Sunday, January 17, 2016

Washington Capitals: That Was The Week That Was -- Week 14

Week 14 might be described in terms of wine-tasting… a fine bouquet, full-bodied, impressive depth…but a disappointing finish…

Record: 2-1-0

Week 14 was the ninth consecutive winning week for the Caps and their 13th winning week overall for the season.  They finished the week with a league-leading 33 wins, three more than the Chicago Blackhawks (the Caps holding three games in hand), and 31 wins in regulation and overtime, two more than the Blackhawks.  With the two wins for the week coming on home ice, the Caps finished Week 14 with the league’s best record on a standings points-per-game basis (1.67), ahead of the Blackhawks (1.56) and the Dallas Stars (1.55).

When the Caps beat the Vancouver Canucks, 4-1, in the middle game of the week, it extended Washington’s most recent winning streak to five games, the fourth time this season that the Caps have had a winning streak of five games or more.  The strange thing about the week, though, was the loss.  Of the Caps’ five losses since December 1st (three in regulation, two in extra time), four of them were suffered against teams that today would not be in the playoffs: Winnipeg (2-1 in overtime on December 5th), Carolina (4-2 on December 31st), Columbus (5-4 in a Gimmick on January 2nd), and Buffalo (4-1 on January 16th).

Offense:  4.00/game (season: 3.23 /game; rank: 2nd)

The Capitals faced two teams to start the week – Ottawa and Vancouver – who were in the bottom five in the league in shots on goal allowed per game.  Against a team like the Caps that has considerable depth on offense, that can be a problem.  It was for the Senators, who allowed seven goals to the Caps, and the Canucks, who allowed four goals to Washington.

Against the Sabres to end the week, the Caps just couldn’t find a way to get started.  They were out-attempted (8-6) and out-chanced (4-2) by Buffalo at 5-on-5 in the first period when they fell behind, 2-0.  It did not get any better in the second period in terms of attempts, but the Caps could not convert their scoring chance advantage (5-3, numbers from  By that time it was 4-0, Sabres, and the goose, as they say, was cooked.

The Caps got two-goal weeks from Alex Ovechkin, Evgeny Kuznetsov, and Tom Wilson.  Ovechkin scored his pair – his 500th and 501st career goals – in the win over Ottawa to start the week, and Kuznetsov got his pair in the win over Vancouver on Thursday.  Wilson had one against each of the Senators and Canucks.

Assists were something of an unexpected matter. Andre Burakovsky might contribute four assists over three games on a more regular basis when he has a few more years under his belt, but four in Week 14 he had, getting a pair in each of the games against Ottawa and Vancouver.  Jason Chimera also had a four-assist week, getting his second three-assist game of the season against Ottawa.

Defense: 2.00/game (season: 2.14 /game; rank:1st)

It is nice to see consecutive weeks allowing 2.00 goals per game, but allowing two-thirds of the week’s goals to the league’s 27th-ranked offense made for some funky aftertaste to what was otherwise a good week.  What made it stranger was the fact that the Caps allowed the Sabres only 45 shot attempts (only 25 at 5-on-5) for the game in their 4-1 loss.  The 29 shots on goal allowed was the lowest of the three games, too.  The problem was in allowing Buffalo too many good looks at the net in the opportunities they had, recording 11 scoring chances to go with their 25 shot attempts at 5-on-5 (numbers from 

It made for an odd week in terms of the underlying numbers.  The Buffalo loss was the difference between a good week overall, which it was, and a really good week.  As it was, the Caps had an overall Corsi-for percentage at 5-on-5 of 55.9 and a close score Corsi of 58.0.  Take away that Buffalo loss, and the numbers would have been 54.7 and 61.8, respectively.

At an individual level it was a bit odd, too.  Justin Williams (best Corsi-for and best Corsi-relative at 5-on-5 among the forwards, ten games minimum) had an uncharacteristic three-goals against on ice for the week, two at even strength.  Three other Caps were on-ice for three goals against for the week: Dmitry Orlov, Nate Schmidt, and Evgeny Kuznetsov.

Goaltending: 2.00 /.935 (season: 2.02 / .929 / 2 shutouts)

It is not common for Philipp Grubauer to get more minutes for a week than Braden Holtby, but such was the case in Week 14.  Grubauer had 93 minutes for the week, stopping 44 of the 46 shots he faced (1.29/.957).  Holtby finished the week with 87 minutes, stopping 42 of 46 shots (2.75/.913), and he was relieved after giving up three goals on 16 shots in 27 minutes of work.

Grubauer has pieced together an impressive body of work over the last month.  He does not get a lot of calls with Holtby at or near the top of the rankings in most goaltender statistics, but in his last five appearances he is 3-1-0 (one no-decision), 1.48, .950.

