As noted, it was a light work week for the Caps, just two games. It was their second two-game week in their last three and their first .500 week since Week 17. It was a test of sorts. The Caps started the week against a team that is all but out of the post season race, but one – the New Jersey Devils – that posed a systems challenge for the Capitals, being the sort of team that relies on technical execution and goaltending to win games more than skill. The Nashville Predators posed an entirely different sort of challenge. In the Predators, the Caps faced an elite team capable of beating opponents with overwhelming force (12 wins by three or more goals this season) or with top notch goaltending (Pekka Rinne is a top-five goaltender in most statistical categories).
The results were mixed. The Caps gave up a shorthanded goal and a goal in the last minute of regulation to be forced into overtime before escaping with a win against New Jersey. Against the Predators, the Caps fell behind early and often (0-3 before the game was 15 minutes old). While they did claw within a goal twice, the early deficit was too much to overcome for the Caps. It left the week a bit of a muddle, record-wise. A win against a struggling team, a loss that seemed less close than the score indicated against a team that served as a useful measuring stick.
Offense: 3.00/game (season: 2.85/game; rank: 8th)
Six goals in two games is not a bad output. However, when four of those goals come when the Caps are behind or tied, there is a certain sense of urgency (you might say, “panic”) that leaves one less than impressed with the overall result. It is of the sort of which one might ask, “where was this when the Caps were falling behind (against Nashville) or letting teams get back into the game (against the Devils)?”
It was an odd week in that Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom were held off the score sheet, extending their mutual streak without points to three games, the first time that happened since mid-November.
What the Caps got was secondary scoring (go figure). Troy Brouwer had a pair of goals against Nashville. Eric Fehr, Karl Alzner (seriously, go figure), Evgeny Kuznetsov, and Mike Green got the others. Matt Niskanen and Marcus Johansson each had three assists. However, eight players sharing points, even in two games, is not the kind of expansive sharing of scoring the Caps want or need this time of year.
Defense: 3.00/game (season: 2.43/game; rank: 7th)
Folks talk about playing 60 minutes, but the flip side of that is avoiding those short stretches of time in a game that can ruin a lot of good works otherwise performed. That was the case in Week 25. The Caps put the Devils in a bind with two goals in the first 22 minutes of the game. A shorthanded goal on a bad line change and a late extra-attacker goal wiped out that good early work on offense. Then there was the 15 minutes to open the game against the Predators in which the Caps allowed three goals.
It is in that context that the possession numbers for the Caps look so odd. At 5-on-5 overall, the Caps look pretty good for the two games, or at least not awful – a 51.2 Corsi-for percentage and a 47.5 Fenwick-for percentage. In close score situations, though, those numbers were 45.1 and 41.1, and that does not include the late antics against the Devils (based on how close score statistics are computed; numbers from war-on-ice.com).
Goaltending: 3.02 / .897 (season: 2.36 / .918 / 8 shutouts)
In a week when Justin Peters was the star in net (this being relative), you can tell it was not the best of weeks in netminding. Not that Peters was bad, or even mediocre. He stopped 13 of 14 shots in relief of Braden Holtby against Nashville. It is part of a rather good stretch of play for Peters. In his last four appearances he stopped 88 of 96 shots, a .917 save percentage, well above the .864 save percentage he had before these most recent four appearances.
Then there was Holtby. He had a good game against New Jersey (29 saves on 31 shots), but he was leaky against Nashville (three goals on 13 shots). It is a further indication of some slippage in his game. In his last 15 appearances he is 7-7-0 (one no-decision), 2.48, .918. He has been pulled as many times over those 15 games (twice) as he has shutouts (two). Seven times in those 15 games he allowed three or more goals. Here are some odd Holtby numbers: 4-4-2, 2.56, .907. That is his record with three or more days rest this season. He had four days off between his game against Winnipeg to close Week 24 and his appearance against New Jersey to open Week 25. He won that game and stopped 29 of 31 shots in the process, but the lack of rhythm in the schedule (he is 20-6-2, 1.83, .937, with five shutouts when playing on one day’s rest) might have affected him.
