Sunday, February 22, 2015

Washington Capitals: That Was The Week That Was -- Week 20

For the Washington Capitals, Week 20 was about as good as it gets, perhaps their best week of the season.  Four games, four wins, two of them against divisional rivals (one of them the division leader), and a win against one of the best teams in the West.  If weeks were graded on a “plus-minus” basis, it would be hard to find much in terms of minus in Week 20.

Record: 4-0-0

The Capitals came into Week 20 having posted six three-game winning streaks this season. Each time they failed to add a fourth win.  The seventh time was the charm in this case as the Caps cobbled together their first four-game winning streak of the season and their longest winning streak since an eight-game winning streak late in the 2012-2013 season.  The week left the Caps with an 8-2-0 record over their last ten games (currently the best ten-game record in the Metropolitan Division) and sitting in third place in the Metropolitan Division, tied with the New York Rangers in standings points (the Rangers have three games in hand) and four behind the New York Islanders. 

Offense: 3.75/game (season: 2.93 /game; rank: 7th)

It was a week for the big guns to lead coming out of the gate and for the support troops to end it on a high note.  Alex Ovechkin had his second four-point game of the season to open the week, a two-goal/two-assist game against the Anaheim Ducks in a 5-3 win.  Ovechkin had a goal and an assist in the Caps’ 3-1 win over Pittsburgh, then Nicklas Backstrom took over with a pair of goals and an assist in a 5-1 win over Winnipeg.  In the last game of the week it was Matt Niskanen getting his first even-strength goals with the Caps this season and Eric Fehr breaking an eight-game streak without a point to score a late goal in the Caps’ 3-2 Gimmick win over the New York Islanders.  In the trick shot phase of that game it was Evgeny Kuznetsov scoring the only goal, giving him four goals on seven freestyle attempts this season, the best shooting percentage (57.1) among Caps having taken more than one shot this season.

Defense: 1.75/game (season: 2.42 /game; rank: 5th)

It was a deceptive week in some respects.  The scoring defense was impressive, especially when considering that the Caps faced the fourth and ninth best scoring offenses in the league in the Islanders and the Ducks.  Add in Pittsburgh’s always dangerous Sidney  Crsoby/Evgeni Malkin duo (14th-ranked scoring offense), and it was quite a test for the week.

OK, so that is the context.  The Caps did allow an average of 29.5 shots against for the week, but that number includes only 20 shots allowed to the Winnipeg Jets in a 5-1 win.  But here is where it gets a bit strange.  The possession numbers for the week were middle of the road.  Overall the Caps had a Corsi-for percentage at 5-on-5 of 48.5 and a Fenwick-for percentage of 50.2.  The numbers improved, but not significantly, in close score situations (50.7 Corsi, 50.3 Fenwick).  But here is the thing.  That last game of the week against the Islanders, the Caps were Corsi plus-7 in close score situations (all numbers from 

That number includes some bizarre period-by-period results (if not unexpected, given how the game played out).  The Caps out attempted the Islanders by a 30-17 margin in the second period after out-attempting them 10-9 in close score situations.  Carrying that 40-26 advantage into the third period the Islanders flipped the switch and ended regulation with a 24-19 advantage in the third period.  Consider that in a span of 4:36 in the third period between Eric Fehr’s goal to put the Caps ahead, 2-1, and Ryan Strome’s goal to tie the game with 48 second left, the Islanders out-attempted the Caps, 14-0.  That is not a misprint.  The Islanders attempted 14 shots on goal (seven SOG, including the game-tying goal) to none for the Caps.  Fehr’s goal was the last shot attempted by the Caps in regulation time.  Too much “prevent” defense prevents wins in regulation time, and it took a bite out of the Caps at the end of regulation in Saturday’s game.

Goaltending: 1.71 / .942 (season: 2.36 / .917 / 6 shutouts)

It was a very good week, quantitatively and qualitatively.  As to the latter, Justin Peters got a start, opening the week against the Anaheim Ducks.  It was not the easiest of assignments, given that the Ducks were averaging 2.84 goals per game at the time.  Peters stopped 30 of 33 shots, including all nine in the third period and 24 of the last 25 shots he faced for the game in a 5-3 win.  Braden Holtby played in the other three games for the week and allowed only four goals on 88 shots (.955 save percentage).  He ended the week as the third-leading goalie in goals against average (2.14) and tied for fourth in save percentage (.925).

