When the Washington Capitals defeated the Montreal Canadiens on Saturday night, the Caps completed their second consecutive perfect week and extended their season-high winning streak to seven games.
What made the second consecutive 3-0-0 week important for the Capitals was the “who” the wins came against as much as the “how many” wins they recorded. The Caps opened the week by falling behind the New York Rangers, 3-1, before roaring back with six unanswered goals in a 7-3 win. The win helped the Caps finish Week 11 a full ten points clear of the Rangers in the standings with two games in hand. The last game of the week, a solid 3-1 win over the Montreal Canadiens, might have come against a depleted and struggling club, but that win enabled the Caps to finish the week 11 points ahead of a club that started the year 9-0-0. At the moment, those two clubs are the closest pursuers of the Caps (the Canadiens tied with the Detroit Red Wings, and New York Islanders with 43 points).
Offense: 4.00/game (season: 3.12 /game; rank: 2nd)
Sure, the Caps had that seven-goal game against the Rangers to open the week, but Week 11 was a solid week offensively for the club.
It was the first time since Week 2 that the
Caps scored three or more goals in each of a week’s games (edit: as a careful reader points out, the Caps didn't score three or more in all three games of Week 11...too much egg nog led me to write that, I suspect; it was still a solid week).
Illustrating how deep the club is, it was Jason Chimera who led the Caps in goals for the week and who was tied for the team lead in points (3-1-4). Eight different Caps recorded goals, Justin Williams and Evgeny Kuznetsov with the other multi-goal weeks (two apiece). Marcus Johansson tied Chimera for the team lead in points (1-3-4).
And more evidence of depth. Tom Wilson recorded his second multi-point game of the season with a pair of assists in the 3-1 win over Montreal to end the week. Dmitry Orlov also recorded his second multi-point game of the season, posting a pair of assists in the 7-3 win over the Rangers to start the week. His three assist overall tied Wilson, Johansson, and Nicklas Backstrom for club-high in Week 11. That is a lot of names noted for a three-game week.
Defense: 1.67/game (season: 2.12 /game; rank:1st)
Washington started Week 11 as if chickens would come home to roost, poor possession numbers over more than a month finally being reflected by a poor result on the scoreboard. By week’s end, the Caps did not cure their possession ills, but they did bend the possession curve a bit more in their favor.
The shots against remained a problem, the Caps allowing all three opponents 30 or more shots on goal. But even there, progress was made. After allowing 36 shots to the Rangers in the first game of the week (15 of them in the first period, when the Rangers scored their three goals), the Caps allowed 32 shots to the Carolina Hurricanes in the middle game of the week, then 30 shots on goal in the 3-1 win over Montreal to end Week 11.
The possession numbers looked a bit better. Washington could not crack the 50 percent level in Corsi-for at 5-on-5 overall for the week, but they did a better job in close score situations. After a grisly 35.6 percent Corsi for in close score situations to open the week, the Caps were 53.2 percent in those situations against Carolina and 52.9 percent against Montreal to close the week (numbers from war-on-ice.com). It was the first time the Caps cleared 50 percent Corsi for in close score situations in consecutive games since they did so in Games 21 and 22 against the Winnipeg Jets and Tampa Bay Lightning in late November.
Goaltending: 1.67 /.949 (season: 1.99 / .929 / 1 shutout)
Washington passed a noteworthy threshold in Week 11. For the first time this season – 34 games into the season, mind you – team goals against average fell below 2.00. It did not look possible the way the week started. Braden Holtby allowed three goals on the first 15 shots he faced in the first period against the Rangers to start the week. It was a performance that almost resulted in his second consecutive game being pulled for Philipp Grubauer. Holtby returned to the ice for the second period and stopped the last 21 shots he faced in a 7-3 win. When he stopped 29 of 30 shots against Montreal in a 3-1 win, he ended the week turning away 50 of the last 51 shots he faced. At the end of the week, among 28 goalies logging at least 1,000 minutes of ice time, Holtby led the league in wins (22, four more than Jonathan Quick and Corey Crawford), goals against average (1.92, 0.08 better than Ben Bishop), and save percentage (.932, .006 better than Bishop and Jake Allen).
The middle game of the week belonged to Philipp Grubauer, who was solid in a 31-save, 2-1 win over the Carolina Hurricanes. Going back to the third period of his appearance against the Florida Panthers on December 10th, Grubauer has stopped 41 of 42 shots on goal, an 0.60 goals against average in just over 100 minutes of ice time and a .976 save percentage.
Power Play: 2-for-7 / 28.6 percent (season: 25.2 percent; rank: 2nd)
If there was one place in which the Caps started the week better than they finished it, it was on the power play. In the first game of the week, the Caps scored power play goals on their last two man advantages of the contest (of three opportunities in all). They went 0-for-2 in each of the last two games of the week, the first time they had two or fewer power play opportunities in consecutive games since Game 10 and 11 of the season on October 21st and November 3rd, part of a three-game streak of two or fewer man advantages (they were blanked in all three instances).
