Sunday, April 05, 2015

Washington Capitals: That Was The Week That Was -- Week 26

Where Week 25 was a light, two-game work week, the Washington Capitals returned to a heavier load with four games in Week 26.  The added on-ice work was to the liking of the Caps, who returned to a winning profile.  It put the team on the brink of clinching a return to the post season after a one-year absence.

Record: 3-0-1

The Caps got back on track in Week 26, winning the first three games of the week before dropping an overtime decision to the Ottawa Senators to close the week.  While Washington has not been able to peel off long winning streaks this season (their longest is four games), they do have eight three-game winning streak, enabling them to bite off big chunks of win on a weekly basis.  In the last 13 weeks of the season the Caps have won three or more games six times and have only two losing weeks in compiling a 24-14-4 record.

Offense:  4.00/game (season: 2.91/game; rank: 6th)

It was a solid week overall for the Caps on the offensive side of the ledger.  When the Caps opened the week with three wins, they did so scoring a total of 13 goals, the first time they recorded that many in a three-game stretch since mid-February and only the third three-game stretch of scoring 13 or more goals this season.  As it was, the Caps ended the week on a six-game streak having scored three or more goals per game, tying their longest such streak of the season.

On an individual basis, Alex Ovechkin led the week with five goals, becoming just the sixth player in league history to record six 50-goal seasons. He will almost certainly be the only player to finish this season with 50 goals (Steven Stamkos has 42).  If he should be the only player to finish with 50 or more goals, it will be the third time he has done so.  Only Bobby Hull (yes, Bobby, not Brett) will have done it more times (four).

Joel Ward added three goals to put him on the edge of what would be his second, and second consecutive 20-goal season.

John Carlson was passing out assists in Week 26 with enthusiasm, six in all.  He is now tied for fifth with Montreal’s P.K. Subban among defensemen in assists (42) and is sixth overall in points (53).  He became the 11th defenseman in Caps history to record at least 50 points in a season (the 30th such season).

As it was, seven players shared in the 16 goals, and 17 players recorded points.  Not bad balance for a four-game week.

Defense: 3.00/game (season: 2.46/game; rank: 8th)

On defense it was a matter of results offering a clear picture of the week in the midst of muddied possession numbers.  The Caps were outshot by only a 105-102 margin, and 5-on-5 possession numbers were respectable overall (51.9 percent Corsi-for; 53.1 percent Fenwick-for).  However, the Caps were outshot, 39-28, in the first periods of games. They spent too much time on their heels early in games. 

Then, the close score numbers were not quite as flattering for the Caps.  In those situations the Caps were barely over 50 percent in both Corsi-for and Fenwick-for (50.6/50.8; plus-2 in both categories for the week).  The game against Ottawa offered, as one might expect, the starkest difference.  Washington was plus-22 in shot attempts at 5-on-5 overall (Corsi-for: 62.2 percent), but in close score situations the Caps were minus-1 (47.8 percent).  That is what falling behind by three goals early does (numbers from

Goaltending: 2.90 / .885 (season: 2.42 / .915 / 8 shutouts)

For the second straight week Capitals goaltending did not reach the .900 save percentage threshold.  This some cause for concern.  Braden Holtby got all the minutes in Week 26, and though he went 3-0-1, his .885 save percentage for the week is part of a longer streak – 12 games – in which his save percentage has been barely above that .900 threshold overall (.903).

The problem was early in games for Holtby.  His save percentage in the first periods of games was .872 (34-for-39), and it was .844 in the second period (27-for-32).  He had strong third periods (.966 on 28-for-29) and allowed only a breakaway goal on four shots in two overtimes.

Still, the Caps might not be able to count of simply outscoring opponents in high-scoring games to have much success going forward.  Holtby, whose four-goals allowed against Ottawa was an underappreciated effort given the nature of the goals scored, still has to find his groove again.

Power Play: 4-for-9 / 44.4 percent (season: 25.2 percent; rank: 1st)

The Caps had one of their better weeks on the power play in Week 26, recording their fifth week of the season with four or more goals and sixth week at 40 percent or greater.  The 4-for-9 effort in Week 26 makes the Caps 20-for-66 over their last seven weeks covering 23 games.

As good as those numbers are, there are things to note, particularly frequency.  The 66 opportunities over 23 games works out to 2.87 chances per game.  They did not have a single opportunity against the Carolina Hurricanes in the second game of the week, the first time the Caps went without a power play opportunity since November 15th against St. Louis and the first time it happened at home since March 4, 2012 against the Philadelphia Flyers.

