Sunday, January 10, 2016

Washington Capitals: That Was The Week That Was -- Week 13

The number “13” was hardly an unlucky number for the Washington Capitals last week.  Week 13 was the team’s fifth unblemished week of the season, but it had its moments to test the mettle of the club and the blood pressure for the fans.

Record: 3-0-0

After closing Week 12 with the first consecutive losses of the season, the object of Week 13 was to keep from descending into a full-blown slump.  Making it a challenge was the fact that the Caps would try to turn things around on the road against three teams that had solid cases to make for earning a postseason berth.  While the Boston Bruins were a team struggling at home this year (a 9-10-2 home record when they faced the Caps), the two teams representing the boroughs of New York City – the Islanders and Rangers – had very good home records (13-6-2 and 15-5-1, respectively).

The next challenge to completing a successful week was roster-based.  The Caps started the week with three important cogs on the shelf.  Brooks Orpik and John Carlson were still out for the defense, and Jay Beagle was still out to thin the forward ranks.  By the end of the week, the forward ranks were thinned further, thank to actions on the ice and the Department of Player Safety.  Zach Sill and Marcus Johansson were given two-game vacations without pay, Sill sitting for his boarding Boston’s Adam McQuaid in the Caps’ 3-2 win on Tuesday, and Johansson sitting for his illegal check to the head of the Islanders’ Thomas Hickey in the Caps’ 4-1 win on Thursday.

The absences gave others a chance to step up, either into more responsible roles or into the lineup.  The defensive pairs of Matt Niskanen and Karl Alzner, and Dmitry Orlov and Nate Schmidt continued to play at a rung higher than their accustomed positions.  By week’s end Taylor Chorney and Aaron Ness were the third defensive pairing.  At forward, Andre Burakovsky, who has had an up-and-down year, was skating on the second line with Evgeny Kuznetsov and Justin Williams.  Michael Latta, who would not be assured a sweater on a fully healthy squad, was centering the third line with Tom Wilson and Jason Chimera.  The fourth line had Brooks Laich chaperoning Stanislav Galiev and Paul Carey, neither of whom started the year with the big club and who between them had nine games of action this season before Saturday, all of them by Galiev.

Offense:  3.67/game (season: 3.17 /game; rank: 2nd)

A team averaging more than three goals per game this season would be considered a high-powered offense.  Only three teams, including the Caps, could say that at the end of the week.  A team that scores three or more goals in a week’s worth of games has had a pretty good week.  The Caps did just that in their three wins.  And, while they did not do it against elite scoring defenses, they did do it against teams ranked in the middle of the pack in scoring defense (Bruins: 17th at the end of the week; Islanders: 12th; Rangers: 15th) and did it on their rinks.

Eight players shared in the 11 goals for the week, Alex Ovechkin leading the club with three.  Two of Ovechkin’s goals were game winners, including the overtime goal that put away the New York Rangers and left him with 499 career goals to end the week. Nicklas Backstrom was the other Cap with a multi-goal week (2), including the game-tying goal with 5.7 seconds left in the win over the Rangers. 

There were 12 players recording points for the week.  Backstrom added a pair of assist to his two goals to tie for the team lead in points in Week 13 (2-2-4).  Nate Schmidt had a four-point week as well (1-3-4), reaching the double-digit points mark for the season (2-8-10), the fifth Caps defenseman to get there.

Defense: 2.00/game (season: 2.15 /game; rank: 2nd)

After a span in which the Caps were allowing 30 or more shots with disturbing regularity, they have been better in that regard of late.  In week 13 they held the Bruins (27) and the Rangers under that threshold (26).  That made four games in six in which the Caps held opponents under 30 shots.

No single Capital was victimized disproportionately in Week 13 in terms of on-ice goals against.  There were 14 skaters on ice for goals against.  Brooks Laich was on ice for three of them (two against the Rangers when the Caps cobbled together a make shift fourth line), as was Karl Alzner.  There were 10 other skaters on ice for two goals against.

Possession was a mixed bag in Week 13.  Overall, the Caps were at 49.8 percent Corsi-for at 5-on-5 for the week (a minus-1 on 267 total shot attempts, for and against).  It was slightly better at a more discrete level.  The Caps were a 51.1 percent in close score situations (plus-3 in 133 attempts, for and against).  The Fenwick numbers were better still – 51.0 at 5-on-5 overall, 53.0 in close score situations (numbers from

Goaltending: 2.00 /.932 / 1 shutout (season: 2.02 / .927 / 2 shutouts)

It was Braden Holtby’s week in goal for the Caps, and it says something about his season to date that it was “average.”  He started the week with a 1.92 goals against average for the season, and he ended it at 1.93.  He started the week with a .932 save percentage, and that is how he ended it.  He was very consistent across the periods for eight regulation periods in Week 13, perfect in the first period (25-for-25), a ,935 save percentage in the second period, and a .958 save percentage in the third period of the first two games of the week.  Then came the third period against the Rangers.  Holtby allowed three goals on seven shots to allow the Rangers to take a 3-2 lead in a game the Caps led, 2-0, going into the last 20 minutes.  He stopped the leaking long enough to allow the Caps to tie the game late, then made a big save on Rick Nash from the low slot just before the game-winning goal in overtime.

