Sunday, November 22, 2015

Washington Capitals: That Was The Week That Was -- Week 6

The Washington Capitals have yet to experience losses in consecutive games this season.  Keeping that streak going in Week 6 ensured that they would not experience consecutive non-winning weeks for the first time this season.

Record: 2-1-0

After a 1-1-1 week in Week 5 in which the fate of the week was determined by the last game of the week, the Caps repeated the pattern in Week 6.  Unlike the result in Week 5, in which they lost to the Calgary Flames in overtime to finish with their first non-winning week of the season, the Caps steamrolled another Western Conference team – the Colorado Avalanche – to end Week 6 on a happier note.  It left the Caps with a 5-2-1 record against Western Conference teams.  On a standings points per game basis, their record so far against the West (1.38 points per game) is hardly distinguishable from that against the East (1.45 points per game).

Offense:  3.67/game (season: 3.16 /game; rank: 4th)

Did someone say, “sample size?” In a three-game week, an outlier – good or bad – will influence results quite a bit.  Such was the case in Week 6.  After recording a pair of goals in each of the first two games of the week, the Caps matched that total in the first period of their game against the Colorado Avalanche to close the week, then they added three more to finish with seven of their 11 goals for the week in a 7-3 win.

There were eight different goal scorers for the week and 14 different players with points.  Justin Williams, Evgeny Kuznetsov, and Alex Ovechkin each finished the week with a pair of goals.  Meanwhile, Kuznetsov (2-2-4) and Nicklas Backstrom (1-3-4) led the team in points for Week 6.  There were some surprises for the week, too, mostly on defense.  Four blueliners had goals for the week.  John Carlson, Nate Schmidt, Karl Alzner, and Dmitry Orlov all recorded goals in the Caps’ 7-3 win over Colorado to end the week.  Orlov’s goal snapped a 36-game personal streak without a goal dating back to March 2014.  He did it in fine style, too.

There were also the infrequently heard from Taylor Chorney, who recorded a pair of assists for the week (his first two points as a Capital), and there was also Jason Chimera, who recorded three assists in the win over Colorado, giving him two three-point games in his last five contests.

The big individual highlight of the week was Alex Ovechkin recording his 484th career goal, leaving him alone atop the list of Russian-born goal scorers in NHL history.  The goal came in the Caps’ only loss of the week, and it was a bit unusual in the way he scored it – a tap-in from the doorstep – but a goal off a Nicklas Backstrom feed has become quite a regular occurrence for the Caps over the past eight-plus years, and there should be many more to come.

Defense: 2.33/game (season: 2.32/game; rank: 6th)

The Caps continued their stinginess about allowing shots on goal in Week 6 with one exception.  After holding the Detroit Red Wings to 26 shots on goal in the first game of the week – the 15th consecutive game that Washington held an opponent to 30 or fewer shots – they allowed 31 shots on goal to the Dallas Stars in losing the middle game of the week, 3-2.

There was an odd sort of balance in the defense this week, and that was on the blue line.  The Matt Niskanen/Karl Alzner pair and the John Carlson/Nate Schmidt pair each were on ice for three of the seven goals scored against the Caps for the week.  The Taylor Chorney/Dmitry Orlov pair was on ice for the other one.  Brooks Orpik missed all three games with an injury.

It was not the best of weeks for the Caps, possession-wise.  In overall, score-adjusted, and close score situations, they were on the right side of 50 percent Corsi-for only in score-adjusted, and that was 50.2 percent (a plus-1 differential; numbers from  That was the problem with playing a good possession team themselves (Detroit) and a high-powered offensive team (Dallas).

Goaltending: 2.34 /.917 (season: 2.16 / .915)

Caps fans might be spoiled by the team’s goaltending if they thought it was a poor one in the nets.  As it was, it was a decent week.  Not a great one and not a disaster – a decent week.  It was also a week that illustrated the differences between last season and this.  With the Caps playing three games in Week 6, including a back-to-back, Braden Holtby almost certainly would have had all three starts if this was last season.  This season and this week, Philipp Grubauer got the middle game of the week, and he provided a good effort against a difficult opponent.  He allowed three goals on 31 shots against the top offensive team in the league, the Dallas Stars (3.55 goals per game at week’s end).  Unfortunately for him and the Caps, it was also the lone loss for the week. 

Braden Holtby bookended the week, beating the Detroit Red Wings in overtime and getting the win in the 7-3 win over Colorado on Saturday.  Overall he had a typically fine week (1.99 goals against, .925 save percentage), but while he was superb against the Red Wings (25 saves on 26 shots), he was uncharacteristically off his game a bit against the Avalanche, allowing three goals on 27 shots, the first time he allowed three goals in a game at home since he allowed three on 27 shots in a 5-0 loss to the San Jose Sharks in Game 2 of the season.

Power Play: 2-for-10 / 20.0 percent (season: 22.0 percent; rank: 7th)

The Caps are stuck on “two.”  They finished Week 6 with two power play goals, the third straight week they did so and for the fourth time in their last five weeks since recording five power play goals in Week 1.  In fact, over the last five weeks the Caps are just 8-for-46 with the man advantage (17.4 percent).

