Sunday, March 15, 2015

Washington Capitals: That Was The Week That Was -- Week 23

Week 23 was not kind to the Washington Capitals.  It extended a disconcerting trend, one of alternating good and bad weeks.  Since Week 18, the Caps have alternated winning and losing weeks, Week 23 being the second winless week in the last three.  It is not the sort of trend one would want to see as the season heads into it final weeks.

Record: 0-2-0

Week 23 was the second week in the last three that the Caps failed to secure a win.  They are 11-9-0 since setting off on this on-again/off-again alternating weeks of good and bad trip over the last six weeks.  The Caps have not beaten a playoff-eligible team since they took down the New York Islanders in a Gimmick on February 21st.  They have not beaten a playoff-eligible in regulation or overtime since they beat Winnipeg, 5-1, on February 19th.  You could say that the Caps haven’t played very many playoff-eligible teams since that win over the Islanders – three teams in nine games.  True, but the Caps are 0-3-0 in those games and 3-6-0 overall in those nine games.  Week 23 just added to the slump.

Offense:  1.50/game (season: 2.90/game; rank: 7th)

It was a poor week at the offensive end of the ice for the Caps, especially for the guys who have been here a while.  Evgeny Kuznetsov led the team in scoring for the short week, going 1-2-3 in the two games.  Curtis Glencross had one of the other two goals, while Andre Burakovsky added an assist. That’s two rookies and the new guy from Calgary doing their part.  After that, Alex Ovechkin had a goal but had his four-game goal scoring streak stopped against the Dallas Stars to close the week.  Joel Ward had a goal, but otherwise the third line was not heard from.  Troy Brouwer had an assists, and that was it from the second line.  It was not a good week for the guys on offense.

Defense: 3.50/game (season: 2.44/game; rank: 7th)

One of the things that has become common to playing playoff-eligible teams is the Caps being out-shot.  When the Rangers out-shot the Caps by a 31-29 margin on Wednesday, it was the fourth straight game that Washington was out-shot by a playoff-eligible team.  And, the two games in Week 23 in which the Caps were outshot overall, It made it four games in five overall in which the Caps were out-shot and six in seven in which they allowed 30 or more shots.  The only interruption in either of those streaks was the Caps out-shooting the woeful Buffalo Sabres, 45-17, on March 7th.

Illness and injury threw the Caps’ defensive pairs into turmoil, forcing the team to mix up the first pair (with Brooks Orpik out) and the third pair (with Mike Green out) for the game against the Rangers to start the week.  Green returned for the game against the Stars, but there were still after-shocks.  As it was, John Carlson, who was paired with Nate Schmidt in place of Orpik at even strength and with Tim Gleason on the penalty kill, ended up being on ice for five of the seven goals scored against the Caps in Week 23.

Possession was an odd thing, not all that surprising in a week of light work where variations can be magnified in small populations of games.  The Caps had a 53.1 percent Corsi-for at 5-on-5 overall, a product of out-attempting the Rangers, 52-34, at 5-on-5 in the game to open the week.  In close score situations, that Corsi-for number was a lot different: 38.6 percent.  What accounts for the difference?  The Caps out-attempted the Rangers, 31-7, at 5-on-5 overall in the third period of their 3-1 loss, which does not show  up in the “close score” number.

Goaltending: 3.56 / .887 (season: 2.38 / .917 / 7 shutouts)

The news this week in this category boils down to a single number: 33:54.  That was the ice time logged by Braden Holtby against the Dallas Stars before he was relieved by Justin Peters, having allowed four goals on 22 shots in the Caps’ 4-1 loss.  It was the first game that Braden Holtby was pulled early after starting the game since he was relieved after giving up three goals on seven shots in 9:34 of work in a 6-5 loss to the San Jose Sharks on October 14th.  He had gone 55 consecutive starts without being relieved (he relieved Justin Peters for a period in a 6-2 loss to Toronto last November 29th).

Holtby has been slipping lately.  Since winning three in a row and allowing just four goals on 85 shots in mid-February, he is 3-6-0, 2.63, .913, with one shutout (two of the wins came against the imploding Maple Leafs and the ghastly Sabres).  If it is a slump, that is one thing.  Slumps have two phases – a downward one and then an upward one when one emerges from it.  If it is his workload showing, that might be a different matter.

Justin Peters got mop-up duty against the Stars, his first work in almost a month.  He stopped all nine shots he faced in almost 24 minutes of work, the third straight appearance in which he stopped at least 90 percent of the shots he faced (.915 save percentage overall) after having a string of five straight appearances in which he failed to meet that 90 percent standard.

Power Play: 1-for-6 / 16.7 percent (season: 24.6 percent; rank: 2nd)

The Caps came into the week on a power play tear, going 6-for-10 over their previous six games dating back to the third period of their 4-3 loss to Pittsburgh on February 25th.  The Caps made it 7-for-11 when they scored on their first power play of Week 23 in the 3-1 loss to the Rangers.  That would do it for the week on the man advantage, though. 