Power Play: 0-for-4 / 0.0 percent (season: 24.4 percent; rank: 1st)
No power play goals in Week 25. That broke a 24-week streak of recording at least one power play goal and a 34-week streak since taking the collar in Week 16 last season. Part of it was chances; the Caps had only four power play opportunities in the two games. It was not the quality of opponent that affected the result. New Jersey went into their game against Washington ranked 20th in penalty killing; Nashville was ranked 14th. It was not efficiency; the Caps recorded seven shots on goal in 5:25 of power play ice time. They even had 55 seconds of 5-on-3 power play time against Nashville. They got the shots from the players, okay..player, they wanted (Ovechkin had four of the seven shots on goal). Still, it was no goals for and even a shorthanded goal allowed (to New Jersey). It was just a bad week for what is arguably the best aspect of Capitals play.
Penalty Killing: 4-for-4 / 100.0 percent (season: 81.5 percent; rank: 15th)
On the other side of the special teams divide, the penalty killers had a good week. It was their third perfect week in their last nine, over which they are a solid 85.1 percent. They were effective (4-for-4) and efficient (allowing only four shots in 6:20 of shorthanded ice time). The Caps even threw in a shorthanded goal of their own for good measure. Part of it might have been quality of opponent – New Jersey had the league’s 12th-ranked power play going into their game against the Caps; Nashville was ranked 24th going into their game. Still, you take advantage of opportunities where you find them, something the Caps did not do in too many areas in Week 25.
Even Strength Goals for/Goals Against: 5-5 / even (season, 5-on-5 goals for/goals against ratio: 1.04; rank: 15th)
It was not a bad week at evens, but neither was it a good week. The goals were even, the shots relatively so (the Caps had 24 even strength shots to 28 for their two opponents). You might say that it was merely in a technical sense that the Caps were held even for the week, New Jersey’s late goal to tie the game in regulation coming with an extra attacker but recorded as an even strength goal. It was that 15 minute burst by the Predators to open the game on Saturday that leaves the bad taste in one’s mouth. Another example of a just a few minutes or weak play overshadowing a week’s effort.
Faceoffs: 61-123 / 49.6 percent (season: 51.4% / rank: 12th)
It was just about a down-the-middle week for the Caps in the circle. They all but split 123 total draws, and of the four players taking more than ten draws, two finished the week over 50 percent (Nicklas Backstrom: 52.3 percent; Eric Fehr: 56.0 percent), and two finished below that threshold (Evgeny Kuznetsov: 33.3 percent; Michael Latta: 46.7 percent).
The Caps were fine in the offensive zone (54.0 percent, but were taken to school in the defensive end (41.7 percent), the difference being incidences. The Caps enjoyed 14 more draws in the offensive zone (50) than they did in the defensive end (36).
Goals by Period:
The early damage and the late damage affected the week for the Caps. The three first period goals against Nashville being the only first period goals allowed in what would be a loss, a last-minute goal scored by New Jersey being the only third period goal allowed that tied the game and forced the Caps to overtime to secure the win.
The three first period goals by Nashville was the odd occurrence, given the Caps ability to hold things down in the opening period (sixth fewest first period goals allowed going into the game) and the Predators’ middling ability to score early (only 54 goals scored in the first period).
In the end…
The Caps are, at this point, a most befuddling team. Consider the 2015 portion of their season. They are 22-14-3 in those games, almost evenly split between teams that are currently playoff eligible and teams that are not. You would expect that the Caps would feast on the also-rans and, hopefully, hold their own against the contenders. What you find, though, it a bit different:
This is what frustrates Caps fans no end, an ability to play good teams tough and an unnerving ability to play down to their opponents if those opponents are of the struggling sort. It is not the losing to the Nashville’s of the world that will do in the Caps, should they miss the post season, it is letting teams like the Devils hang around and make their lives difficult. In that sense, Week 25 was a microcosm of the Caps’ season. If the Caps get into the post season, they can play those teams tough, but if they don’t it will be because they played weak against the weaklings.
- First Star: Troy Brouwer (2-0-2, plus-2, 11 hits, 5-for-9 on faceoffs)
- Second Star: Evgeny Kuznetsov (1-1-2, plus-2, game-winning goal)
- Third Star: Matt Niskanen (0-3-3, plus-1, assist on game-winning goal)