The best thing about the power play for the week was that the Caps recorded goals in both games in which they had power plays.  In the middle game of the week, against the Stars, the Caps were held without a power play opportunity for the first time this season.  In the other two games they had decent production, recording two goals on 18 shots in 19:03 of power play time.  It was a bit frustrating in two respects, though.  First, Alex Ovechkin drew a blank on six power play shots in 15:10 of total power play time.  He is 1-for-33 shooting on the power play this season (3.0 percent).

The other frustration was T.J. Oshie, who had two excellent opportunities from point blank one-timers against the Colorado Avalanche from the slot.  They were his only two power play shots on goal for the week.

Penalty Killing: 4-for-5 / 80.0 percent (season: 84.3 percent; rank: 8th)

The five shorthanded situations faced by the Caps in Week 6 was a season-low for a week and the fourth straight week in which they faced fewer than ten opponent power plays.  Washington has faced the fourth fewest number of shorthanded situations this season (51 in 19 games).  Only Buffalo, Minnesota, and Carolina have faced fewer.  No team has allowed fewer power play goals overall (8, tied with Carolina).

It was an efficient week for the penalty killers. They allowed only six shots on goal in 9:23 of power play time (0.64 shots per minute) and just the one power play goal, to the Avalanche in the week’s last game.  That goal was a bit disappointing, allowing the Avs to break down the Caps’ defense down low starting with what was the second instance of Jarome Iginla starting a play from low in the left wing corner on the same power play.  They Avs did better learning from the first instance than did the Caps.  Still, it was a pretty good week.

Even Strength 5-on-5 Goals for/Goals Against: 8-6 / even (season, 5-on-5 goals for/goals against ratio: 1.26; rank: 3rd)

What a difference one game can make.  The Caps were on their way to finishing the week under 50 percent of 5-on-5 goals scored (minus-2) when they took the ice against Colorado on Saturday.  Against the Avs the Caps won the even-strength battle, 6-2, on their way to a 7-3 win.  Seven different Caps shared in the 5-on-5 goals for the week, Alex Ovechkin the only player with two.  Add in a 3-on-3 goal in overtime by Evgeny Kuznetsov, and it was a pretty good week scoring at evens for the Caps.

Faceoffs: 88-for-171 / 51.5 percent (season: 50.6% / rank: 10th)

Week 6 in the faceoff circle looked a lot like Week 5 – good overall, but not so much in the particulars.  The Caps finished with the same winning percentage overall (51.5) that they did last week, but they were on the wrong side of 50 percent in two of the three games (pounding Colorado in the last game of the week for a 65.0 percent winning percentage) and struggling in the defensive zone (46.9 percent for the week).

Individually, four Caps took almost 90 percent of the draws overall.  Nicklas Backstrom (52.3 percent), Jay Beagle (55.0), and Michael Latta (65.6) had good weeks overall.  Evgeny Kuznetsov, on the other hand, had a pretty dismal week on the dot, finishing with just a 32.4 percent winning percentage on 37 draws.

Goals by Period:

It was an odd week for the Caps when you break the week down into its 20-minute increments.  Washington scored 11 goals for the week, none of them in the second period.  The middle period is also the only one in which the Caps were outscored for the week (0-2).  The best part of the week in this category was scoring six first period goals, including four in the first period against Colorado on Saturday.  Outscoring the Avs by a 4-0 margin in the opening 20 minutes broke a nine-game streak in which the Caps allowed the game’s first goal.  The four-spot also represented the first time the Caps opened a game with a four-goal first period since scoring four goals in the first 8:10 of the game in a 7-1 win over the Florida Panthers on March 7, 2013.

The big first periods for the week left the Caps tied for fifth in first period goals scored by week’s end.  But the third period was not bad, either.  It was only a 4-3 margin, but the Caps finished Week 6 with the fourth highest number of third period goals scored.  The disappointment here was in allowing the Dallas Stars to score the game-winner in a 3-2 loss in the third period after tying the game.

In the end…

This was the kind of week that had “big picture” written all over it.  In the “big picture,” the Caps might not want to overwork number one goalie Braden Holtby or at least subject him to 73 appearances as they did last season.  That argued for giving Philipp Grubauer a start, his fourth in 19 games.  At their respective paces, Holtby would finish with 65 appearances, Grubauer with 17, a much more manageable split between number one and backup than might have been the case last season.  And, while the Caps did lose Grubauer’s start to Dallas, it was not a case of succumbing to Dallas’ style of play.  They more than held their own in the possession numbers, a trait that has been consistent over the span of the entire season so far (the Caps are fourth overall in Corsi-for at 5-on-5).  It was one more week very much like the first five installments. 

The personality of the team is coming into focus as they reach the 20-game mark – consistent, fine possession characteristics, good goaltending, balanced scoring.  What more could one want at this stage of the season?  It will come in handy as the Capitals head into Thanksgiving Week and their first true four-game week of the season.

Three Stars:
  • First Star: Alex Ovechkin (2-1-3, plus-3, 14 shots on goal, 69.2 percent Corsi-for at 5-on-5; new all-time leader in goals by Russian-born players)
  • Second Star: Justin Williams (2-0-2, 55.1 percent Corsi-for at 5-on-5)
  • Third Star: Evgeny Kuznetsov (2-2-4, plus-3, OT/GWG)

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