Sunday, February 01, 2015

Washington Capitals: That Was The Week That Was -- Week 17

For the Washington Capitals, Week 17 was one spinning their wheels, not an uncommon occurrence on the slippery roads of winter, but something to be avoided on the hockey rink in January in a tough division race.  As even as it was for the week, it could have been much more…could have been.

Record: 1-1-1

The Caps were a coat of paint away from making it a 2-1-0 week, at the very least.  Three times in the second period of their 1-0 overtime loss to Montreal, Capital shooters hit iron with Alex Ovechkin, Joel Ward, and John Carlson playing the chimes for the Caps (Montreal had one of their own shots ping out, one by P.K. Subban in the third period off the same iron).  A poor third period did them in against Columbus to start the week, but even there the Caps almost made up three two-goal deficits.  At the end of the week, though, it was their third straight .500 week in standings points.

Offense: 2.33/game (season: 2.92/game; rank: T-8th)

It was not so much the goals themselves as the deployment of players that stood out this week.  The audition for a winger to play alongside of Nicklas Backstrom and Alex Ovechkin continues.  In the first game of the week Andre Burakovsky got the call and scored a goal (secondary assist to Backstrom), then sat for the last two games of the week.  Eric Fehr and Tom Wilson got some time, but the bulk of the even strength time on the top line in the last two games of the week featured Jay Beagle skating with the big guns.  Backstrom (an assist) and Ovechkin (a goal) had one point apiece in the last two games.  Yup…the audition continues.

Defense: 1.67/game (season: 2.47/game; rank: T-8th)

Odd week.  In the two losses the Caps had positive Corsi values in both games (plus-10/53.1 percent combined), while they were underwater in their 4-0 win over Pittsburgh (minus-5/47.3 percent).  Even tied or leading by one-goal against the Penguins, the Caps were well under 50 percent (minus-10/41.9 percent).  They did a credible job managing shots, allowing an average of 29 per game for the week, none of them ending with more than 30 shots against.  They allowed fewer than ten attempts in five of the nine regulation periods for the week.  The Caps did an especially good job of denying teams from getting pucks all the way through from long range against Montreal, allowing only four of 22 shot attempts from defensemen on net.

Goaltending: 1.65 / .943 / 1 SO   (season: 2.42 / .915 / 5 shutouts)

Braden Holtby found himself in a bit of a slump, allowing four goals in three consecutive games (including against Columbus to open Week 17), the first time he allowed four or more in three straight games since allowing four in each of three games to end October and begin November.  However, he was superb in the last two games of the week, allowing one overtime goal on 57 shots.  The down side of all of this is speculative, but the fact is that Holtby has appeared in 31 of the Caps’ last 32 games.  Is it making a difference?  Not yet, if one looks at those 31 appearances in ten-game segments (11 for the last one).  In the first ten of those 31 games, Holtby was 6-3-1, 2.34, .923.  In the second ten he was 6-1-3, 2.06, .930, with two shutouts.  Finally, Holtby was 6-2-3, 2.07, .929, with two shutouts in his last 11 games.  It is tempting fate to lean on him so hard, but so far it has not yet degraded his game.

Power Play: 1-for-11 / 9.1 percent (season: 23.3 percent; rank: 4th)

Week 17 was the worst week of the season for the Caps to date.  One goal on 24 shots in nine opportunities.  A lot of that was Carey Price, who stopped all 11 power play shots he faced in Montreal’s 1-0 overtime win over the Caps to end the week.  In one respect, 24 shots on goal in 20:52 of power play time is not bad from an efficiency standpoint.  It was an odd week, shooting-wise, in one respect.  In the games against Columbus and Pittsburgh to start the week, the Caps had 14 shots, and they came from the guys the Caps would have wanted shooting the puck – Alex Ovechkin (6), Mike Green (4), Nicklas Backstrom (3) accounting for 13 of the 14 shots over those two games.  In the game against Montreal, the shot profile was almost entirely different.  Ovechkin had two, but the others came from Joel Ward (3), John Carlson (2), Brooks Laich (2),and Troy Brouwer (1).  The top power play unit was nullified very effectively by the Canadiens, making things that much easier for Carey Price.

