.

As far as the scoring went, the four goals for the week were split between Troy Brouwer (both against Florida) and Alex Ovechkin (both against Boston).  Eight assists were distributed among six different players, John Carlson and Nicklas Backstrom recording a pair apiece. 

Interestingly enough, Carlson’s two points lifted him within a point for the team lead in power play points among Caps defensemen (12, one fewer than Mike Green).  Carlson now leads all Caps defensemen in power play ice time per game (3:08 to 3:00 for Green).

Penalty Killing: 9-11 / 81.8 percent (season: 81.3 percent / rank: 18th)

The problem this week was not so much the two power play goals allowed, but the 11 opportunities yielded.  Compare that total in two games to the 12 opportunities in four games the Caps allowed in Week 19.  It was the second most opportunities allowed on a per-game basis this season and the most since allowing 17 opportunities in three games in Week 5.  The opportunities problem is reflected in the fact that the shots per minute of penalty killing time was manageable.  In two games the Caps allowed 16 shots in 15:06.  One might like to see shots per minute being under 1.00, but this was not a serious problem.

The problem having been stated, the fact is that the penalty killers might have set a tone – a good one – that provided the foundation for a tough win in Boston.  When Jay Beagle and Tom Wilson were each shown the penalty box for infractions on the same sequence, the Boston Bruins had a full two-minute 5-on-3 power play just 6:57 into what was a scoreless game.  Boston managed only four shot attempts and one on goal over that two-minute 5-on-3.  If Boston converts either part of that power play, the result might have been very different.

Even Strength Goals For/Against: 5-4 (season 5-on-5 GF/GA ratio: 0.92 / rank: T-21st)

That the Caps won the week at even strength, even by the thin margin of a single goal, is noteworthy in that the Caps were outshot by a 53-39 margin for the week at evens.  That 14-shot margin is entirely the product of the Caps being out-shot by a 30-16 margin in their game against Boston, but being held to the same 23 even-strength shots that Florida recorded in the first game of the week should not be ignored, either. 

The possession statistics at even strength were brutal for Washington.  In the two games the Caps had a Corsi-for and a Fenwick-for percentage under 40 percent combined in the two games (38.9/39.7).  They were better in 5-on-5 close score situations (50.8/53.9), but that kind of disparity is the sort of thing that reflects a tendency to allow teams back into games, which is what the Caps did – twice – with two-goal leads in Florida and what the almost did in Boston when the Bruins cut a 3-0 deficit to 3-2.

Faceoffs: 58-124 / 46.8 percent (season: 49.7 percent / rank: 17th)

It was not the strongest of weeks for the Caps in the circles.  Even finishing at 46.8 percent is somewhat deceiving.  Washington was a combined 15-for-40 in the offensive end (37.5 percent) and 16-for-39 (41.0 percent) in the defensive end of the ice.  They were especially ineffective against Boston in the second game of the week, 33.3 percent in the offensive end, 35.0 percent in the defensive end.

Nicklas Backstrom had an especially frustrating week on draws, going 5-for-17 (29.4 percent) in offensive zone faceoffs and 2-for-7 (28.6 percent) in the defensive end.  The odd part about defensive zone draws was that natural wingers – Eric Fehr (4-for-8) and Troy Bouwer (4-for-7) took the most defensive end draws.

Goals For/Against by Period:

The word for the week for the Caps in scoring by period was “balance.”  And, they won or held even in each of the three period for the week.  The only period of the six played this week that the Caps lost was the third period in their 5-4 win over Florida when they allowed the Panthers to erase a 4-2 deficit with a pair of goals before winning the game late on an Ovechkin goal.

In the end…

Two games, two wins.  Whether they were aesthetic masterpieces is irrelevant.  The Caps are into the portion of their season when the words of the late Oakland Raiders owner Al Davis ring loudly… “just win, baby.”  The Caps did just that this week, extending their winning streak to a season-tying high of four games.  It put them in position to reclaim a spot among the top-eight in Week 21 the race for a playoff spot.

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