The normal part was a winning week. The odd part was that they couldn’t get out of their own way at the starts of games. It made for a week that was successful, but a little more suspenseful than Caps Nation might have liked.
When the Caps finished Week 20 with a 3-2 win over the Minnesota Wild, the Caps wrapped up their 18th winning week in 20 tries. Put another way, if you divide the Caps’ completed schedule to date into ten-game segments, they finished with their fourth eight-win segment in six. In their other two segments they won six games (second segment) and seven games (fifth segment). This is a remarkably consistent team through 60 games.
Their consistent high level of play, at least in terms of win-loss outcomes, left them with 94 points through Week 20. That is just two short of the league record for standings points after 60 games, set by the 1976-1977 Montreal Canadiens and tied by the 1979-1980 Philadelphia Flyers. With 45 wins, the Caps have two more wins than the Canadiens had in their big season after 60 games and four more than the Flyers had three seasons later. They hold a 16-point lead over their closes pursuer in the Eastern Conference (Florida Panthers: 78 points). When they won the Presidents Trophy in 2009-2010, their final margin was 18 points over the New Jersey Devils (121 to 103).
Offense: 3.00/game (season: 3.28 /game; rank: 1st)
The Caps had a good and balanced week in the offensive end of the ice. They scored three goals in each of the three games they played, bringing their total of games with three or more goals scored to 41, second most in the league. No team has won more games than the Caps when scoring three or more goals (37).
The balance came with seven players sharing in the nine goals scored and 14 players posting points. Week 20 had a Russian look to it with Alex Ovechkin and Dmitry Orlov leading the team in goals with two apiece. For Ovechkin, the two goals left him with 40 at week’s end. It was the eighth time Ovechkin hit the 40-goal mark in his 11-year career. He became the tenth player in league history to score 40 or more goals in eight or more of his first 11 seasons. With a five-goal lead on his closest pursuer in goals (Patrick Kane), he is in a position to win his fourth straight Richard Trophy as the league’s top goal scorer and his sixth overall.
Orlov’s two goals allowed him to reach a more modest achievement. Two goals gave him seven for the season, a total that more than doubles his previous career high (three in the 2011-2012 and the 2013-2014 seasons). His goal against the Minnesota Wild in the 3-2 win to end the week was his third game-winner of the season, also a career best.
Ovechkin led the team in total points for the week (2-3-5), and Evgeny Kuznetsov tied for second (1-2-3) with Andre Burakovsky and Brooks Orpik. Two of those points, a goal and an assist, came in the Caps’ 3-2 win over the Arizona Coyotes to start the week. It was his 18th multi-point game of the season, tied for fourth most at the end of Week 20.
Defense: 2.67/game (season: 2.30 /game; rank: 3rd)
The odd part of the week on defense was the Caps inability to win when scoring three or more goals. The four goals allowed to Montreal in their 4-3 loss in the middle game of the week was just the second time this season that the Caps lost a game when they scored three or more (the other was against the Dallas Stars, also a 4-3 decision, on February 13th).
Part of the problem in that game against Montreal was the shot and shot attempt volume. The 34 shots on goal allowed was the high for the week and one of two games in which the Caps allowed more than 30 shots (they allowed 32 to Minnesota). The shot attempt volumes rose through the week as well. After holding the Arizona Coyotes to 40 shot attempts at five-on-five to open the week, the Caps allowed the Canadiens 49 shot attempts and then 57 shot attempts to Minnesota to end the week. There was also the related matter of shot attempts per 60 minutes at five-on-five. The 64.4/60 allowed to Minnesota and the 64.2 allowed to Montreal were the 10th and 11th highest frequency of shot attempts at five-on-five per 60 minutes in 60 games this season and the fourth and fifth highest frequency at home (numbers from war-on-ice.com). In that respect it was not the best of weeks.
Four Caps were on ice for half or more of opponents’ goals for the week. Justin Williams (five), Dmitry Orlov (four), Brooks Orpik (four) and Jason Chimera (four) were the victims.
Goaltending: 2.69 /.914 (season: 2.19 / .924 / 2 shutouts)
Braden Holtby was like “the little girl with the curl” in Week 20. When he was good, he was very good – 25 saves on 27 shots against Arizona to start the week and 30 saves on 32 shots against Minnesota to end the week. When he was bad, he wasn’t “horrid” as in the verse of Longfellow, but he was relieved, stopping just 15 of 18 shots in 21:54 of the Caps’ 4-3 loss to the Canadiens. For Holtby it is part of a longer series of games in which he has not been especially Vezina-like. In the 2016 portion of the season he is 15-2-2 in 20 appearances, a fine win-loss record, but his goals against average is 2.78, and his save percentage is .907. In that sense, his week was not a lot different than his 2016 to date, a 2.97 goals against average and a .909 save percentage.
Holtby was relieved in the middle game of the week by Philipp Grubauer, who performed well (15 saves on 16 shots) but had the misfortune of allowing the last goal in a 4-3 loss, a loss that was attached to his record. Grubauer has been very effective in his role as a middle and late innings reliever this season. In five appearances in which he logged fewer than 40 minutes (a total of 141 minutes), he has a goals against average of 0.85 and a save percentage of .965. He has a 1-1-0 record in those games with three no-decisions.