Holtby saw his incredible string of appearances without a regulation loss come to an end in the 4-1 loss at Buffalo on Saturday.  For the week he was 1-1-0.  In the 23-appearance stretch over which he was 20-0-2, he posted a 1.85 goals against average and a .939 save percentage with two shutouts.

Power Play: 2-for-9 / 22.2 percent (season: 25.4 percent; rank: 2nd)

The Caps slipped just a bit on the power play in Week 14, the first time since Week 9 that they did not finish a week at 25 percent or better.  The week started as if the Caps would continue that string, going 2-for-3 in the 71 win over Ottawa last Sunday.  Drawing blanks against Vancouver on two chances and again against Buffalo on four opportunities dropped them under 25 percent for the week.  The consecutive games without a power play goal was the first time that happened since Games 34-35 back on December 26-28 (the last of three straight without a power play goal).

It was a case of sometimes the shots just not going in.  Washington pummeled opposing goalies for 26 shots in just 15:46 of power play time (1.65 shots per minute).  And the shots came from the players they need to have getting them.  Alex Ovechkin had seven power play shots on goal to lead the club (one goal).  Justin Williams had four.  Nicklas Backstrom and Evgeny Kuznetsov split six shots from their perch on the right wing of the power play.  T.J. Oshie had a goal on the two shots he recorded.

The disappointment, in addition to the finish of the week, was yielding a shorthanded goal to Buffalo when a goal on that power play would have tied the game.  It was just the second shorthanded goal allowed by the Caps this season and jut the second scored by the Sabres, but it might have been the turning point that turned a potential perfect week into something that was not.

Penalty Killing: 10-for-12 / 83.3 percent (season: 84.8 percent; rank: 4th)

There have been some cracks in the armor of the Caps’ penalty kill lately.  After finishing the 2015 portion of the season with five straight games allowing no power play goals (15-for-15), the Caps are just 19-for-24 (79.2 percent) in the new year.  They started the year allowing power play goals in consecutive games, then ran off three in a row in which they did not.  They finished this week allowing power play goals in each of the last two games. 

It was not an especially efficient penalty kill, especially as the week wore on.  Washington allowed only seven shots on goal (no scores) in eight minutes of shorthanded ice time against Ottawa.  It was five shots (one goal) in 4:45 against Vancouver, and a whopping 15 shots (one goal) in 9:07 of shorthanded ice time against Buffalo.

Faceoffs: 101-for-181 / 55.8 percent (season: 50.1% / rank: 14th)

The Caps had a good week overall and their specifics.  In that sense it resembles Week 13.  They were over 50 percent in all three games and in all three zones for the week.  Better still, they dominated in the ends, going 41-for-69 in the offensive zone (59.4 percent) and 30-for-54 in the defensive zone (55.6 percent). 

Evgeny Kuznetsov (26-for-37) and Marcus Johansson (11-for-17), two players you would not think to be dominant in the faceoff circle, combined to win 72.2 percent of their draws for the week.  Kuznetsov and T.J. Oshie were especially successful in the offensive end, combining to go 17-for-24 (70.8 percent).  In the defensive end, it was Nicklas Backstrom going 10-for-15 (66.7 percent).  A bit of an odd week all around the circle.

Goals by Period:

Again, the Buffalo game bit into what was a week that looked very good, this time in goals by period.  Going into the game against the Sabres, the Caps held Ottawa and Vancouver without a first period goal, and they pounded them for a 5-1 advantage in the second period and a 4-1 advantage in the third.  Allowing two goals in each of the first and second periods spelled doom for the Caps in their effort to make it a perfect week.  As it is, they still hold a plus-10 or better goal differential in each of the three periods this season, the only club who can say that.

In the end…

Florida has a 12-game winning streak this season, yet they are 12 standings points behind the Capitals.  Chicago has a ten-game winning streak that is still alive, but they are five points behind the Caps, and Washington holds three games in hand.  The Caps do not have a double-digit game winning streak this season, but it is their ability to put together consistent stretches of fine play – four streaks of five wins or more – that has enabled to take and hold the top spot in the league standings.  In that sense, a 2-1-0 week is somewhat typical of the season to date.  Put another way, if they win two of every three games over the remainder of the season, they would finish with 120 standings points.  It would be a season that ages well with a good finish.

Three Stars:
  • First Star: Alex Ovechkin (2-0-2, even, 15 SOG, 32 shot attempts, 500th and 501st career goals)
  • Second Star: Evgeny Kuznetsov (2-2-4, plus-2, 26-for-37 on faceoffs (70.3 percent))
  • Third Star: Philipp Grubauer (1-0-0, 1.29, .957)

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