Sunday, March 06, 2016

Washington Capitals: That Was The Week That Was -- Week 21

Week 21 was like no other for the Washington Capitals this season.  In the space of seven days the Capitals would play five games, courtesy of their adding a game that was rescheduled when Winter Storm Jonas blew through Washington in late January.  But when it was over, it was like just about every other week this season – a winning week.

Record: 3-2-0

The Capitals played in two separate back-to-back sets of games in Week 21, their 11th and 12th such sets this season.  Winning three of the four games in those back-to-backs should not be considered unusual.  Through Week 21, the Caps have a record of 10-2-0 in the first games of those back-to-back sets and a record of 9-3-0 in the back half of those sets.  They swept the first back-to-back set of the week, against the Pittsburgh Penguins and Toronto Maple Leafs, their sixth sweep of the season.  They have yet to be swept in any back-to-back with three more sets of such games yet to play in the regular season.

The Caps also have yet to lose consecutive games in regulation time this season, thanks to their 2-1 overtime win over the Boston Bruins to end the week.  The Caps have gone 78 games since last losing consecutive games in regulations time, dating back to March 11th and 13th of last season when they lost decisions to the New York Rangers and Dallas Stars in Games 68 and 69 of the 2014-2015 season.

By the end of Week 21 the Caps had 48 wins and 100 points, the earliest the Caps have ever reached either number.  The hit the 100 point mark in the 2009-2010 season in Game 65 and the 48-win mark in Game 72 of that same season.

Offense:  2.40/game (season: 3.22 /game; rank: 1st)

In a way, it was the Matt Niskanen Show on offense in Week 21.  The defenseman scored the game-winning goals in the Caps’ wins over the Maple Leafs and the Bruins, and his power play drive late in the third period against the Penguins became the game-winning primary assist when T.J. Oshie got a piece of it as it sailed by for the game-winning goal.

The Caps did not have a lot of volume on offense this week, only 12 goals scored in the five games, but they did have balance.  Nine different players had goals for the week.  In addition to Niskanen, Evgeny Kuznetsov and T.J. Oshie had a pair.  There were 14 different players recording points, Oshie (2-3-5) and Nicklas Backstrom (0-5-5) leading the way.

What they lacked was accuracy.  Even though the Caps finished the week with four games with 30 or more shots on goal, they managed just the 12 goals.  With a total of 154 shots on goal for the week, they had only a 7.8 percent shooting percentage.

Defense: 2.20/game (season: 2.29 /game; rank: 3rd)

The Caps did a lot of things right on defense in a week in which they faced three top-ten offenses and four of the top-12 teams in scoring offense.  That the Caps lost two of three games to those top-ten offenses was not a product of leaky defense.  They held all three  of those teams – the Chicago Blackhawks (5th in scoring offense), New York Rangers (8th), and Boston Bruins (3rd) to a total of 80 shots on goal in the three games, and they held the 12th-ranked Penguins – the top team in the league in shots on goal per game (32.7) – to 30 shots.

Overall, the Caps won the 5-on-5 battle for the week, finishing with a combined Corsi-for of 51.5 percent.  That, however, might not be as good as it looks.  Washington finished under 50 percent in two games (against Toronto and Boston) and split the shot attempts for the game against Chicago.  The game against the Rangers bordered on the bizarre.  After splitting the 5-on-5 shot attempts in the first period (13-13), after which the Rangers led, 2-0, the Caps out-attempted the Rangers at 5-on-5 by a 53-25 margin over the rest of the contest but managed only a pair of goals in dropping a 3-2 decision (numbers from

If anyone had a difficult week for the Caps on the defensive side, it might have been Brooks Orpik, who was on ice for six of the 11 goals against, including both power play goals against.

Goaltending: 2.20 /.915 (season: 2.19 / .924 / 2 shutouts)

It was a good, not great week, and in what is becoming a bit of a concern, the performance was quite different between the Caps’ netminders, and not in a good way.  Braden Holtby had a difficult week.  In three appearances he was 1-2-0, 2.71, .895.  Breaking it down by period did not make it look any better.  He stopped 23 of 27 first period shots in the three game he played (.852 save percentage), and his third periods were largely saved by very low shot volumes (12 saves on 14 shots/.857).  It is part of a longer rut in which he finds himself.  In his last 18 appearances, he has a 12-4-1 record, but his goals against average is 2.96, and his save percentage is .899.

At the other end, Philipp Grubauer had a fine week.  In his two appearances, both of them in the second of back-to-back games, he won both games, stopping 50 of 53 shots (.943 save percentage).  He almost single-handedly kept the Caps in their game against Boston to close the week when he stopped seven shots in a 5-on-3 Bruin power play that lasted 1:49.  In his last 12 appearances, he is 6-3-0, 1.60, .946.

Power Play: 5-for-17 / 29.4 percent (season: 23.8 percent; rank: 2nd)

For the first time in quite some time, the Caps did not finish a week with the league’s top power play (Week 14, in fact).  This was despite the Caps having their most effective power play since Week 15, when they were 4-for-6.  They had power play goals in the first four games of the week, extending their streak of games with at least one power play goals to five, their longest streak of games with power play goals for the season, and their longest since they had a five-game streak last March 1-11.