It was, even with the low opportunity volume, an efficient week.  Four goals on ten shots (40.0 percent) in 11:20 of power play time for the week.  The Caps do not get a lot of opportunities, but they have been making what they do get count.

Penalty Killing: 11-for-14 / 78.6 percent (season: 81.3 percent; rank: 14th)

The Caps started the week on a roll, having killed eight power plays in a row over three-plus games.  They extended the run by killing off all seven power plays they faced against the Rangers and Nashville.  When they killed off the first three power plays they faced against Montreal, it brought the streak to 18 straight.  Then P.K. Subban scored a power play goal for the Canadiens late to send the game to overtime.  Then the Ottawa Senators scored on their first two power plays – both of the 5-on-3 variety – in the Caps’ next game.  The Caps ended the week allowing three power play goals on the last four shorthanded situations they faced.

They just spent too much time killing penalties, especially when compared to the time they spent on their own man advantage.  The Caps spent 10:25 more killing penalties than they did on the power play; they faced five more power plays than they themselves had.  It masked what was not a bad week for the penalty killers in other ways.  They allowed only 17 shots in 21:45 of shorthanded ice time.  Two of the goals they allowed came on 5-on-3 power plays just 53 seconds apart.  It looked worse than it was, but that does not mean it was good, either.

Even Strength Goals for/Goals Against: 12-9 / plus-3 (season, 5-on-5 goals for/goals against ratio: 1.06; rank: 15th)

Getting a 3-0-1 week and going plus-3 in even strength goals for and against is not likely to be a coincidence.  Six of the top seven teams in the league in wins have 5-on-5 goal ratios of 1.10 or better (Anaheim at 1.05 being the exception), four of them at 1.20 or better. 

The Caps won three of the games at even strength, losing the even strength battle only to Montreal (1-3).  They did it winning the even strength shots battle for the week, 92-87, but they split the games, and the 31-22 edge the Caps had over Ottawa was fueled in part by the score effects of falling behind by three goals and the Senators playing a safer game.

Faceoffs: 120-247 / 48.6 percent (season: 51.3% / rank: 12th)

It was a luke-warm week in the circle for the Caps, splitting the games down the middle and having a split of sorts in the zones as well – 55.7 percent in the neutral zone, 50.0 percent in the defensive zone, and 40.0 percent in the offensive zone.  The offensive zone was especially problematic for the Caps against the Rangers, against whom they won only four of 17 draws.

On an individual basis, Nicklas Backstrom returned to more accustomed levels of performance winning 44 of 85 draws (51.8 percent).  He finished the week 18th overall among 84 qualifying players in faceoff winning percentage for the season (53.6 percent).  After that, however, only Troy Brouwer among the other four players taking ten or more draws topped 50 percent for the week (53.8 percent/7-for-13).

Goals by Period:

The Caps found themselves in a bind early in games, allowing 10 of the 12 goals surrendered for the week in the first (5) and second (5) periods. Conversely, the Caps were much more effective late, scoring 13 of their 16 goals in the second (6) and third (7) periods.

What it meant was that the Caps allowed the first goal in the last two games of the week and still managed a win and an overtime loss.  For a team that had one just seven times in 36 games when allowing the first goal, it showed a certain resiliency, but it is not the sort of thing one wants to test too often, either.

In the end…

The old Al Davis saying about the Oakland Raiders of the NFL has meaning at this time of year: “Just win, baby.”  The Caps did that despite underlying numbers that, except for the even strength scoring numbers, did not have the look of a 3-0-1 week.  However, goals and assists are for fantasy players, and fancy stats are indicators, not the means to keep score. 

On a granular level, the underlying numbers were not even that bad, considering that the Caps were facing two very good teams who play very well in their own buildings – the New York Rangers and Montreal – and a team that is in a death struggle to make the playoffs in the Ottawa Senators.  Getting the wins in that context makes Week 26 a very good one, indeed, for the Washington Capitals.

Three Stars:
  • First Star: Alex Ovechkin (5-1-6, plus-1, 17 shots on goal, 34 shot attempts, 12 hits, new franchise record holder for goals (474))
  • Second Star: John Carlson (0-6-6, plus-2, five shots on goal, nine blocked shots, almost 23 minutes of ice time per game)
  • Third Star: Joel Ward (3-1-4, plus-1)

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