Power Play: 6-for-17 / 35.3 percent (season: 24.3 percent; rank: 2nd)

The Caps scored as many power play goals in Week 20 as they did in the previous four weeks combined (six).  It was their most effective week (35.3 percent) in a week with five of more power plays since Week 8 (57.1 percent) and their second best of nine weeks this season in which they had ten or more man advantages (Week 5: 4-10/40.0 percent).  It was an effective power play, fueled by the usual suspects. Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom had two power play goals apiece; Ovechkin had two assists and Backstrom three.  Mike Green added three assists. In all, seven players shared in the power play points for the week.  It was, perhaps, a bit of an unusual result, given that the Caps managed those six goals on 24 shots in 26:34 of power play time.  Averaging a bit less than a shot per minute of power play ice time is not particularly impressive, but the results for Week 20 certainly were.

Penalty Killing: 11-for-11 / 100.0 percent / (season: 81.4 percent; rank: 16th)

The Caps killed all 11 shorthanded situations for Week 20, the second time this season in 11 instances that they were perfect in killing ten or more such situations.  It was an especially good week given that three of the opponents were in the top half of the league power play rankings.  One might have liked the Caps to do it a bit differently, but one should not be too picky here.  As it was, Caps goalies stopped all 26 power play shots they faced in 21:08 of shorthanded ice time.  And it was not as if the Caps were confining shots to bit players.  Corey Perry recorded five power play shots for Anaheim.  Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby had a pair of shots apiece.  They did keep John Tavares from getting any shots on goal with the man advantage for the Islanders in the last game of the week and kept things to the outside against the Jets on Thursday, so one could see improvement in terms of keeping the more dangerous shooters in check.

Even Strength Goals for/Goals Against: 9-7 / plus-2 (season, 5-on-5 goals for/goals against ratio: 1.08; rank: 12th)

Win the even strength battle, win the week.  It was true for the Caps, who won two games outright (against Anaheim and Winnipeg) and held another opponent even (the Islanders) at even strength.  Only against Pittsburgh, against whom the Caps allowed just one even strength goal (their first goal against the Caps in three games this season), did the Caps lose the even strength game within a game.  They won the shots battle for the week at even strength (99-94) and split the games, recording more even strength shots against Anaheim (23-22) and Winnipeg (21-14) while losing that battle to Pittsburgh (23-24) and to the Islanders (27-29).

Faceoffs: 123-235 / 52.3 percent (season: 51.0 percent; rank: 13th)

It was a good week overall, if a bit uneven.  The Caps were under 50 percent in the offensive zone for the week (48.1 percent), but were over 50 percent in the other two zones (defensive: 54.1 percent; neutral: 55.0 percent).  It did not keep Washington from winning three of four games in the circle and holding a fourth opponent even.  On an individual level Nicklas Backstrom had a very good week – 59.5 percent overall and excellent in all three zones (offensive: 56.8 percent); defensive: 66.7 percent); neutral: 53.3 percent).  Eric Fehr also had a fine week, going 34-for-60 (56.7 percent).

Goals by Period:

What jumps out here, in more ways than one, is the fact that the Caps allowed only one third period goal all week.  That lone goal was the difference between a 4-0-0 week and a perfect 4-0-0 week in which all games were won in regulation time.  It was the goal that the Islanders scored with 48 seconds left in regulation that was the lone third-period blemish in Week 20.  Even with that goal, the Caps jumped into ninth place in the league in fewest third period goals allowed (48).

At the other end, the story was balance.  Six first period goals four second period goals, and five tallies in the third period made for a productive week.  Those six first period goals allowed the Caps to either take a lead into the first intermission (twice) or hold opponents even at the break (twice).

In the end…

It is really difficult to make up ground late in the season in the NHL.  Need convincing?  The Caps started Week 20 in fourth place in the Metropolitan Division, seven points behind the New York Islanders.  Despite playing four games, a generally heavy work load for a week, and winning them all, the Caps finished the week in third place, four points behind the Isles, who were 2-1-1 for the week.

Nevertheless, the 4-0-0 week, coming with just 22 games left in the season, might be an indicator that the Caps are ramping up their performance as the playoff approach.  This was always the hoped-for result, that whatever difficulties they might encounter with yet another head coach taking over at the start of this season would evaporate as they became accustomed to playing in the manner Barry Trotz wanted them to play.  The defensive shell the Caps retreated into at the end of the game of their last game of the week was something of a disappointment, not to mention frustrating, but these are wins in the bank against some difficult opponents, a couple of which they might be seeing down the road.  Week 20 was a very good week.

Three Stars:
  • First Star: Alex Ovechkin (4-4-8, plus-4, one game-winning goal, 16 shots on goal, 41 shot attempts)
  • Second Star: Braden Holtby (3-0-0, 1.30, .955)
  • Third Star:  Nicklas Backstrom (2-5-7, 2 PPG, 47-for-79 on faceoffs (59.5 percent))

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