The Caps were effective, their 28.6 percent success rate for the week lifting their season success rate to 25.2 percent, but they were better in terms of efficiency. Washington recorded 15 shots on goal in 11:31 of power play ice time (1.30 shots per minute), and it was not as if the shots were coming from odd players. Alex Ovechkin had six shots of the team’s 15 on the power play for the week. The odd part there was the balance. Ovechkin had five of those shots on goal against the Rangers in the first game of the week, scoring one of the power play goals. Justin Williams had the other power play goal for the week, also against the Rangers, in his only power play shot on goal for the week.
Penalty Killing: 9-for-10 / 90.0 percent (season: 84.7 percent; rank: 5th)
Week 11 would qualify as a good week for the penalty killers. It was the second consecutive week that the Caps finished a week over 85 percent, the first time this season they accomplished that feat. It was also a 90 percent week, the first time they hit or surpassed that mark since Week 3 when they killed off all nine shorthanded situations they faced.
One might have liked finishing the week with less time spent killing penalties, the Caps skating 18:20 in shorthanded situations, 6:49 more than they spent on the power play. But they made up for it with killing off penalties in an efficient manner, allowing only 17 shots on goal in that 18:20 of shorthanded ice time (0.93 shots per minute).
Even Strength 5-on-5 Goals for/Goals Against: 9-4 / plus-5 (season, 5-on-5 goals for/goals against ratio: 1.42; rank: 1st)
If the Capitals did not dominate at 5-on-5 in terms of possession, they certainly did on the scoreboard. What possession did not provide, persistence did. In getting to the net, that is. Of the nine 5-on-5 goals scored by the Caps in Week 11, only two were officially scored from beyond 15 feet (Marcus Johansson, 18 feet in the 7-3 win over the Rangers; Jay Beagle, 31 feet in the 3-1 win over Montreal).
The week made for an odd juxtaposition of 5-on-5 possession and 5-on-5 scoring. While the Caps now sit in 15th place in Corsi-for at 5-on-5 (numbers from war-on-ice.com), they are third in total goals scored at 5-on-5 and have allowed the second fewest of 5-on-5 goals. Their goals for-to-goals scored ratio of 1.42:1 leads the league by a wide margin (Rangers: 1.28).
Faceoffs: 81-for-166 / 48.8 percent (season: 49.91% / rank: 17th)
The Caps slipped below 50 percent on faceoffs for the season in Week 11 on a 48.8 percent week. It was another case of a tale of two ends. The Caps went just 22-for-50 in the offensive end (44.0 percent) but went 34-for-63 in the defensive end (54.0 percent). The odd part of the week on a team basis was its only winning effort in the circle. The Caps won 26 of 43 draws in their 2-1 win over the Carolina Hurricanes in the middle game of the week. Compare the 43 draws in that game to the 65 in the win over the Rangers and the 58 in the win over the Canadiens. The 43 faceoffs was a reflection of the hectic pace of the game, a lot of end to end action with very few whistles.
On an individual basis, it is no surprise that Jay Beagle led the Caps for the week with a 54.3 percent winning effort. Among players taking at least 250 draws, Beagle ranks sixth in the league at 58.0 percent. He was especially effective in the defensive end in Week 11, winning 14 of 20 faceoffs (70.0 percent).
If there was a surprise, it was Evgeny Kuznetsov credited with a 53.8 winning percentage for the week on 21 wins in 39 draws taken. Most of that was a function of his neutral zone performance – 11-for-15 (73.3 percent).
Goals by Period:
More evidence of solid offense; the Caps scored goals in eight of nine periods for the week. And, except for that three-goal first period to open the week, the Caps were stingy at the other end, allowing goals in only two of the other eight periods of hockey. After catching the Rangers at the 7:01 mark of the second period in the first game of the week, the Caps played the last 152:59 of the week either tied or ahead in games.
The Caps are the only club in the league to have allowed 25 or fewer goals in each of the three regulation periods this season. How impressive it that? There are 14 teams in the league to have allowed more than 25 goals in each of the three regulation periods this season.
In the end…
It was another fine week in a season full of them for the Capitals so far this season. Ten winning weeks in 11 tries, fastest club to 26 wins (34 games, beating the 1991-1992 club that did it in 40 games). The Caps lead the league in scoring defense and are second in scoring offense. Only the Caps and the Dallas Stars have an average goal differential of 1.00 goals per game. The Caps are top five in power play (second) and penalty killing (fifth). While there are possession issues that point to a lingering “productivity” problem, the performance of this club to date is little short of remarkable. Week 11 had it all on display, an ability to comeback in games, a stifling defense that can win one-goal games, an opportunistic offense that can take advantage of a team with its own injury and performance issues. This is not just a dominant team at the moment, but a versatile one. It can beat opponents in a variety of ways and in a variety of game styles. Can it last? At the moment, the Caps offer little evidence that is cannot.
- First Star: Jason Chimera (3-1-4, plus-4, shorthanded goal, game-winning goal, goals in three consecutive games, points in four straight games and five of six contests)
- Second Star: Tom Wilson (0-3-3, plus-5, reached double digits in points for the season (12th Capital to do so), answered challenge to scrap with Montreal’s Jarred Tinordi)
- Third Star: Philipp Grubauer (31-save effort in 2-1 win over Carolina, first time he won in consecutive appearances since his first two appearances of the season)