The Caps wrapped up the week shooting blanks on their last five power plays.  Overall they finished with one goal on six power plays, converting that single goal on ten shots in 10:25 of power play ice time.  The efficiency for the week, and the week itself, might have been less disappointing if not for a single one of those shots.  On a 5-on-3 power play against the Rangers, with New York holding a 2-1 lead, Nicklas Backstrom took a nifty through-the-top-of-the-crease feed from Joel Ward and had an open short side at which to shoot.  His wrister was gloved down by Ranger goalie Cam Talbot, and the threat passed, the Caps’ best chance to make it a game.

Penalty Killing: 6-for-9 / 66.7 percent (season: 81.0 percent; rank: 16th)

It started well enough for the Caps killing penalties in Week 23.  They we perfect in three shorthanded situations against the Rangers.  It fell apart against the Dallas Stars.  The Stars scored on their first power play, scored on the front half of a double minor penalty to Joel Ward, then scored on what was their  fourth power play 14 minutes into the second period, taking a 4-1 lead and ending the competitive portion of the game.

Part of the problem against the Stars was luck (the first power play goal was a deflection off Curtis Glencross’ skate), poor positioning (Tyler Seguin could have written an opera with the time he had to set up to take a slap shot from the left wing circle), and fate (the Stars scored on a 2-on-1 rush after Eric Fehr shot wide on a good shorthanded scoring chance).

As it was, the Caps allowed three goals on 13 shots in 15:37 in shorthanded ice time.  It was not as much an inefficient week (shots per minute of shorthanded ice time) as ineffectiveness that might have been a product of unfamiliarity.  John Carlson and Tim Gleason were a pair victimized twice by Dallas extra-man goals.

Even Strength Goals for/Goals Against: 2-4 / minus-2 (season, 5-on-5 goals for/goals against ratio: 1.08; rank: 13th)

It was not the what, but the when.  Four even strength goals allowed is not an awful week, but allowing three of them to the Rangers in the first game of the week, while getting none of their own, sank the Caps in the first game in the week.  And, allowing just one was not enough in the second game of the week when the penalty kill was being shredded.

At the other end, Curtis Glencross and Evgeny Kuznetsov scored the only even-strength goals for the Caps in Week 23.  Kuznetsov’s was technically an even strength goal, although it was scored with the Caps’ net empty for a sixth attacker late in the 4-2 loss to Dallas.  It was hardly a surprising result, give that the Caps were out-shot by a 35-19 margin in the first and second periods of the two games for the week (only one even strength shot from Alex Ovechkin in the first two periods of the two games).  That kind of anemic production at evens did as much as anything to ruin the week for Washington.

Faceoffs:73-130 / 56.2 percent (season: 51.6% / rank: 9th)

Well, there was one good thing about the week, and it was largely wasted.  The Caps dominated faceoffs in all three zones.  It was largely due to Eric Fehr, who had a monster week in the circle, if a meek one (no points) in the two games this week.  Fehr was 22-for-29 overall (75.9 percent) and was well over 50 percent in each of the three zones – 70.0 percent in the offensive zone, 66.7 percent in the defensive zone, and 90.0 percent in the neutral zone.

Nicklas Backstrom had what for him was an off week.  He managed only 16 wins in 37 faceoffs, coming out on the losing end in each of the three zones (44.4/42.9/42.9 in the offensive, defensive, and neutral zones, respectively).

Goals by Period:

The Caps took it in the teeth in the first and second periods of games for the week.  They took a 2-1 deficit to the locker room at the first intermission of both games.  The Caps being a team that entered the week with a 2-9-4 record when trailing after one period, that was not a good sign in either game.

The Caps could not make up for it in the third period, recording only a late extra-attacker goal in the 4-2 loss to Dallas.  It was another example of a thin week on offense for the Caps.

In the end…

Do you remember those B-movie adventure flicks when some poor unsuspecting soul would wander into a pool of quicksand and be slowly, inexorably sucked into its pit?

The Caps have that look at the moment (minus the shrieking).  They are not awful, but they are slowly slipping in the standings, making things a lot more suspenseful than fans would like. 

The schedule to close the season does the Caps no favors, either.  Six of the Caps’ last 13 games are at home, and the schedule is sprinkled with teams that are currently playoff eligible or closing on the Caps for that position: Boston twice, the New York Rangers twice, Minnesota, Winnipeg, Nashville, Montreal, Detroit, and Ottawa.  If the Caps continue as there are, there is still time for them to sink under the quicksand.

Three Stars:
  • First Star: Evgeny Kuznetsov (1-2-3, even, nine shots on goal, 11 shot attempts, five hits)
  • Second Star: Alex Ovechkin (1-1-2, seven shots on goal, 21 shot attempts, ten hits)
  • Third Star: Justin Peters (9-for-9/1.000 save percentage in 23:56)
The stars were a bit dimmer this week…

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