In Week 18 the Washington Capitals hit the 50-game mark of the season. Game 50 would be the only loss of the week for the Caps as they finished with a three-game winning streak that propelled them to within two points of the top spot in the Metropolitan Division by week’s end. It was a return to a winning week and the latest in a long march that has seen the Caps go 18-5-6 since they were 10-10-4 on December 2nd.
The Caps lost the week’s first game, a 4-3 decision against the St. Louis Blues. It was the first loss in regulation time at home for the Caps in 2015, and it broke a streak of ten straight games at home earning points (8-0-2). That would be the last loss of the week for Washington as the assembled their sixth three-game winning streak of the year.
Of the four decisions for the week, there were three of the one-goal variety. That made 34 one-goal decisions for the Caps (14-10-10), most in the league. One of the one-goal wins came against the Anaheim Ducks. Until Corey Perry scored for the Ducks to tie the game, 2-2, with just over six minutes left in regulation time, the Caps were on a path to give the Ducks their first one-goal loss in regulation this season. As it was, the 3-2 trick shot win over the Ducks gave Anaheim only their seventh loss (all in extra time, five in the Gimmick) in 30 one-goal decisions.
Offense: 2.75/game (season: 2.91 /game; rank: 8th)
The offense had a European bent to it in Week 18. Alex Ovechkin led the club in goals (three) and points (five), Evgeny Kuznetsov chipped in a goal and three assists, as did Nicklas Backstrom. Ovechkin had a three-point game to open the week, while Backstrom had a pair of two-point games. It brought the total of multi-point games for both to 17th, tied for second in the league this season behind the Dallas Stars’ Tyler Seguin. For Kuznetsov the four-point week left him in eighth place among rookies in total scoring (22 points).
Mike Green had three assists for the week from the blue line in three games before sitting out the Caps win over Anaheim with an injury. His two-point game against St. Louis to open the week left him with 11 multi-point games this season, tied for the league lead among defensemen with Pittsburgh’s Kris Letang. Among defensemen playing in at least 30 games this season, Green is fourth in the league in points per game (0.22).
Defense: 1.75/game (season: 2.42 /game; rank: 7th)
When the Caps allowed 40 shots on goal to the St. Louis Blues to open Week 18, it was the first time since allowing 40 to the Chicago Blackhawks on November 7th in a 3-2 win, and it was the first time the Caps allowed that many shots on goal at home all season. They returned to normal over the last three games of the week, yielding a total of only 78 shots on goal (26.0 per game).
There has been a fair amount of rending of garments over the Caps’ situation at right wing on the top line. Over the passage of time the Caps have employed Tom Wilson, Andre Burakovsky, Jay Beagle, Marcus Johansson, Eric Fehr, Mike Gartner, Bobby Gould, and Hartland Monahan at the position (ok, not the last three) in an effort to find a reliable partner. In Week 18 the issue was at the defensive end of the ice. Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom were on ice together for three of the seven goals against. Three different players were on the right wing when the goals were scored – Jay Beagle, Troy Brouwer , and Marcus Johansson. The hunt continues.
Goaltending: 1.72 / .941 / 1 SO (season: 2.33 / .918 / 6 shutouts)
For the first time this season the Caps employed three goaltenders over the course of a week. Justin Peters opened the week, and his experience was one of showing the effects of rust on how he was able to manage his game (most notable rebounds) and his teammates picking the wrong time to be so porous in shots allowed (40). The combination was not conducive to winning as the Caps fell behind the eight-ball early against the Blues (a power play goal in the third minute) and could never overtake the visitors.
Braden Holtby got the middle two games of the week and was, as he has been over the past three months, excellent. Not that he didn’t have help. The Caps rediscovered their ability to minimize chances. Holtby had to face only 12 shots on goal in the first period of the two games combined, stopping all of them. Peters faced more than that in each of the first two period of his game against St. Louis. Still, Holtby stopped 52 of 53 shots faced for the week (.981 save percentage). It is part of a longer run that is rather amazing. In his last four-plus games Holtby has stopped 118 of 120 shots faced (.983 save percentage) since allowing a goal to Columbus’ Cam Atkinson 5:20 into the Caps’ 4-3 loss to the Blue Jackets on January 27th.
Philipp Grubauer was called up from Hershey to man the nets in the last game of the week. He continued the fine work he was showing with the Bears. In his last 10 games with Hershey before his call up, Grubauer was 7-2-1, 1.62, .934, with one shutout. He looked a bit nervous in the opening period against Anaheim but held the Ducks to only a late power play goal. The Caps locked down the Ducks in the second and third period, and Grubauer was almost perfect with the light work. He allowed Corey Perry to bank a shot off his left skate for the tying goal in the third period, but he turned away both shots in overtime and two of three in the freestyle competition to get the game’s first star and his first win of the year.
