Sunday, November 16, 2014

Washington Capitals: That Was The Week That Was -- Week 6

Ugh.  That was the word that that epitomized Week 6 for the Washington Capitals.  After letting the Columbus Blue Jackets – a team on an eight-game losing streak – hang around far too long before dispatching them in the first game of the week, the Caps’ guns went silent in their last two games of the week in losses to fall to .500 in standings points for the season.

Record: 1-2-0

Fluid.  That’s your word for the Caps’ 1-2-0 record.  It could have been different in a lot of ways.  Against the Blue Jackets, the team with the eight-game losing streak, the Caps stomped on them for three goals in the first period, then sat back and let Columbus to crawl back within a goal before tacking on an insurance goal late.  That could have been one that got away.  Against New Jersey, the Caps and Devils looked as if they would head to overtime in a scoreless tie in a thoroughly boring game.  That is, until The Demon in a Mask paid a visit to goalie Braden Holtby, who giftwrapped the winning goal…not for his own team.  That one could have gone either way.  There was no such suspense in the Caps’ last game of the week, a 4-1 loss to the St. Louis Blues in which they were thoroughly dominated because they were never really engaged in the game.  It made for a 1-2-0 week, the Caps’ second losing week in their last three.

Offense:  1.60/game (season: 2.88; rank: 7th)

The good part of the week is that the Caps opened it with a bang – a three goal explosion in the first period against the Columbus Blue Jackets.  The bad part?  After scoring three goals on 12 shots in 16:04, the Caps scored two goals on 75 shots in the last 163:56 the rest of the week.  And the second of those goals was something of a gift, a misplay of a Joel Ward shot from the top of the faceoff circle by the Blues’ Brian Elliott.  Part of the problem in the last two games was upside down shooting.  The Caps got 24 shots from the defense, 31 from forwards.  That seems a bit heavy from the blue line as a share of total shots.  Another thing was that the Alex Ovechkin-Nicklas Backstrom pair had eight shots on goal in the last two games.  Their even-strength linemates – Jay Beagle against the Devils and Tom Wilson against the Blues – had one shot apiece.  While the top line had their troubles, the rest of the forward lines hardly distinguished themselves.  It was a team-wide slump.

Defense: 2.33/game (season: 2.76/game; rank: 17th)

If you give up two and a third goals a game over a season, chances are you are a top-ten scoring defense (it would be tenth as we write this).  In that sense, the week went pretty well.  It was how the Caps got there that was the problem.  After holding the Blue Jackets to five shots in the first period of their game to open the week, the Caps allowed ten or more shots in six of the next eight periods, an unusual occurrence for a team that even at week’s end had allowed the fourth-fewest shots on goal in the league.  The Caps spread it around, too.  There were 17 different skaters who were on ice for at least one goal (Michael Latta and Evgeny Kuznetsov escaping that fate), six of them on ice for three of the seven goals scored for the week.   This is not the sort of teamwork folks have in mind.

Goaltending: 2.36 GAA / .920 SV (season: 2.66 / .899 / 1 SO)

Let’s do this again.  If you have a 2.36 GAA you are having a pretty decent season in goal; it would rank 15th in the league as we write this.  Ditto for the save percentage.  A .920 save percentage would be tied for 14th.  So what gives with the 1-2-0 record.  Again, it was not the “what” as much as the “how.”  It was in this area that the week turned, and it did so on two plays, similar and from each goalie.  With the Caps and Devils skating to what seemed an inevitable overtime period in a scoreless game, Braden Holtby stopped a puck behind his own net, turned, and sent the puck on its way, right onto the stick of the Devils Mike Cammalleri.  One shot later, before Holtby could return to the front of his net, and the Devils had their game-winning goal.  Against St. Louis, with the Caps trailing the Blues by a 2-1 margin coming out of the second intermission, Justin Peters stopped the puck behind his own net, turned, and tried to move the puck along.  He managed to whiff on the attempt, and Patrik Berglund, who pressured Peters into the gaffe, slid the puck to David Backes for the insurance goal that deflated the Caps in a game that might have ended a bit differently had Peters made good on his pass attempt.  The different between 1-2-0 and 2-1-0 or even 2-0-1 can turn on two plays.   For the Caps, it did.

Power Play:  1-9 / 11.1 percent (season: 25.9 percent ;rank: 3rd)

It was a bad week all around for the Caps on the man advantage.  First there were the chances.  The Caps had nine power play opportunities for the week.  In and of itself, that’s not bad, but the Caps went from five against Columbus to four against New Jersey to none against St. Louis.  The odd part of that was that the Blues went into the game tied for the fourth-most power plays faced at home (34).  They came out of that game with the same 34, the Caps getting none and leaving town as they entered it, with the fewest power play opportunities awarded on the road, 14 in seven games.

