Sunday, February 07, 2016

Washington Capitals: That Was The Week That Was -- Week 17

Week 17 was a topsy-turvy week for the Washington Capitals, starting with an unpleasant loss at the hands of the Florida Panthers, followed up by a gritty win over the New York Islanders, and ending with a lose-a-lead-come-from-behind trick shot win over the New Jersey Devils.  It was a week that had just about everything.  Well, almost everything.

Record: 2-1-0

The Capitals returned to their weekly winning ways in Week 17 after a .500 record in Week 16.  They now have 15 winning weeks and two .500 weeks so far this season.  It was not an outcome won easily, though.  The week started with a 5-2 loss to the Florida Panthers that might some cause for concern.  After beating the Panthers in their first meeting of the season, a 2-1 overtime win in Florida, the Caps have lost both meetings since by a combined 9-3 margin.

The Caps followed up that defeat with a couple of come-from behind wins.  They spotted the New York Islanders the game’s first goal before overcoming the deficit in a 3-2 win.  Then, the Caps lost a 1-0 lead by allowing a pair of third period goals, tying the game late on Paul Carey’s first NHL goal.  The more skilled Caps then won in a trick shot competition, 3-2, their third win in the Gimmick in four tries this season.

Offense:  2.33/game (season: 3.26 /game; rank: 1st)

It was a light week for the league’s top scoring offense.  Who they faced in goal had a lot to do with that.  The Caps opened the week against a hot goalie in Florida’s Al Montoya, who was 5-1-0, 1.74, .933, in his previous eight appearances.  They ended the week against an all-star goalie in Cory Schneider.  In between they faced nemesis Jaroslav Halak.  In retrospect, a comparatively light week in goal scoring was not surprising.

The Caps were lied in goals by Andre Burakovsky, who had goals in each of the week’s three games to extend his goal-scoring streak to five games, a career high.  He was joined by Nicklas Backstrom (1-2-3) and Evgeny Kuznetsov (0-3-3) with three-point weeks to lead the team. 

It was a week in which the Caps lacked for secondary scoring.  The top line had three goals, Alex Ovechkin, T.J. Oshie, and Backstrom each recording one.  The second line had Burakovsky’s three goals.  The bottom six, however, could only contribute Carey’s game-tying goal in the contest in New Jersey for the week.  The defense did not contribute and goals and had single assists from only Dmitry Orlov and Matt Niskanen.

Defense: 3.00/game (season: 2.24 /game; rank: 2nd)

The week might have been a lot worse but for the fact that the Caps did a good job in limiting shots on goal.  They allowed their three opponents just 69 shots on goal for the week (23.0 per game), the first time they held three consecutive opponents under 30 shots since Games 15-17 in mid-November.  In only one of the nine regulation periods for the week did the Caps allow a double-digit shot total (12 in the third period against the Islanders). 

An odd thing about the goals against on-ice for the Caps.  By the time the Panthers had a 3-0 lead in the first 21 minutes of the first game of the week, 13 different skaters were on ice for the Caps for the goals allowed, the maximum (the Panthers scored one of those goals on a 5-on-3 power play).  For the week, John Carlson and Nate Schmidt had a difficult time of it, being on ice for five goals against and four goals against, respectively.

The Caps had a pretty good week in terms of possession, although on an individual game basis it was more feast or famine.  Washington book-ended a 37.0 percent Corsi-for effort at 5-on-5 against the Islanders (their second-worst of the season) with a pair of 60-plus percent games (67.2 percent in the loss to Florida and 62.3 percent against the Devils to close the week).  Overall they were 53.5 percent to the good and finished the week 14th overall in Corsi-for at 5-on-5 (50.5 percent (numbers from

Goaltending: 2.61 /.882 (season: 2.12 / .926 / 2 shutouts)

Uneven is perhaps the best description of goaltending for the week overall.  Looking at it by goaltender, it was a good week for Braden Holtby (2-0-0, 1.92, .920), not so good for Philipp Grubauer.  Perhaps it was time after a string of fine performances by Grubauer that he would struggle, as hard as it is for a backup goaltender to get into any comfortable playing rhythm.  But struggle Grubauer did against the Panthers in the first game of the week, allowing four goals on 14 shots in two periods (18 shots faced for the game).

As for Holtby, the good overall mark could have been better had he been sharper in the third periods of games.  He was a combined 13-for-14 for the week in the first period (.929 save percentage), a perfect 14-for-14 in the second period, but just 17-for-20 in the third period (.850).

