Sunday, February 14, 2016

Washington Capitals: That Was The Week That Was -- Week 18

The Washington Capitals took three of four games in Week 18, two of the wins coming on the road.  But when the week ends on a sour note against a team they might face somewhere down the road – okay, in the Stanley Cup finals (but we get ahead of ourselves) – it casts a bit of a shadow over the week.

Record: 3-1-0

With 18 weeks in the books, the Caps now have 16 winning weeks and a pair of .500 weeks.  Through 18 weeks last season it was 11 winning weeks, two losing weeks and five .500 weeks as the Caps were 28-15-10 overall.  As it is, the Caps finished Week 18 this season with a 40-10-4 record.  They still hold a seven-point lead over the Dallas Stars for the league’s best record with two games in hand.  And, even though the Caps lost their tenth game in regulation this week, they were the last team to do so.  They did it 39 days after the Dallas Stars became the 29th team to lose their tenth game in regulation time, back on January 5th.

Those Stars figured heavily in the week as the team responsible for inflicting that tenth loss on the Caps.  Caps fans might chalk that up to a couple of decades of futility in Texas.  Washington has not won a game in regulation time in Dallas since October 1995, recording a pair of overtime wins among their 14 decisions in Big D since then.  Before that, the Caps had a very good week, beating the Philadelphia Flyers at home before going on the road and knocking off the Nashville Predators and the Minnesota Wild.  As it was, the Caps finished Week 18 with 84 standings points.  If you want a benchmark to compare that to, the all-time 54-game leader in standings points was the 1979-1980 Philadelphia Flyers, who recorded a 37-4-13 record (87 points).

Offense:  3.75/game (season: 3.30 /game; rank: 1st)

In this era of the NHL, you have to like a week in which your team scores three or more goals in each game of the week.  So it was for the Caps, who remain at the top of the scoring offense rankings.  They did it with a very efficient shooting week, scoring 15 goals on 109 shots (13.8 percent).  It was a particularly good week for Alex Ovechkin in that regard.  Ovechkin recorded a team-high six goals on a team high 23 shots on goal (26.1 percent shooting), and to complete the shooting trifecta he had 43 shot attempts for the week, 20.4 percent of the Caps’ total (211).

Even with Ovechkin’s week the team had decent scoring balance.  Eight different skaters had goals, although Justin Williams and Jason Chimera were the only ones other than Ovechkin with multi-goal weeks (each had a pair).  The Caps had 14 skaters finish the week with points, four of them with at least three assists: Nicklas Backstrom (5), Evgeny Kuznetsov (4), John Carlson (3), and Karl Alzner (3).

And, if you are interested in year-to-year comparisons, the Caps had scored 155 goals through 54 games last season.  They are 23 goals clear of that number this season (178), an increase of 0.43 goals per game over last year’s club at this point in the season.

Defense: 3.00/game (season: 2.30 /game; rank: 2nd)

It is highly unusual for the Caps to allow so many goals over so many games in a single week.  They finished the week allowing three or more goals in three consecutive games, the first time this season that they did so and the first time they did it since Games 61-63 last season.  The Caps really spread things around in terms of who was up close and personal for a view of the goals scored.  Of the 21 skaters participating over the course of the week, 19 of them were on ice for goals.  Only Paul Carey and Michael Latta were spared the view, and they were on ice for a combined 21:01 for the week.

It was a rough week in allowing shots on goal.  The Caps allowed 35 shots or more on goal in three of the four games, 132 for the week (33.0 pergame).  It was part of an uneven week for the Caps in terms of possession.  The four games divided into two-game segments that were almost mirror images of themselves. In the first two games of the week the Caps posting a 53.6 percent Corsi-for at 5-on-5 overall (78 attempts for, 98 against).  In the second half of the week they were 44.3 percent (78 for, 98 against).  It made for a combined 48.8 percent for the week (numbers from

Goaltending: 3.02 /.909 (season: 2.18 / .924 / 2 shutouts)

You could see it coming early in the week, and by the time the Dallas Stars scored four goals on 21 shots in 40 minutes, it would mark the end of one of the more remarkable runs of goaltending this season and in Caps history.  In his previous 27 decisions coming into the week, Braden Holtby was 24-1-2, 2.07, .931, with two shutouts.  In four games and 220 minutes of work in Week 18 (he was relieved for the last 20 minutes in the 4-3 loss in Dallas on Saturday), he had a goals against average of 3.27 and a .902 save percentage.  Part of it was the shot volumes he faced, but he was not as sharp as Caps fans have come to appreciate, either.  In fact, Holtby has been rather ordinary for a little while now.  Over his last 15 appearances he is 11-2-2, but his goals against average is 2.80, and his save percentage is .908.