Penalty Killing: 12-for-12 / 100.0 percent / (season: 81.0 percent; rank: 18th)

On the other side of the special teams ledger, the Caps had their best record of the season.  It was their first perfect performance since Week 7 and fourth of the season.  The 12 power plays killed is the most for the Caps in a perfect week this year.  It is part of a longer streak of penalty killing success that the Caps have had – 40-for-45 over their last 12 games (88.9 percent).  It was an efficient, as well as effective week for the Caps.  They allowed only 13 shots in 22:09 of shorthanded ice time.  Their performance against Pittsburgh in the middle game of the week was excellent.  Even with Evgeni Malkin out of the lineup, the Caps allowed only two shots (both by David Perron) in 6:09 a man short.  A goaltender often needs to be a team’s best penalty killer, but in Week 17, the skaters killing off penalties did a fine job.

Even Strength Goals for/Goals Against: 6-5 / even (season, 5-on-5 goals for/goals against ratio: 1.12; rank: T-9th)

The Caps got behind the eight-ball early in the week in getting outscored at even strength by a 4-2 margin against the Columbus Blue Jackets, but they reversed that in the 4-0 shutout of the Penguins, scoring three even strength goals in that contest. That the Caps would allow only one even strength goal on 50 shots in the last 137:48 of the week, and that one at 4-on-4 in overtime to Montreal speaks to the discipline the Caps have been able to display on defense as well as excellent goaltending.  As for that 4-on-4 goal, it was only the second one allowed by the Caps this season.

Faceoffs: 85-171 / 49.7 percent (season: 51.2 percent; rank: 10th)

It was an even week overall for the Caps, but it was not that way in the game-by-game or underlying results.  Overall, the Caps struggled in the offensive zone for the week, winning only 24 of 55 faceoffs (43.6 percent), offsetting a winning week in the defensive end (32-for-62/51.6 percent) and the neutral zone (29-for-54/53.7 percent).  The Caps had a big night against the Penguins in the middle game of the week (39-for-63/61.9 percent), but they were well under 50 percent in the other two games (43.4 percent against Columbus, 41.8 percent against Montreal). 

Goals by Period:

It was slow start this week in the first period for both the Caps and their opponents.  Alex Ovechkin scored the only goal for the Caps in the opening frame for the week, getting the Caps started just 4:50 into their 4-0 win over Pittsburgh in the middle game of the week.  Washington held all three opponents without a first period goal.  The second period was a different story, and it was told in two parts.  There was the second period shootout against Columbus in which the Blue Jackets scored three times, twice getting out to two-goal leads with the Caps scoring twice themselves to inch to within a goal.  The Caps used the second period against Pittsburgh to purchase some insurance in the form of another Ovechkin goal to put the Caps ahead, 2-0.  The third period had the bad and the good (and the bad).  Against Columbus the Caps scored once in the third period, but only after the Blue Jackets went out to their third two-goal lead of the game.  Against the Penguins the Caps sealed the deal with two third period goals.  In the game in Montreal to end the week, one goal would have been enough in the third period, but they came up dry on 10 shots, then failed to record a shot in overtime in their 1-0 loss to the Canadiens.

In the end…

How thin the margin is between success and a week spent treading water.  A one-goal loss and an overtime loss was the difference between going 3-0-0 and going 1-1-1.  The Caps have been doing that a lot lately.  In their last three weeks, all of which were .500 weeks, all five losses were by a single goal, two of them in extra time.  Two of their three wins were by that margin as well.  No team has played as many one-goal games as the Caps (31), and Colorado is the only one to have played as many.  Eleven of their last 13 games have ended in one-goal decisions (4-3-4), making the 4-0 whitewashing of the Penguins an especially welcome outcome. 

However, if the Caps are going to be playing like this, so close to the margin, they are going to have to do better.  They have the sixth-worst winning percentage in one-goal games (.387/12-9-10), they have the third-most extra time losses (10), only Colorado has more overtimes losses (7) than the Caps (6), and Washington has yet to win a game when trailing at the second intermission this season (0-9-2).  That is not a formula for success in the last ten weeks of the season.

Three Stars:
  • First Star: Braden Holtby (1-1-1, 1.65, .943, 1 shutout)
  • Second Star: Alex Ovechkin (2-0-2, even, 19 shots on goal, 34 shot attempts, seven hits)
  • Third Star: Brooks Laich (0-1-1, even, 15:15 avg. ice time, 10 shots on goal, 11 shot attempts, eight hits, seven blocked shots)

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