Then there was the efficiency.  The Caps managed 20 shots on goal in 15:14 of power play time, the 1.3 shots per minute of power play time being something to shoot for, so to speak.  But the Caps managed just that one goal on 20 shots, not something you want to see.  The Caps even got the shots from the players they wanted, but not necessarily in the way they wanted them.  Alex Ovechkin was 1-for-5 against Columbus, but was held without a power play shot against New Jersey, who blocked six of his attempts.  Marcus Johansson, continuing his early season shotzapalooza, had four power play shots against Columbus, one against New Jersey.  Six different Caps shared the rest of the power play shots for the week.  They just could not find the back of the net.

Penalty Killing: 9-for-9 / 100.0 percent (season: 80.7 percent; rank: 16th)

If there was a bright spot to the week, penalty killing was it.  It would be hard to draw it up better than this as far as results are concerned.  First, the Caps killed off all nine shorthanded situations they faced, the first time since Week 1 that the Caps had a perfect week.  Then there was the efficiency.  In 18 minutes of shorthanded ice time, the Caps allowed opponents only a total of nine shots on goal.  When one considers that the Caps faced, at the time, the seventh-ranked (Columbus), 13th-ranked (New Jersey), and third-ranked (St. Louis) power plays, it was a very good week for the penalty killers.

Even Strength Goals For/Goals Against: 4-7 / minus-3 (season, 5-on-5 goals for/goals against ratio: 0.97; rank: T-20th)

One of the things that characterized the Caps good start to the season was their 5-on-5 play.  They finished Week 1 ranked 4th in the league in goals scored-to-goals allowed ratio at 5-on-5.  They followed that up with weekly rankings of seventh and third.  Then the wheels started coming off, dropping to a tie for 13th after Week 4 and a tie for 14th after Week 5.  Now, they are tied for 20th after a minus-3 week.  The Caps have dropped to tenth in Corsi-for percentage at 5-on-5, 51.57 percent (from  The Caps were minus-16 for the week in Corsi at 5-on-5, on the wrong side of the divide in all three games.  The Ovechkin-Backstrom pair were victimized for three of the seven goals against while being on ice for only one goal for.  It was not a good week in this area for the Capitals.

Faceoffs: 98-for-190 / 51.6 percent (season: 49.9 percent; rank: 15th)

It was a good week in the circle overall, if a bit uneven.  Overall the Caps were above 50 percent (51.6 percent), but it would have been much better if the Blues had not lit up the Capitals for a 58.5 percent winning percentage in the last game of the week, part of a generally lethargic performance by the Caps.  On an individual level, it was a case of the veterans and the kids, the former doing well and the latter not as much.  Nicklas Backstrom continued his fine work, going 59.7 percent for the week, including winning 11 of 13 defensive zone draws.  Eric Fehr won his week as well, finishing at 51.4 percent.  At the other end, the two kids – Evgeny Kuznetsov and Andre Burakovsky – are still a work in progress, the former winning 44.4 percent of his draws for the week and the latter winning only 29.4 percent of the 17 draws he took.

Goals by Period:

Start well, finish poorly.  That was the week for the Caps.  The Caps outscored Columbus, 3-1, in the first period of their game to open the week, then let the Blue Jackets inch back into the game before getting a late insurance goal.  In the losses, the Caps allowed the game-winning goal with 10:22 left in the third period against New Jersey and with 7:24 in the second period against St. Louis.  Getting only single goals in each of the second and third periods of games for the week had the usual and the unusual attached to them.  In the case of their lone second period goal for the week, it was unusual for the rare occurrence.  With 20 second period goals this season the Caps are tied for eighth in the league.  As for the third period goal, this is a continuing shortcoming.  The Caps have only ten third period goals in 17 games.  Only Florida (8) and Winnipeg (6) have fewer.

In the end…

Through Week 2 the Caps were 3-0-2.  In four weeks since then, they are 4-7-1.  There is probably one good win in that bunch, that coming in Chicago back on November 7th.  Losses to Edmonton and Arizona more or less negate that.  While the Caps have lost to some very good teams, like Tampa Bay and St. Louis, otherwise the Caps have been struggling against teams like themselves, those who are going to be competing for that limited number of playoff spots next spring.  Week 6 was one of those struggling weeks when they held on to beat a Columbus team stuck in a rut, gave away a game to New Jersey, and never got their legs going against St. Louis.  Week 6 might not have been a week as good as the 1-2-0 record would suggest.  The Caps have an opportunity in the week coming up with three games against teams that are all under .500.  It’s past time to turn things around and establish some momentum.

Three Stars:
  • First Star: Braden Holtby (1-1-0, 1.52, .944)
  • Second Star: Marcus Johansson (2-0-2, 12 SOG)
  • Third Star: Alex Ovechkin (2-0-2, GWG, 13 SOG)

…it was a dim week for stars.

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