Santa Claus was good to the Washington Capitals, filling their stockings with their fourth straight winning week and leaving them three points with a game in hand ahead of the Boston Bruins for the last playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. And even with a split in two road games, the Caps finished Week 12 with the conference’s best road record. Overall, it was a fine week.
For the Washington Capitals in Week 12, the theme might be “slow and steady wins the race.” The Caps recorded their fourth consecutive winning week, taking two of three contests. It was the Caps’ fifth winning week in their last six, and they have not had a losing week since Week 6. In the six weeks since the Caps are 11-4-3, a 114-point pace over what amounts to about one-quarter of a full season. Better still, since losing to Vancouver in the first game of December to fall to 10-10-4, the Caps are 8-1-2 over their last 11 games, all of them against Eastern Conference opponents.
Now, here’s the bad part. Despite that 11-game run, the Caps have not budged in the Metropolitan Division standings – fourth then, fourth now – and they have climbed only two spots in the conference standings, from tenth to eighth. They have, however, cut the deficit between themselves and first place in the East almost in half, from 12 points on December 1st to seven points after Week 12.
Offense: 2.33 /game (season: 2.89 /game; rank: 8th)
It was a balanced sort of week for the Caps. Six players shared in the seven goals, Eric Fehr getting two against the Pittsburgh Penguins to end the week. Twelve Capitals shared in the points, with three players – Marcus Johansson, Evgeny Kuznetsov, and John Carlson – each recording three points. If there was an odd aspect to the offense, it was Alex Ovechkin’s week. Ovechkin recorded one point for the week, a goal in the 4-2 loss to the New York Rangers. The light total was not for lack of effort, though. Ovechkin was credited with 37 shot attempts in the three games – 21 shots on goal, ten shots that were blocked, and six misses. He accounted for 20.3 percent of all shot attempts for the week.
Ovechkin’s contributions were a large part of the Caps averaging 29.7 shots per game for the week and increasing shot totals over the three games (23, 32, 34). It was the percentage that was lacking. The Caps shot to a 7.9 percent mark for the week, compared to 9.6 percent overall for the season. Of course, there was Ovechkin at 4.8 percent for the week while the rest of the club was shooting at 8.8 percent.
Defense: 1.67 /game (season: 2.49 /game; rank: 11th)
One of the things that the Caps have improved significantly from last season to this has been the shots on goal allowed. Coming into Week 12 the Caps were on a five-game streak of allowing opponents fewer than 30 shots (average: 25.4). That streak came to an abrupt end in the first game of the week when they Caps allowed the Ottawa Senators to pepper the Caps’ net with 39 shots in a 2-1 Caps win. After allowing only 27 shots on goal in a 4-2 loss to the Rangers in the middle game of the week, the Caps allowed the Penguins 31 shots on Saturday in a 3-0 Caps win.
Possession-wise, it was a good week, nevertheless. Overall, the Caps finished the week with a Corsi-for percentage of 55.7 in even strength situations (war-on-ice.com). They were even better in tie-game situations, sporting a Corsi-for percentage of 60.5 percent, although there were only 71 events on which to draw for that number, 56 of them taking place in the game against Ottawa. Even in the loss to the Rangers, the Caps “played” well enough to win with a 60.7 Corsi-for percentage at 5-on-5 (all score situations) and a plus-19.
Of the five goals allowed for the week, Brooks Orpik and John Carlson were on ice for four of them. Among them included a deflection off a body part, a 5-on-4 power play goal against, and a 5-on-3 power play goal against, all against the Rangers. When the Caps allowed a hat trick to the Rangers’ Rick Nash (one of the goals being the “body part” goal) it was the first time this season the Caps allowed an opponent a hat trick.
Goaltending: 1.69 GAA / .948 SV / 1 shutout (season: 2.43 / .912 / 3 SO)
Braden Holtby played in every minute for the Caps in Week 12, including the back-to-back games against Ottawa and New York to start the week. The four goals on 27 shots against the Rangers might have been predictable, given Holtby’s history in the second half of back-to-back games. Even including that game against the Rangers, Holtby had a sterling week in an important respect. He stopped 55 of 58 even strength shots, a .948 save percentage. And, even though he allowed two power play goals in the 4-2 loss to the Rangers, Holtby stopped 32 of 34 power play shots against (including six of seven shots in 5-on-3 situations), a .941 save percentage.
Holtby has been a rock over almost two months now. Since allowing four goals in three consecutive games in late October and early November, he is 13-5-3, 2.05, .930, with two shutouts in his last 21 appearances. Only seven times in those 21 appearances has he allowed more than two goals, and only once has he allowed more than two even strength goals. Whatever goalie coach Mitch Korn is selling, Braden Holtby is buying.
Power Play: 2-for-14 / 14.3 percent (season: 23.8 percent; rank: 5th)
It was not a particularly strong week on the power play for the Capitals in Week 12, and this has become something of a trend. With a 14.3 percent power play for the week, it made it four straight weeks that the Caps finished the week below 20 percent (6-for-39/15.4 percent). Why was Week 12 underwhelming? Part of it was the efficiency. The Caps managed 18 shots in 21:08 of power play time. Not that they didn’t get shots from those who they want taking the shots, although it might have been too much in one respect. Alex Ovechkin recorded 11 of the 18 shots on goal, scoring once. He was 0-for-6 in the 3-0 win over the Penguins to end the week.