The last 20 minutes of the week belonged to Philipp Grubauer, who stopped all ten of the shots he faced in the third period of the loss to the Stars.  It suggested that the four-goals-on-18-shots performance against Florida in his previous appearance on February 2nd might have been a hiccup.  In his last eight appearances, half of which were in relief of Holtby, Grubauer is 3-2-0, 1.75, .938, in 342 minutes of work.

Power Play: 3-for-13 / 23.1 percent (season: 24.4 percent; rank: 1st)

Things got back to something resembling normal for the Capitals’ power play in Week 18.  After going 0-for-15 coming into the week, then adding an 0-for-2 effort against Philadelphia to open the week, the Caps scored power play goals in each of their last three games of the week to hold on to their top spot in the league power play rankings.

It was a productive week, even if it was not especially efficient.  However, you can see where the power play was inching its way back as the week wore on.  Washington managed just two power play shots on goal in 5:31 of man advantage ice time in the first two games of the week (one of them an empty netter on which Alex Ovechkin scored), then scored two goals on 13 shots in 13:01 in the last two games of the week.  The odd part about the shots on goal for the week on the power play was not so much that Ovechkin led the club, but he had 11 of the 15 total shots on goal.  No other Capitals had more than one (Nicklas Backstrom, Jason Chimera, T.J. Oshie, and John Carlson).

Penalty Killing: 17-for-20 / 85.0 percent (season: 83.7 percent; rank: 6th)

A decent week of penalty killing in terms of efficiency (85.0 percent) was negated by the frequency with which the Caps had to kill penalties (20 shorthanded situations).  The minus-7 differential in power plays to shorthanded situations resulted in the Caps merely breaking even for the week on special teams (three goals on each side).  Washington faced five or more shorthanded situations in the first three games of the week, the first time that happened since Games 45-47 last season.  The volume of the workload was impressive, and not in a good way.  The Caps spent 31:02 for the week killing penalties and allowed 34 shots on goal in that span of time.

Week 18 is part of what has been something of a slow leak on the penalty kill.  The Caps have allowed power play goals in nine of their last 12 games, going 38-for-48 over that span (79.2 percent).

Faceoffs: 120-for-257 / 46.7 percent (season: 49.8% / rank: 19th)

It was not a very good week in the circle for the Caps.  They did split games in terms of the 50 percent threshold, doing better than 50 percent against Nashville (54.7 percent) and Dallas (53.4 percent), while finishing below that mark against Philadelphia (47.8 percent) and Minnesota (32.4 percent).  That game against the Wild would have been even more of a train wreck but for Nicklas Backstrom going 12-for-21.  Absent Backstrom’s performance, the Caps were 10-for-47 (21.3 percent). 

The Caps also failed to top 50 percent in any of the three zones for the week, managing only to hit that mark in neutral zone draws.  They were 45.8 percent in the offensive end and 44.4 percent in the defensive zone.  Among Caps taking at least ten draws for the week, only Mike Richards (52.4 percent) and Marcus Johansson (52.2 percent) won at least half of their faceoffs.

Goals by Period:

Overall, the Caps’ week turned on their third period performances, and it was a three-goal third period in the week’s final game that got the Caps within a shot of sneaking out of Dallas with at least one standings point (that shot being one rung off the goalpost by Tom Wilson in the last minute of play).  The Caps have been a remarkably effective third period team this season, finishing Week 18 with the most third period goals scored in the league (70) and their plus-25 in the third period being far and away the best positive goal differential in the league.  In fact, their third period goal differential of plus-25 in the third period would rank in a tie for fourth in total goal differential.

In the end…

That the Caps won Week 18 is a good thing, but looking back at the particulars one has to wonder how.  Their possession numbers were not very good, they allowed too many shots on goal, they took far too many penalties (and thus spent far too much time shorthanded), their goaltending was not as sharp as usual, and their goal scoring was unbalanced (Ovechkin had 40 percent of the week’s goals).

On the other hand, if this is what passes for a slump for this team this season, Caps fans will take it with a smile.  Still, the Caps will have to bear down in Week 19 with a couple of teams on the docket that can really frustrate opponents.  The Los Angeles Kings are the top possession team in the league, based on 5-on-5 Corsi-for numbers, and the Devils are, well, the Devils.  Between those games is a visit to Brooklyn to face a team that will be looking to take a big wet bite out of the Caps, what with Washington already having beaten the Islanders in both games played this season so far after the Caps’ seven-game playoff win last spring.  It is never easy in the NHL, even for the league’s top team.

Three Stars:
  • First Star: Alex Ovechkin (6-0-6, 14th career hat trick, plus-1, 23 shots on goal, 43 shots attempts, took over league goal-scoring lead)
  • Second Star:Nicklas Backstrom (0-5-5, plus-1)
  • Third Star: Karl Alzner (0-3-3, plus-4, 12 blocked shots, 22:23 average ice time)

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