The Caps held a team building exercise in Calgary between their two games of the week, a hard fought curling competition for the… what, Barry Trotz Trophy? As for the hockey portion of the week, it was, despite the light workload, the usual mix of the good, the not as good, and the just plain odd.
The Caps had their first non-winning week of the season, enduring their first loss in regulation time when they lost to the Edmonton Oilers, 3-2, to start the week. It was the first time that the Caps lost in regulation time since Game 77 last season, a 2-1 loss to the New Jersey Devils. Since then the Caps went 7-0-3 before dropping the decision to the Oilers. The Caps salvaged the week with a 3-1 win over the Calgary Flames that left them in second place, two points behind the New York Islanders in the Metropolitan Division.
Offense: 2.50/game (season: 3.14/game; rank: T-7th)
It was not the most prolific of weeks at the offensive end, but it was balanced. Of the five goals of the week, only Joel Ward had more than one (2), John Carlson, Nicklas Backstrom, and Mike Green getting the others. Ten different skaters shared in the 12 points that were distributed, Ward and Backstrom the only ones with as many as two points. The odd part of the week was that Alex Ovechkin: 1) did not record a point, and 2) recorded only three shots on goal for the week (often a decent period for the winger). Three straight games with two or fewer shots made it the first time for Ovechkin since he went four consecutive games January 15-February 4, 2012. Don’t get too concerned, though. He still has almost twice as many shots on goal for the season (29) as the next Capital in line (Mike Green and John Carlson; 16 apiece).
Defense: 2.00/game (season: 1.86/game; rank: T-3rd)
It says something when a team can allow two goals per game for a week, and its goals allowed per game goes up. That was the case this week for the Caps, who allowed four goals in two games. They still improved their scoring defense ranking from a tie for sixth last week to a tie (with Chicago) for third, behind only Minnesota (1.00) and Los Angeles (1.43). Part of this, perhaps a large part of it, is denying opponents opportunities. The Caps allowed only 42 shots on goal for the week, their consecutive games streak allowing fewer than 30 shots reaching seven games (and counting). Last season the Caps had six individual games in which they allowed 42 or more shots. The last time the Caps went seven straight games allowing fewer than 30 shots was October 27 – November 9, 2010 (24.9/game). Oddly enough, that was two months before the Caps decided to employ a trapping defense after an eight-game losing streak. The Caps are now averaging 23.7 shots allowed per game.
Goaltending: 2.00 GAA / .902 SV (season: 1.80 GAA / .922 SV / 1 SO)
This is the other side of the “shots matter” argument. The save percentage put up by Braden Holtby, who played all 120 minutes for the week, was not sterling, but he faced so few shots in the process that his goals against average was still rather good. The goals were so few that they deserve individual notice. Justin Schultz scored for Edmonton when he was allowed to walk down the slot and take a centering feed from Teddy Purcell with all the Caps looking at the end boards. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins scored when he took advantage of an Alex Ovechkin whiff on a wrist shot from the left point, sped in on a breakaway, and beat Holtby. Nikita Nikitin scored on a power play through a screen. Dennis Wideman scored when the Caps suffered a sloppy clear attempt on an Calgary power play, the puck eventually making its way to Dennis Wideman, who faked Jay Beagle out of position, took a step to his right and fired the puck past Holtby from long range. It was not a series of poor plays by Holtby (who might want that Wideman goal back) as much as breakdowns of varying sorts in front of him. Even those, however, were few during the week. If anything, the goals stand out because of their infrequency.
Power Play: 2-5 / 40.0 percent (season: 28.0 percent; rank: 3rd)
The Caps were not especially efficient on the power play in terms of shots per minute (five shots in 6:24 of power play time for the week), but they certainly effective with what they had – two goals on those five shots in a 2-for-5 week with the man advantage. Your next odd development of the week – Alex Ovechkin had no power play shots on goal. The shots came from Troy Brouwer (0-for-2), Mike Green (0-for-1), John Carlson (1-1) and Joel Ward (1-1), Ward’s coming on the only power play shot on goal the Caps recorded against Calgary in their 3-1 win on Saturday.