It was a disappointing week in another, more general sense. The 14 power play opportunities in three games were the most the Caps enjoyed in any week this season to date. The five opportunities against the Rangers and the Penguins was the first time this season that the Caps had five or more opportunities in consecutive games. Opportunity knocked, but the Caps couldn't find the front door.
Penalty Killing: 12-for-14 / 85.7 percent (season: 78.2 percent; rank: 24th)
The penalty killers might have had a pretty good week, killing off more than 85 percent of the shorthanded situations. It was not the actual penalty killing that was the problem. It was the lack of discipline that led to the situations, specifically the game against the Rangers that the Caps lost. The Caps faced seven shorthanded situations against the Rangers in the 4-2 loss. At least the Caps got their minutes worth in the nature of the fouls – cross-checking, boarding, slashing, a high-sticking double minor among them.
Then there was the matter of a rule change; Rule 76.4 to be precise, which states: “Both players facing-off are prohibited from batting the puck with their hand in an attempt to win the face-off. Any attempt by either center to win the face-off by batting the puck with their hand shall result in a minor penalty. This penalty shall be announced as ‘Minor Penalty for Delay of Game – Face-off Violation’…” Jason Chimera was caught with his hand in the cookie jar, so to speak. Before we heap more on Chimera, let’s step back and remember that he is not a center and averages a little more than one faceoff taken per game. This wrinkle in the rules might not have been foremost in his mind as he leaned in to take that draw.
As for the actual penalty killing, you could say Braden Holtby was the best penalty killer because he had to be. In 22:13 of shorthanded ice time the Caps allowed 34 shots on goal, more than 1.5 shots per minute. Against the Ottawa Senators to open the week it was 13 shots in just six minutes of power play time. At week’s end, Holtby had faced the third highest shot volume in shorthanded situations (133). Given that he is 14th in shorthanded save percentage (.880) among 33 goalies appearing in at least 15 games, those shot volumes might be something to address.
Even Strength Goals For/Goals Against: 5-3 / plus-2 (season, 5-on-5 goals for/goals against ratio: 1.06; rank: 15th)
Three games, three even strength goals against. That is a pretty good recipe for success, especially since the Caps came into Week 12 having allowed 1.84 5-on-5 goals per game. The Caps have been reasonably consistent in this regard, having allowed more than two even strength goals only twice in their last 18 games, over which they are 11-4-3.
As for the even strength goals scored, it was a strange mix of scorers. Eric Fehr had a pair in the 3-0 win over Pittsburgh with Marcus Johansson, Evgeny Kuznetsov, and Jay Beagle scoring the others. For Beagle, who scored the first goal in the Caps’ 2-1 win over Ottawa to start the week, it was his fifth goal of the season, a new career high and his third in nine games. It might not be surprising that Alex Ovechkin finished the week with the most even strength shots on goal (10), but Joel Ward (8) and John Carlson (7) being next in line might raise an eyebrow.
Faceoffs: 91-for-174 / 52.2 percent (season: 50.8 percent; rank: 11th)
It was a good week in the circle for the Caps, with one glaring exception. In three games the Caps won the zone battle in eight of nine instances. They were three-for-three in the neutral zone and three-for-three in the defensive zone. They were even two-for-three in the offensive zone, but oh, that one game in which they lost in the offensive zone.
Washington was 5-for-21 in offensive zone draws in the 4-2 loss to the Rangers in the middle game of the week. Nicklas Backstrom was 1-for-6 in offensive zone draws against New York in what was otherwise a pretty good week (59.3 percent wins overall). The surprise for the week, though, might have been Evgeny Kuznetsov, who was credited with 17 wins on 27 faceoffs (63.0 percent), not bad for a player who entered the week with a winning percentage of only 42.2 percent.
At the other end, it was a tough week for Eric Fehr, who was 36.7 percent overall and only 25.0 percent combined in the offensive and defensive zones.
Goals by Period:
The Caps fought to a draw in the first periods (one goal for, one against) and second periods (two and two) in games in Week 12 but won the third periods of games (four and two) for the difference in the week. The Caps scored two against the Rangers in the middle game of the week to make things interesting in closing to within a goal before falling, 4-2, then scored two third period goals less than five minutes apart against the Penguins to break open a close game and provide some insurance in a 3-0 win.
The third period positive margin for the week allowed the Caps to establish positive goal differentials for the season in all three regulation periods: plus-4 in the first period, plus-9 in the second period, and plus-1 in the third period.
In the end…
With their fourth consecutive winning week in Week 12, the Caps are now on a 98-point pace for the season that should be, if sustained, enough to reach the post season. If those playoffs started today, their first round opponent would be the Pittsburgh Penguins, the team the Caps defeated in convincing fashion to end the week.
The question now becomes one of how sustainable their 8-1-2 run through the Eastern Conference in December can be. The Caps have one more visit to an Eastern Conference opponent – the New York Islanders on Monday – before the Winter Classic game on New Year’s Day against the Chicago Blackhawks. After that, the calendar starts to look a bit better for the Caps in terms of strength of schedule. The Caps have given notice of the level of play they can reach and sustain over an extended period. But there is still more than half the season remaining, much more work to be done.
- First Star: Braden Holtby (2-1-0, 1.69, .948, 1 shutout, first career win over the Pittsburgh Penguins)
- Second Star: Eric Fehr (2-0-2, game-winning goal against the Penguins, his seventh and eighth career goals against Pittsburgh, second most against any opponent)
- Third Star: John Carlson (0-3-3, plus-1; tied for third among league defensemen in scoring (second in even strength points); tied for seventh in plus-minus)