Sunday, March 01, 2015

Washington Capitals: That Was The Week That Was -- Week 21

You hope it does not happen, and for the Washington Capitals it had not happened since Week 4 – a pointless week.  As in Week 4, the Caps went 0-3-0 in Week 21.  It is not as if the result put the Caps in imminent threat of being overtaken in the standings, but they did see their points lead over eighth-place Boston shrink from seven to five points from Week 20 and, more important their lead over ninth-place Florida shrink from 11 to nine points. 

Record: 0-3-0

The week was spent entirely in the Metropolitan Division.  Going into it one might have thought – might have expected, in fact -- that the “3” would be wins, or at least include wins and extra time losses.  Philadelphia was fighting an uphill battle to become relevant in the playoff race, the Caps had won three straight against Pittsburgh and outscored them in the process by a 10-1 margin, and Carolina was long gone as a post season contender.  Instead, the Caps gave up the first goal in all three games, trailed at the first intermission in two (tied in the other), and lost three games in a row in regulation for the first time in almost four months.

Offense:  1.67/game (season: 2.87/game; rank: 8th)

Offense?  What offense?  Five goals in 180 minutes of hockey for the week, no player recording more than one goal, only one player recording more than two points.  What was most surprising was the utter lack of contributions from the guys who are counted on to make contributions.  Among Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, and Mike Green, one point was posted – a late power play goal by Ovechkin in the Caps’ 4-3 loss to the Penguins in the middle game of the week.  The other goals were scored by grinders Tom Wilson, Joel Ward, and Troy Brouwer; and John Carlson got the fifth one.  Carlson led the team in points for the week with three (1-2-3); Eric Fehr and Jason Chimera getting a pair of assists apiece.  Part of the problem was getting shots to the net.  The Caps managed only 75 shots on goal for the week while 96 attempts failed to find their way there. 

Defense: 3.33/game (season: 2.46/game; rank: 9th)

It was not that the three opponents for the Caps in Week 21 pummeled them with shot attempts (though there was some of that at even stength) as much as it was shots finding their way to the net and to the back of it.  Over the three games, the shot attempts overall favored opponents by a 173-171 margin.  However, the shots on goal favored opponents by a 92-75 margin.  When opponents shot to a 10.9 percent rate and the Caps to just a 6.7 percent rate, the week’s fate was sealed.

As far as possession was concerned, the opponents had it, the Caps did not.  The Caps were consistent about it, too, and not in a good way.  Washington’s Corsi-for percentage overall at 5-on-5 against Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, and Carolina was 47.0, 47.0, and 47.4, respectively, making for a 47.1 percent week.  Fenwick for was worse – 46.5, 46.8, and 45.5, respectively.  Close score situations were worse still – 41.7 percent Corsi-for percentage and 42.2 percent Fenwick-for (all numbers from  It was not a good week.

Goaltending: 3.14 / .901 (season: 2.39 / .916 / 6 shutouts)

Braden Holtby was the goalie of record for Week 21, and chances are he’d like the record expunged.  He dug himself an early hole against the Flyers to open the week, allowing two power play goals on 11 shots in the first 21:34.  He allowed three goals on 12 shots in 23:16 to open the game against Pittsburgh.  He allowed two goals on 13 shots in the first 30:15 against Carolina.  His overall performance against Carolina probably deserved better – he stopped 35 of 37 shots and kept the Caps in the game in the last half of the contest until he was pulled with more than three minutes left.  Still, a 21-for-25 save record in the first period of games (.840 save percentage) made things difficult for the Caps and for himself in Week 21.  There has to be some concern at this point about his workload.  Holtby leads the league in goalie minutes played (3,169), more than 500 more than he played last year in what was his career high season (2,656).  With 19 games left to play, it is not hard to think he will get another 900 minutes (15 games), pushing him past the 4,000 minute mark.  Think on this.  Since the 2004-2005 lockout, there have been 37 seasons of 4,000 or more minutes by goaltenders.  Only one – Jonathan Quick’s 4,099 minute season in 2011-2012 – ended in a Stanley Cup.  Only one – Quick’s – ended in a Stanley Cup final.

Power Play: 1-for-12 / 8.3 percent (season: 23.3 percent; rank: 2nd)

Not the best of weeks for the power play, despite twice enjoying five or more in a game.  Against the Flyers and Penguins the Caps had a total of 11 power plays, scoring just one goal.  It was a far cry from the last time the Caps had 11 power plays in consecutive games, in Week 20 it turns out, when the Caps went 5-for-11 against the Penguins and the Winnipeg Jets.  It is hard to be successful on the power play if no shots are on goal.  Against Philadelphia and Pittsburgh the Caps managed only eight shots on goal in 19:02 of power play ice time and allowed a shorthanded goal to the Penguins.  To end the week the Caps managed just a single power play against Carolina, the least penalized team in the league (169 minors in 60 games before facing the Caps).  Jason Chimera and Marcus Johansson managed the only shots on the lone power play, so it was not all that surprising that the Caps came up empty.