The Caps’ goaltending by period of the week left them in a position of having to come from behind and/or trying to mount a late comeback. The first period save percentage was a respectable .914, but it was three goals on 35 shots, too. The second period was grim, a .852 save percentage ((four goals on 27 shots). The third period save percentage of .968 (30-for-31) allowed the Caps to break a tie with Arizona after two periods and to come from behind to beat the Wild in the third period. It stopped the bleeding long enough for the Caps to make things interesting against Montreal after falling behind, 4-1, through two periods.
Power Play: 2-for-8 / 25.0 percent (season: 23.3 percent; rank: 1st)
The Caps have not quite shaken off the slump that bedeviled their power play coming out of the All-Star Game break, but they are getting there. If there was a problem, it was opportunities. They did have four against Arizona in the first game of the week, but they dropped to three against the Canadiens and had just one (that they converted) against Minnesota in the last game of the week.
The Caps piled up the shots on goal in limited power play opportunities and ice time. With 17 shots in 13:54 of ice time (1.22 shots per minute), the Caps did not lack for getting shots on goal. They also got them from the players – or player – they rely on to get them. Alex Ovechkin scored one power play goal on eight shots in 13:38 of ice time. Six of those shots on goal came against Arizona in the first game of the week, though. Justin Williams and John Carlson were the only other Caps to record more than one shot on goal on the man advantage (two apiece), and Evgeny Kuznetsov had the other goal on the only power play shot he recorded for the week, that coming against the Coyotes.
Penalty Killing: 10-for-12 / 83.3 percent (season: 84.2 percent; rank: 4th)
It was not a bad week, but neither was it a very good one. The problem here, as with the power plays, was opportunities. The Caps faced 12 shorthanded situations for the week, half of them against the Coyotes. It was the sixth time this season that the Caps faced as many as six shorthanded situations. It was the first time in those four instances that the Caps killed off all six opponent power plays. It was the first time that the Caps were perfect in killing off six or more power plays since they went 7-for-7 in a 5-2 loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets on January 30, 2014.
There was also the matter of penalties taken early in games. Of the 14 penalties for which the Caps were charged, eight of them came in the first periods of games, three against Arizona and Minnesota, and two against Montreal.
The penalty kill was an example of the difference between being efficient and being effective. Washington was a very efficient penalty killing group in Week 20, allowing opponents just eight shots on goal in 20:34 of shorthanded ice time (0.39 shots per minute). They were especially efficient against Arizona, allowing just three shots on goal in 10:30 of shorthanded ice time (0.29 shots per minute). However, the Caps allowed two goals on just five shots in 10:04 of ice time in the last two games of the week. That is an example of being ineffective.
Faceoffs: 95-for-197 / 48.2 percent (season: 49.6% / rank: 18th)
Faceoffs for Week 20 looked better than they were, and they did not look all that good. The Caps did win one faceoff battle in one game, tied their opponent in another. They were over 50 percent in the offensive zone (40-for-77) but below that number in the defensive zone (26-for-59). Where they looked bad was in the players who took significant numbers of draws. Five players took more than ten draws, three of them – Marcus Johansson (6-for-13), Evgeny Kuznetsov (24 for 49), and Mike Richards (20 for 51) were below 50 percent. Only Nicklas Backstrom (29 for 55) and T.J. Oshie (11 for 17) were over 50 percent.
Goals by Period:
One number sticks out in Week 20 insofar as goals by period is concerned: “zero.” The Caps did not record a first period goal in any of the three games. It is part of a continuing issue with the club, an inability to put distance between themselves and opponents early in games. Washington is tied for 17th in goals scored in the first periods of games this season (45, with Arizona). It is in part why the Caps are just a plus-1 in first period goal differential through 20 weeks.
On the other hand, there are the third periods. The Caps outscored opponents, 6-1, in the third periods of the three games this week. That should surprise no one. The Caps have a plus-32 goal differential in the third periods of games, greater than the total goal differential of the second place club in that statistic Florida and Los Angeles: plus-24, not including shootout goals). The Caps remain the only club in the league to have allowed fewer than 50 goals in each of the three regulation periods this season.
In the end…
As long as the league ranks teams in the standings by wins and losses, a 2-1-0 week will never be a bad one. However, the Caps are sitting in a puddle of gasoline playing with matches in their inability to get off to good starts. In none of the three games in Week 20 could it be said they had a good first period. And, there is the bit of inconsistency that has seeped into Braden Holtby’s game in goal. If not for superior efforts in the third periods of games, this week might have turned out in a much different fashion. They got away with a winning week in which the performances were not always of a winning nature. Consider it a warning, one that should be heeded as they embark on what might be their most difficult week of the regular season. Five games in seven days, coming in the midst of the busiest week of the year in terms of player movement, will test their depth, their focus, and their resiliency.
- First Star: Alex Ovechkin (2-3-5, plus-2, 15 shots on goal, 29 shot attempts, points in all three games, reached 40 goals for eighth time in 11-year career)
- Second Star: Brooks Orpik (1-2-3, plus-1, second multi-point game in four days, 11 hits, seven blocked shots)
- Third Star: Andre Burakovsky (1-2-3, even, points in all three games, four blocked shots)