Penalty Killing: 3-5 / 60.0 percent (season: 84.0 percent; rank: 11th)
It was not the shots per minute that was odd about the penalty killing for the week (seven shots allowed in 7:18 of shorthanded ice time), it was the scoring. Both goals allowed for the week came from defensemen – Nikita Nikitin for Edmonton and Dennis Wideman for Calgary. Both were scored from long range, both more or less from the middle of the offensive zone. Both represented lapses, the Nikitin goal scored when the Caps could not prevent either Teddy Purcell or Nail Yakupov from setting up in Holtby’s line of sight, Wideman’s goal when Jay Beagle took himself out of the play, biting on Wideman’s fake of a shot, allowing Wideman to reset his shooting angle. On the other hand, the best penalty killer is not necessarily your goaltender but not taking penalties in the first place. Five shorthanded situations faced for the week is a pattern one would hope for.
Even Strength Goals For/Goals Against: 3-2 / plus-1 (season, 5-on-5 goals for/goals against ratio:1.67; rank: 3rd)
Last season, if the Caps scored three even strength goals for the week, even if it was only over two games, they might have allowed four or five. That they were still a “plus” for the week is another of those good signs. Credit that in large part to a dominating week in possession numbers. At 5-on-5 the Caps were a Corsi plus-30 (95-65) and had a Cors-for percentage of 59.4. They were plus-25 in Fenwick at 5-on-5 (73-48) with a Fenwick-for percentage of 60.3 (numbers from war-on-ice.com). It helped the Caps hold Edmonton and Calgary to a combined 6.3 percent shooting at even strength for the week. Overall, the Caps have outscored opponents by a 15-9 margin at 5-on-5 this season, almost a goal per game (0.86).
Faceoffs: 57-for-114 / 50.0 percent (season: 49.2 percent; rank: 19th)
In a week in which the record was split down the middle, the goals scored/allowed were almost split down the middle, the faceoffs were more of the same. The Caps split 114 faceoffs down the middle with 57 wins and 57 losses. Nicklas Backstrom took more than a third of the draws and more than twice as many as any other Capitals for the week. His was largely a split-down-the-middle week, too. Although he was 25-for-42, he was at 50. 0 percent in both the offensive zone (4-for-8) and the defensive zone (8-for-16). He was 13-for-18 in the neutral zone. Jay Beagle saw his first action of the season this week and did a good job in the faceoff circle, winning nine of 13 draws. After that, none of the other four Capitals – Andre Burakovsky (45.5), Eric Fehr (31.3), Evgeny Kuznetsov (28.6), or Michael Latta (50.0) – taking ten or more draws were better than 50 percent.
Goals by Period:
Nothing surprising here. In a close-fought week the Caps battle Edmonton and Calgary to a combined draw over the first two periods of games. The takeaway here is that having allowed no third period goals for the week, there are only three teams – Florida, Los Angeles, and Chicago – having allowed fewer third period goals for the season than the three allowed by the Caps.
In the end…
Not every week is a winning week. The Caps certainly played well enough to beat the Oilers in the first game of the week; their possession numbers dominated (64.7 percent Corsi-for, 64.1 percent Fenwick for at 5-on-5; numbers from war-on-ice.com). It was the infrequent exception to the general rule that with possession dominance goes winning. Over a season’s worth of games, if the Caps can continue something approaching that level of performance (fifth in the league in Corsi-for percentage at 5-on-5, fourth in Fenwick-for percentages, according to war-on-ice.com), they will win a lot of games.
- First Star: Mike Green. Plus-19 Corsi at 5-on-5, plus-15 Fenwick, one goal, 39 minutes of ice time.
- Second Star: Joel Ward. Two goals (including game-winner) against Calgary.
- Third Star: Nicklas Backstrom. One goal, one assist, 25-for-42 in faceoffs, 500th career point recorded.