Power Play: 2-for-8 / 25.0 percent (season: 23.4 percent; rank: 3rd)
Week 18 was a good week for the power play; there just wasn’t enough of it. In each of the first two games of the week the Caps enjoyed three power plays, scoring a goal in each game. In the last two games of the week they managed to be awarded only one man advantage in each, failing to register on either of them. It was the first time since November 20the and 22nd that the Caps were awarded only one power play in consecutive games and the first time they went consecutive games with just one power play in each without scoring since April 23rd and 25th in the 2012-2013 season.
It made for an uneven week. In the first two games of the week the Caps were 2-for-6 on 2-for-10 shooting in 12:17 of power play time. Effective, if not terribly efficient on a shots per minute basis. In the last two games of the week the Caps were 0-for-2 on 0-for-3 shooting in four minutes of power play time. That might be as much a product of the infrequency of occurrences. As it was, the usual suspects were involved in the scoring. Mike Green and Nicklas Backstrom assisted on both goals, one by Alex Ovechkin and one by Troy Brouwer.
Penalty Killing: 8-for-10 / 80.0 percent / (season: 80.9 percent; rank: 18th)
It was a good week for the Caps, better than it looked for that matter. The why was in the goaltending. Justin Peters and Philipp Grubauer combined to stop 10 of 12 shots over 8:35 of penalty killing time, while Braden Holtby stopped all seven shots he faced in killing off all five power plays he faced in ten minutes of shorthanded ice time. Part of it was opportunities. The Caps held the Los Angeles Kings to just one power play opportunity and no shots on goal on the man advantage.
The highlight of the week might have been the third period of the 2-1 win over Ottawa, an episode that held the good and the bad. The bad was taking three minor penalties in the first 5:08 of the period. The good was killing all of them off as Holtby turned away all six shots in six minutes of shorthanded ice time.
Even Strength Goals for/Goals Against: 9-5 / plus-4 (season, 5-on-5 goals for/goals against ratio: 1.14; rank: 8th)
Winning the even strength battle was something the Caps didn’t do well last season, finishing 23rd in the league in 5-on-5 goals for/goals against ratio (0.90) and 24th in Corsi-for percentage at 5-on-5 (47.7). They have improved significantly in this area this season, rising to eighth in goals for/goals against ratio (1.14) and tenth in Corsi-for percentage (51.7).
This week the Caps dominated the even strength battle, but three of the four-goal margin was earned in the Caps’ 4-0 shutout of the Los Angeles Kings. The Caps are still playing games close to the margin, relying more on holding down opponents’ scoring (five even strength goals in the other three games this week) than scoring them (six in the three other games of the week).
Faceoffs: 114-212 / 53.8 percent (season: 51.4 percent; rank: 9th)
The Caps had a good week in the circle, winning three of the four games and two of the three zones. They were especially good in the defensive end, winning 41 of 66 draws (62.1 percent). It was even better considering the players who regularly take draws on the top three lines. Nicklas Backstrom (13-for-19), Troy Brouwer (8-for-12), and Eric Fehr (6-for-7) were a combined 27-for-38 (71.1 percent) in the defensive zone for the week. In the offensive zone that trio was not as effective, going a combined 25-for-53 (47.2 percent), Fehr the only one to finish over 50 percent (7-for-11). Meanwhile, there was Jay Beagle, quiet and consistent, winning all three zones of the week from the fourth line – 3-for-4 in the offensive end, 5-for-8 in the defensive zone, and 4-for-5 in the neutral zone to post the best numbers for the week (12-for-17, 70.6 percent).
Goals by Period:
For the Caps the week was spotting teams goals early (first goals scored by all three opponents against the Kings), then trying to close the gap late. It did not work against the Blues, despite getting goals in each of the second and third periods. It did work late in the week, though, as the Caps spotted Ottawa and Anaheim goals but scored three second period goals and one in the third period on their way to a pair of one-goal wins. It left the Caps a consistent group in scoring by period for the season in a comparative sense – tied for eighth in first period goals scored (43), third in second period goals scored, and tied for 11th in goals scored in the third period – and consistent in goal differential by period (plus-8 in each of the first and third periods, plus-13 in the second period).
In the end…
The Caps have been the tortoise in an 82-game season. Without the benefit of a winning streak of more than three games all season, they are only two points out of the Metropolitan Division lead. Five of those three-game streaks have come since December 2nd, the fifth of them authored in the last three games of the week.
As for Week 18, a loss to St. Louis being the only blemish was disappointing, as any loss might be, but not discouraging given that came in the second of a back-to-back set of games against a team that was on a 9-0-1 run at the time. The end of the week was a lot more pleasant, especially beating the defending Stanley Cup champions and then sweeping a back-to-back set of games that showed off the depth of goaltending in the organization. Missing the services of Mike Green, who sat out the last game of the week with an injury, was a bit disturbing, but on balance, it was still a very good week.
- First Star: Braden Holtby (2-0-0, 0.50, .981, 1 shutout)
- Second Star: Alex Ovechkin (3-2-5, plus-1, 16 shots on goal, 45 shot attempts, 15 hits)
- Third Star: Evgeny Kuznetsov (1-3-4, plus-3, shootout goal)