In a goaltending footnote, it goes down as a blocked shot, but Nate Schmidt’s “save” on an attempt by Derek Stepan following up the Nash shot in overtime of the Ranger game might have been the save of the week:

Power Play: 2-for-8 / 25.0 percent (season: 25.6 percent; rank: 2nd)

Week 13 was the fourth consecutive week of 25.0 percent on the power play or better.  The Caps are 11-for-35 over that span (31.4 percent), covering 13 games.  It might not have been quite as good a week as a 25 percent week suggests.  Then again, there is a lot to be said for being alert.  The second power play goal of the week was an outright gift served up by the Rangers’ Dan Girardi to Alex Ovechkin:

Other than that, the Caps were 1-for-7 with the lone goal coming on a total of 11 shots in 12 minutes of power play ice time.

Opportunities continue to be an issue for the Caps.  They did not have more than three power plays in any game this week, and they have had more than three only once in their last ten games.  The Caps rank in the lower third in the league in total power play opportunities this season (21st) with 125.

Penalty Killing: 8-for-9 / 88.9 percent (season: 85.0 percent; rank: 5th)

The Caps had another good week on the penalty kill in Week 13.  Finishing the week with almost 90 percent efficiency and holding teams to nine opportunities qualifies.  The Caps have not finished under 80 percent for a week since Week 7.  In the six weeks since, they are 51-for-59 (86.4 percent).  In this most recent week.

For Week 13 the Caps allowed one goal to the Bruins to open the week, part of a week in which they allowed that single goal on 16 shots in 15:27 of shorthanded ice time.  It was, if not a sparkling week on the penalty kill, a solid one.

Even Strength 5-on-5 Goals for/Goals Against: 6-5 / plus-1 (season, 5-on-5 goals for/goals against ratio: 1.41; rank: 1st)

The Caps continued their overall consistency at 5-on-5 in Week 13.  It would have been better had the Caps not been outscored at fives by a 3-1 margin in the overtime win over the Rangers to end the week (the last “even strength” goal by the Caps was scored with the Caps’ net empty and a sixth attacker on the ice).

The Rangers game was, in fact, just the second time in the Caps’ last ten games in which they were outscored at 5-on-5, the Caps compiling a 24-15 advantage (1.60:1 goals-for/goals-against ratio).  The Caps have not been outscored at fives in consecutive games since Games 26-27 in early December (both minus-1 against Florida and Detroit).

Faceoffs: 83-for-162 / 51.2 percent (season: 49.6% / rank: 21st)

The Caps improved somewhat in the faceoff circle in Week 13, finishing over 50 percent overall for the sixth week this season and the first one since Week 7.  It was even a bit better than the overall numbers suggest, the Caps finishing to the good side of 50 percent in the offensive (51.1 percent) and defensive (53.6 percent) zones. 

It was a gratifying week to finish over 50 percent with their best faceoff man – Jay Beagle – out with an injury.  Of the five Caps to take more than ten draws for the week, Nicklas Backstrom (57.4), Marcus Johansson (64.3), and T.J. Oshie (53.8) won more than half of the draws they took.  Backstrom was the only Capital to finish over 50 percent in all three zones (offensive: 66.7; defensive: 54.5; neutral: 55.6).

Goals by Period:

There was consistency on offense in terms of outcomes by period, the Caps scoring four first period goals and three in the second and third periods of games (they added an overtime goal to make 11 total goals for the week).  It was on defense where there appeared cracks, and that was almost entirely a function of the week-ending game against the Rangers.  The Caps did not allow a first period goal in Week 13 and allowed only two in the second period of games.  However, the Caps did allow four third period goals this week, three of them coming in a span of just over seven minutes of their 4-3 overtime win over the Rangers to close the week.

In the end…

Beating three of the presumed competitors for a postseason spot on their respective rinks qualifies as a very good week.  One might have wished for a little tighter third period than the Caps exhibited against the Rangers, but grabbing back the momentum in a game in which you give it away is among the more difficult in-game things to achieve in team sports.  

It is worth noting that the third Ranger goal to give the Blueshirts the lead with 6:49 left in regulation in the last game of the week was not met by resignation, but with almost a sense of anger by the Caps.  From that goal forward, the Caps had 14 shot attempts to three for the Rangers over the last 8:14 of regulation and overtime.  They had eight shots on goal (two goals) to one for the Rangers, that coming in overtime just before the game-winner.  If nothing else, that comeback, coupled with the fact that it came with a lot of patchwork in the lineup, signaled that this is a team that is disinclined to give up on games or accept adversity as a condition.  It might be the difference between this edition of the Caps and all that have come before.

Three Stars:
  • First Star: Alex Ovechkin (3-0-3, plus-3, 2 GWG, 15 SOG, 27 shot attempts, 499th career goal)
  • Second Star: Nate Schmidt (1-3-4, plus-4, 20:19 average ice time, game-saving block in overtime against Rangers)
  • Third Star: Braden Holtby (3-0-0, 2.00, .932, 19-0-2 over last 22 appearances)

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