The Caps were a reasonably efficient team in terms of shots recorded on the power play, finishing the week with 22 shots on goal in 24:02 of power play time 0.92 shots per minute).  On an individual level, Alex Ovechkin led the club in shots on goal, which is not surprising.  His share, however (six of the 22 shots on goal) might not have been as high as his usual output.  And, he did not have a power play shot on goal against either Toronto or the Rangers, nor did he have a power play goal in Week 21.  He has gone five games without a power play goal.

Penalty Killing: 15-for-17 / 88.2 percent (season: 84.5 percent; rank: 4th)

Week 21 was a good week for the Caps.  It was, in fact, the best week the Caps have had this season when facing more than ten shorthanded situations (Week 18: 17-for-20/85.0 percent).  Then again, perhaps it should have been.  The Caps faced two top-ten teams on the power play (Chicago, ranked third at the end of the week, and Boston, ranked ninth), but they faced two bottom-ten teams, too (Toronto, ranked 30th, and the Rangers, ranked 21st).  In-between they faced the 17th-ranked team in the Penguins.

The Caps did a good job of holding down shots over the first four games of the week, allowing only 13 shots in 12 shorthanded situations over 19:28 of ice time (0.67 shots per minute).  The Caps might have saved their best for last, though, when they shutout the Bruins – the number three team in the league on the power play – on nine shots on five power plays, including seven shots on goal on a 5-on-3 power play that lasted 1:49.  That might have been a product of the old adage that your goaltender often has to be your best penalty killer. Philipp Grubauer was that on Saturday against Boston.

Faceoffs: 147-for-275 / 53.5 percent (season: 49.9% / rank: 17th)

It was a good week for the Caps in the faceoff circle.  They surpassed 50 percent in three of the five games, and they were better than 50 percent in the offensive and neutral zones for the week.  The defensive end draws were something of a problem, the Caps failing to do better than 50 percent in any of the five games.

Of the six Caps to take at least ten draws for the week, four of them finished over 50 percent.  Nicklas Backstrom took about a third of the total faceoffs for the week, going 53-for-93 (57.0 percent).  Evgeny Kuznetsov took another 55 draws, winning 32 of them for a 58.2 percent result.  Jay Beagle returned to action, but one of the league’s best faceoff men is being eased back into that role. He took just 15 draws for the week, winning eight (53.3 percent).  With Mike Richards on that fourth line with Beagle (he was 27-for-59 for the week), the Caps have the luxury of two experienced players in that role on that line.

Goals by Period:

Slow starts have been a problem for the Caps for a while now, and it carried over into Week 21.  Washington allowed the first goal of the game three times this past week.  The Caps won two of the games (against Pittsburgh and Boston), but this is a trend that needs to be addressed.  The Caps finished the week with a minus-2 in goals for and against in the first periods of games and are now a minus-1 for the season. 

As they have done all season, the Caps were better in the second and third periods of games, going plus-2 and even, respectively, for the week.  Their plus-27 in the second period is better than the goal differential of 27 other teams (not including credit for shootout goals).  Their plus-32 in the third period is better than the total goal differential of every other team in the league.  That is all very nice, but when the competition is stiffer in the postseason, can the Caps count on their ability to grind teams down in the last 40 minutes as they have done this season?

In the end…

Five games, five one-goal decisions.  Only four teams have played games to more one-goal decisions than the Caps (34), and no team has a better winning percentage in those games (24-6-4/.706).  If you think this a good thing, consider this.  A team’s record in one-goal games might not be a determining factor in postseason success, but only one team since the 2004-2005 lockout has had the best winning percentage in one-goal games and gone on to win the Stanley Cup.  The Carolina Hurricanes of 2005-2006 (28-5-8) was the only team to do it.

There is more to this point.  Two teams that led the league in one-goal game winning percentage over the last ten seasons did not qualify for the postseason, and four other teams lost in the first round of the playoffs.  Teams finishing with the best winning percentage in one-goal games over that span won a total of nine playoff series, the Hurricanes winning four them on their way to the Cup in 2006.

The Caps might be a different case, and that is because they have been such a dominating team, whatever the goal margin.  They are 9-2 in games settled by two goals, second in the league in winning percentage (to Anaheim), and they are tied for first in winning percentage in games settled by three or more goals (with Tampa Bay). 

The Caps had a good week in Week 21, a history-making one for the franchise, in fact.  But that does not obscure the fact that there are some things that bear watching over the next  few weeks.  Their slow starts, dependence on one-goal victory margins, and Braden Holtby’s dip in the road are among them.

Three Stars:
  • First Star: Matt Niskanen (2-1-3, even, 2 GWG, 25:07 in average ice time, 13 credited hits, 10 blocked shots)
  • Second Star: Philipp Grubauer (2-0-0, 1.47, .943, 15 saves on 15 shots faced on the power play)
  • Third Star: T.J. Oshie (2-3-5, minus-1, 2 PPG, 3 PPA, 11 shots on goal)

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