Sunday, April 06, 2014

Washington Capitals: That Was The Week That Was -- Week 25

Week 25 was a spotlight on the Washington Capitals’ season.  Four games, three losses, two losses in the Gimmick, one win, next to zero chance of making the playoffs at its conclusion. 

Record: 1-2-1

The thing about looking at games on a weekly basis is that the ebbs and flows come into sharper focus. The 1-2-1 record in Week 25 was the fourth week in five in which the Caps finished below .500 (6-7-4 over that span).  Over the last dozen weeks Washington has had seven losing weeks, compiling a record of 15-16-9.  What made it worse in Week 25 was that of the four teams the Caps played, three of them had fewer standings points, and one – Dallas, a 5-0 winner on Tuesday – was only two points ahead of the Caps in the league standings when they met.  As it was, the Caps opened the week in tenth place in the Eastern Conference, two points out of a wild card spot.  When the week ended, they were still two points out of a playoff spot, but now with three teams to pass, not two, to reach that wild card spot.

Offense: 1.75/game (season: 2.72 / rank: 14th)

It was a dry week in the offensive end of the ice for the Caps.  And, it was not even as good as it looked.  Nicklas Backstrom had a hand in five of the seven goals scored by the Caps (2-3-5).  After that, only four other Caps recorded goals: Troy Brouwer (2), Alex Ovechkin, Evgeny Kuznetsov, and Joel Ward.  It was an especially frustrating week other respects as well. 

For instance, three of the clubs the Caps faced – Nashville, Dallas, and the New York Islanders – ranked in the bottom ten in scoring defense.  Then there were the goaltenders.  The Caps did manage three goals on 26 shots against Nashville backup Carter Hutton, but they could not solve him in the freestyle competition and lost.  They got only one puck past New Jersey’s Cory Schneider, who might be more of a “1a” goalie than a backup at this point, but going into his game against the Caps he was 3-3-2 in nine appearances since the Olympic break, with a 2.87 GAA and a .876 save percentage. 

The Caps managed one standings point in those two games and managed neither a goal nor a standings point against Kari Lehtonen, with whom the Caps were quite familiar from his days with the Atlanta Thrashers.  As it would turn out, Lehtonen extended his unbeaten streak against the Caps since departing Atlanta to three games, over which he has allowed only three goals on 93 shots.

Defense: 3.75/game (season: 2.90 / rank: 24th)

Mark Twain once wrote, “facts are stubborn, but statistics are more pliable.”  The two seem to converge when it comes to the Caps’ defense.  The Caps were outshot in all four games this week, bringing to nine the number of consecutive games in which Washington was out-shot and 11 out of their last 12 contests.  The four games this week make it 54 times this season that the Caps have been out-shot by opponents, the 69.2 percent share of games being out-shot ranking third-highest in the league behind Toronto (78.5) and Buffalo (79.2).  Making it worse, the Caps have the sixth worst winning percentage in the league when they are out-shot (22-23-9, .407).

The shots-on-goal results are merely the product of the same possession woes that have plagued the Caps all season.  In 5-on-5 close score situations the Caps struggled to top 40 percent in both Corsi-for (41.6) and Fenwick-for (41.6) percentages for the week.  It should be no surprise that the Caps were outscored for the week in those situations, 9-4.  In all, the Caps have topped 50 percent in Fenwick-for percentage in these situations only 26 times in 77 games.  They are 10-12-4 in those games, but among those ten wins are four in extra time, three in the Gimmick.  

Goaltending: 3.13 / .903 (season: 2.78 / .915 / 3 shutouts)

The problem with allowing a lot of shots on goal is that it puts pressure on goalies to post high save percentages, not the easiest thing to do when random elements like pucks hitting posts and going in or hitting bodies or sticks in front and going in being a feature of the sport.  It also does not help when the goalies have an iffy week generally.  The latter was more the case for the Caps in Week 25.  Combined, Jaroslav Halak and Braden Holtby posted a 3.13 goals against average and a .903 save percentage.  They were remarkably consistent with one another, which is another way of saying remarkably mediocre.  Halak was 3.11/.904 in 154 minutes of ice time, Holtby was 3.15/.902 in 95 minutes.

Looking at the two goalies individually, their performances were not very much alike.  Halak’s week by period was a slow drift downward, as far as save percentage is concerned.  Halak’s first periods (three in all) were played to a .906 save percentage, followed by .903 in the second period (three periods, one of which he was relieved by Holtby), and .882 in the third period (two periods). 

On the other hand, Holtby was superb in the only first period in which he played, stopping 16 of 17 shots against the Islanders on Saturday (a .941 save percentage).  The other two periods were something less than superb -- .857 in the second periods of games and .889 in the third. 