Power Play: 0-for-13 / 0.0 percent (season: 24.5 percent; rank: 1st)

What else does one call an 0-for-13 week than a bad one.  Thirteen opportunities with the man-advantage over three games is a luxury for the Caps these days (they rank 22nd in total power play opportunities), and to have taken the collar on the week is opportunity lost.  Part of the problem was timing.  The Caps enjoyed eight power play chances in against Florida in the first game of the week, a season high in opportunities.  However, they were missing their most potent power play goal-scoring weapon with Alex Ovechkin serving a suspension for missing the All-Star game.  He was on hand for the last two games of the week in which the Caps combined for five opportunities, but it did not make any difference in the end.

As it was, the Caps were not very efficient with their man advantage.  They managed just 11 shots on goal in 21:15 of power play time for the week (0.52 shots per minute).  None of those shots on goal were registered by Ovechkin.  John Carlson led the team with three power play shots on goal.  In a week in which there was almost everything for the Caps, a successful power play was not in the basket.

Penalty Killing: 5-for-8 / 62.5 percent (season: 83.5 percent; rank: 5th)

It was not a good week on the other side of special teams, either.  The 5-for-8 week extended a string of lackluster performance that have reached a combined 21-for-28 (75 percent) over their last eight games.  They have allowed at least one power play goal in six of those eight games.  Two of the power play goals against came against the Panthers in four chances, and the Caps tightened up a bit to kill three of four to end the week.  In that sense the week was another case of opportunity lost, holding opponents to under three chances a game over all and still allowing three goals.

Faceoffs: 86-for-176 / 48.9 percent (season: 50.1% / rank: 16th)

The Caps did not have a bad week in the circle in Week 17 until you look at how the results fell out among the players.  The scoring line centers – Nicklas Backstrom (42.3 percent) and Evgeny Kuznetsov (47.4 percent) – combined to go 40-for-90 on draws for the week (44.4 percent).  The centers taking most of the draws on the bottom six – Mike Richards (51.4 percent) and Zach Sill (52.9 percent) – combined to go 27-for-52 (51.9 percent).

Then there were the results by zone.  The Caps managed to go one-better than 50 percent in the neutral zone (31-for-61/50.8 percent), but did not reach that threshold in either of the ends, going 34-for-69 (49.3 percent) in the offensive zone and 21 for 46 (45.7 percent) in the defensive zone.  It was not a bad week, but the weakness (and the absence of the very proficient Jay Beagle) was felt in the end of overtime against the Devils when Evgeny Kuznetsov and Mike Richards lost consecutive draws to Adam Henrique in a span of six seconds in the last 15 seconds of the period that led to dangerous situations for the Caps.  T.J. Oshie finally put an end to that, winning a draw with Henrique with four seconds left to push the game to the Gimmick, where the Caps prevailed.

Goals by Period:

It is not often that the Caps fail to win a period for a week, but it happened in Week 17.  They were outscored in the first periods of games, 3-1, a product of that week-opening game against Florida in which they were outscored, 2-0.  They held their own in the other two periods overall and kep the Devils from securing an extra standings point in an overtime period, but the best that can be said for that is that they ground out a winning week in spite of it.

In the end…

It is a hallmark of a good team when they can grind out wins when things do not come easy.  Little came easy for the Caps in Week 17.  They were missing their top goal scorer in the first game of the week, couldn’t score a power play goal in more than a dozen chances for the week, and had to deal with an annoyingly suffocating defense against the Devils to close the week.  And, they were still missing their top faceoff player (Jay Beagle), a top pair defenseman (Brooks Orpik), and a solid contributor in the offensive end (Marcus Johansson).  Still, the Caps came out of the week with two wins in three tries.  They now seem to have their skating legs back under them, a good thing given that in the coming week they will play four games, a matinee at home against the Philadelphia Flyers followed by a three-game trip to Nashville, Minnesota, and Dallas.  It will be quite a test.

Three Stars:
  • First Star: Andre Burakovsky (3-0-3, plus-1, 13 shots on goal, 15 shot attempts, 4-for-8 on faceoffs)
  • Second Star: Nicklas Backstrom (1-2-3, even, 21:32 average ice time, 11-for-21 in offensive zone draws)
  • Third Star: Evgeny Kuznetsov (0-3-3, plus-1, 9 shots on goal, 14 shot attempts)

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