Penalty Killing: 9-for-12 / 75.0 percent (season: 81.1 percent; rank: 17th)

It was not much of a week for the penalty killers, either, especially early – in the week and in games.   Philadelphia scored two power play goals in the first 21:34 of the first game of the week to put the Caps in a 2-0 hole out of which the Caps could not climb.  Pittsburgh scored a power play goal 3:16 into the second period of the middle game of the week to put the Caps down a pair of goals after the Caps regained a measure of momentum with a last-minute first period goal.  Other than that, the penalty kill was not that bad, which is small (to the point of being microscopic) consolation.  The Caps allowed 19 shots in 19:38 of penalty killing time, that minutes number being key.  The Caps spent 10:32 killing penalties against Pittsburgh, all in a second period in which Washington took seven minor penalties, six of which resulted in power plays for the Penguins.  The Caps shutout the Hurricanes in the last game of the week on four shots over two power plays, but the week’s damage to the penalty kill had been done.

Even Strength Goals for/Goals Against: 4-6 / minus-2 (season, 5-on-5 goals for/goals against ratio: 1.06; rank: 14th)

It was not an altogether bad week at even strength, but it was bad where it should not have been.  The Caps won the even-strength goal battle against Philadelphia (2-1) to open the week, but those two power play goals and the hole they left proved too deep.  And, it was a late third period even strength goal that was the difference for the Flyers.  Washington held the Penguins even at even-strength in their 4-3 loss, but it was a third period even strength goal that provided insurance for the Penguins (the Caps later scored a power play goal) in the 4-3 Penguins win.  Against Carolina, a team that entered their game with the Caps ranked 27th in the league in 5-on-5 goals ratio, outscored the Caps by a 3-0 margin at evens.  At even strength, the Caps had a poor sense of timing in Week 21.


If there was one area in which the Caps did well in Week 21, it was taking faceoffs.  They won all three zones for the week and finished with a 55.1 percent success rate overall.  Six Caps took at least ten draws, and all of them finished over 50 percent: Troy Brouwer (60.9 percent), Jay Beagle (57.1), Nicklas Backstrom (56.7), Evgeny Kuznetsov (56.0), Michael Latta (53.8), and Eric Fehr (52.5).  Backstrom’s week was of particular note in one respect.  Only six players having taken more draws than Backstrom (1,238 draws) have a better winning percentage for the season than his 53.9 percent: Mikko Koivu (55.3 percent on 1,398 draws), Ryan Kesler (55.7 percent on 1,279 draws), Claude Giroux (55.9 percent on 1,509 draws), Antoine Vermette (56.0 percent on 1,381 draws), Jonathan Toews (56.2 percent on 1,325 draws) and Patrice Bergeron (59.8 percent on 1,395 draws).

Goals by Period:

It was the first periods of games that did the Caps in for Week 21.  They were outscored by a 4-1 margin overall, failed to score first in any of the three games, and trailed at the first intermission in all three games.  The third period was not much better.  Washington failed to score in the third period against Philadelphia and Carolina, and while they managed two goals against Pittsburgh, neither of them tied the game; they merely brought the Caps to within a goal.  It was the goal allowed between those two goals that gave the Penguins their margin of victory.

In the end…

On the one hand, weeks like this will happen over a season that lasts six months.  On the other, this is poor timing for the Caps, who after Week 20 were challenging for the Metropolitan Division lead.  Now, with an oh-fer week, there is the faint sound of hoof beats behind them from teams trying to gallop back into the post-season discussion.  A lot of things broke down in Week 21 – scoring from the scorers, goaltending, discipline, timely saves and goals.  And still, the Caps had two one-goal losses in the three-loss week.  In a perverse sense, it suggests that the Caps remain a pretty good team. 

Then again, being a pretty good team is no guarantee of making the post-season.  The upcoming week is one in which the Caps can make hay while the sun shines (so to speak, this being winter still).  Toronto, Columbus, and Buffalo are weak teams and/or teams looking forward to next season.  Minnesota is a team hanging by a thread in the playoff race in the West, but the Wild is not a team that should be thought of as superior to the Caps.  We will see whether Week 21 was a speed bump on the road to the post-season or evidence of deeper problems that threaten their arrival at their post-season destination.

Three Stars:
  • First Star: John Carlson (1-2-3, 8 SOG)
  • Second Star: Eric Fehr (two assists, 52.5 percent faceoff wins, plus-1 for the week)
  • Third Star: Jason Chimera (two assists, one punch decision over Zac Rinaldo in fight against the Flyers, 7 shot attempts against Carolina)

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