Power Play: 2-17 / 11.8 percent (season: 23.0 percent / rank: 2nd)

When your offense is so dependent on the power play, and it has a bad week, you are not going to generate a lot of offense.  The power play in Week 25 had its worst week since converting only one of 19 chances in Week 17.  The Caps started the week in good shape, converting two of four chances against Nashville on Sunday.  However, that would be it for the week on the power play.  After going 2-for-4 against the Predators on six shots in 4:52 of power play time, the Caps misfired on 19 shots over 20:22 of power play time on 13 power plays to close the week. 

Not that the Caps were getting shots from people they don’t want shooting the puck.  Alex Ovechkin had five of the 25 shots on goal, as did John Carlson.  Neither could rustle the twine in the back of the net, though.  Troy Brouwer had one goal on five shots.  Add in Nicklas Backstrom, who went 0-for-4, and the Caps biggest guns on the top unit were 1-for-19. It was just a bad week.

Penalty Killing: 11-12 / 91.7 percent (season: 81.5 percent / rank: 19th)

The penalty killers, on the other hand, had a pretty good week.  It started very well when the Caps didn’t have to skate shorthanded against Nashville last Sunday.  It was the third time this season that the Caps stayed out of the box, the second time in 12 games (they also escaped skating shorthanded on March 6th against Boston). 

The Caps were not so fortunate in the other three games of Week 25, but they rose to the challenge in killing off 11 of 12 shorthanded situations.  It continued a stretch of good effort when asked to kill off penalties.  By week’s end the Caps were 34-for-38 (89.5 percent) over their last dozen games.

It was a shared effort.  The Caps held opponents to 18 shots on goal in 18:18 of shorthanded ice time, and Jaroslav Halak and Braden Holtby combined to stop 17 of those 18 shots.  Halak’s perfect 11-for-11 for the week lifted his save percentage with the Caps when shorthanded from .948 to .958.  That save percentage with the Caps is more than 80 points better than it was with St. Louis (.876).

Even Strength Goals Scored For/Against: 5-11 (season 5-on-5 GF/GA ratio: 0.85 / rank:T-25nd)

The Caps had an uncommonly poor week at even strength, even by their modest standards.  It is not likely a coincidence that the only game in which they won the even strength battle (3-2 against the Islanders to close the week) was the only game they won.  Otherwise the Caps were two goals up and nine down, a really bad recipe for success.  Granted, four of those goals against came in the 5-0 loss to Dallas, but that game also represents one of the Caps’ worst performances of the season.

Not only were the Caps were out-shot at even strength in all four games, they were barely half as efficient as their opponents in the shots they did manage to direct on goal.  Washington shot to 5.6 percent for the week (5-for-90) while opponents were shooting 9.7 percent (11-for-113) at even strength.  It left the Caps in a run-down neighborhood in the league’s 5-on-5 goals scored/goals against ratio.  Only Florida, Calgary, Edmonton, and Buffalo are worse, and the Islanders and Nashville are tied with Washington for 25th place.

Faceoffs: 119-244 / 48.8 percent (season: 48.7 percent / rank: 23rd)

Another week, another week under 50 percent in the circle.  It was not quite as bad as all that, though.  The Caps were above 50 percent in the offensive and defensive zones for the week, doing poorly only in the neutral zone (33-for-76/43.4 percent).  There was one especially poor overall game, and it was one that the Caps needed to win.  Washington won just 20 of 49 draws against New Jersey, only 4-for-14 in the defensive zone, in their 2-1 loss to the Devils.

Individually the Caps did rather well.  Of the five Caps taking at least 20 draws, four of them – Nicklas Backstrom (72.0 percent), Jay Beagle (53.8), Eric Fehr (53.3), and Mikhail Grabovski (60.0) – finished over 50 percent.  Only Marcus Johansson finished under 50 percent (44.4).

Goals Scored For/Against by Period:

The Caps lost the week and lost all three periods.  Scoring just one third period goal was troublesome, even if that goal – scored on a power play by Nicklas Backstrom against Nashville – tied the contest and led to the Caps securing a standings point.  They were consistent, though.  Washington allowed goals in nine of the 12 regulation periods played this week and were outscored in seven periods in regulation.

In the end…

As we said at the top, “Four games, three losses, two losses in the Gimmick, one win.”  Three points in four games.  The Caps were two goals in regulation away from two additional points, those being the games against Nashville (a 4-3 Gimmick loss) and a 2-1 loss to New Jersey in regulation.  If the Caps had secured those points, they would be a tie-breaker out of a wild card spot.  Then again, it is like an old English rhyme:

If wishes were horses then beggars would ride,
If turnips were swords I’d have one by my side.
If ‘ifs’ and ‘ands’ were pots and pans,
There would be no need for tinker’s hands!

Unfortunately, after not getting those two points in Week 25 by the thinnest of margins and there being only one week left in the regular season, the Caps are likely to have no need of scheduling playoff games, either.

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