Sunday, March 20, 2016

Washington Capitals: That Was The Week That Was -- Week 23

Week 23 was a typical week for the Washington Capitals.  After a California trip in Week 22 that was a bit disappointing, the Caps shrugged it off, won two games with solid efforts, and resumed their march into the franchise record book. 

Record: 2-0-0

The juggernaut rolls on.  Week 23 was a light week, but it was the tenth week in which the Caps did not lose a game in regulation and the eighth in which they did not lose at all.  In doing so, the Caps achieved several things.  They became the fourth 50-win club in team history when they opened the week with an overtime win against the Carolina Hurricanes, tying the 1985-1986 and the 2008-2009 clubs in wins.  They became the first team in the Eastern Conference in the post-2004-2005 lockout era to win 50 or more games in a season three times, doing it as the fourth-fastest team to 50 wins in NHL history (69 games, matching the 1975-1976 and 1976-1977 Montreal Canadiens).  They also clinched a playoff spot with that win, the 26th playoff berth in franchise history.  When the Caps knocked off the Nashville Predators on Friday, they became the third-winningest team in club history. 

Offense:  3.00/game (season: 3.16 /game; rank: 2nd)

The Caps spread their offense around in Week 23 like cream cheese on a bagel.  Five different players shared in the six goals scored for the week, and five other players shared in the seven assists.  Ten different players sharing in such low scoring, given the number of games in the week, was a study in balance.  Then there was the balance of the expected and the unexpected, and the things that should be expected by now, but apparently aren’t, at least by opponents.

As for the expected, there was the overtime goal by Alex Ovechkin to give the Caps a 2-1 win over Carolina to open the week.  It was his 87th game-winning goal of his career, most in the NHL since he entered the league in 2005-2006 (Daniel Sedin: 68).   It was also his 17th overtime goal, also a league best since he came into the league (Daniel Sedin: 14). 

Then there was the unexpected.  If you had Daniel Winnik to lead the team in goals for the week, you probably still have your March Madness bracket intact.  Winnik recorded his first two goals as a Capital in the 4-1 win over the Nashville Predators to end the week.  It was the fourth two-goal game of his career and his first since he recorded a pair with the Anaheim Ducks in a 5-4 win over the Calgary Flames on January 21, 2013.

As for what should be expected by now, but rarely seems to be, there was Evgeny Kuznetsov and the back pass from behind the opponent’s net.  Usually it is the result of Kuznetsov circling counter-clockwise behind the net and snapping a pass back in the direction from which he came for a tap-in. Against the Predators, with the score tied at a goal apiece, Kuznetsov played a variation on the theme, circling clockwise behind the Nashville net and backhanding a pass to the trailing T.J. Oshie, who whacked the puck in for what would be the game-winning goal.  Kuznetsov also set up the game-winning overtime goal against Carolina by Alex Ovechkin from behind the net, which has become the last place you want to see Kuznetsov if you are an opponent.

Defense: 1.00/game (season: 2.30 /game; rank: 3rd)

The Caps held opponents under 30 shots on goal in both games of Week 23, extending their streak of such games to three and making it the fifth straight game in which they held an opponent to 30 or fewer shots.  The two games holding opponents under 30 shots made it a total of 40 such games this season for the Caps, the eighth-highest total of sub-30 shot games allowed this season.

The nice thing about a week like this one is no one gets singed too badly in the goals-scored against tables.  No Capital was on ice for more than one goal against for the week.

Possession-wise, it was a better week than it looked for the Caps.  Overall, the Caps finished the week just under 50 percent in Corsi-for at 5-on-5 (49.7 percent).  But that was entirely a product of third-period outcomes, specifically in the Nashville game in which the Caps took a 4-1 lead less than a minute into the period.  Looking at the results by period, the Caps were 59.7 percent Corsi-for at 5-on-5 in the first periods of the two games, and they were 56.4 percent in the second periods of games.  That they were 32.4 percent in the third periods of games is a function of that old notion of “score effects (numbers from”

Goaltending: 0.99 /.957 (season: 2.19 / .923 / 2 shutouts)

Braden Holtby had fine timing this week.  As the Caps head into their last dozen or so games of the regular season, he looked like the Braden Holtby who threated to run away and hide the Vezina Trophy in the 2015 portion of the season.  Allowing a goal in each game of the week made it the first time he allowed fewer than two goals in consecutive games since he held the Montreal Canadiens to a single goal and shutout the Buffalo Sabres back on December 26th and 28th.  It was the third time in four games that he allowed a single goal, his record over those games being 3-0-1, 1.68, .933.  Compare that to his 1.86 goals against average and .934 save percentage over the 2014 portion of the season.  If Holtby is shaking off his mid-winter lull and getting back to his “2015” level of performance, that is a bad sign for the rest of the league.

Power Play: 0-for-6 / 0.0 percent (season: 23.2 percent; rank: 2nd)

The power play went dark for Week 23, and it was not pretty.  Against the eighth- and 20th-ranked teams in the league in penalty killing, the Caps went 0-6.  It was not because of luck.  Washington managed only five shots on goal in 9:03 in power play time.  None of those shots came in their only power play chance against Carolina, the fourth time this season that they were held to a single power play opportunity and sixth time they were held to fewer than two chances.  They are 3-2-1 in those games.

Going 0-for-5 against Nashville was the fourth time this season that the Caps had five or more power play chances and came up empty.  They are 2-2-0 in those games.  They did get two power play shots on goal from Alex Ovechkin, but in coming up empty he finished the week without a power play goal in his last ten games.

Penalty Killing: 4-for-5 / 80.0 percent (season: 84.1 percent; rank: 4th)

The penalty killers had a decent week, made better by having to deal with so few shorthanded situations.  And, what situations they did face they handled rather efficiently.  The penalty killers allowed just five shots on goal in 8:57 of shorthanded ice time.  The one goal scored was a scorer’s goal, a case of Nashville’s Filip Forsberg picking the side of a Mike Ribeiro screen opposite the one goalie Braden Holtby was peeking around to locate the shooter.  What they did not do, and what they have avoided all season, is allowing teams to pile up power play goals within games.  Only twice this season have the Caps allowed more than one power play goal in a game, fewest in the league.  It happened against Columbus in a 5-4 Gimmick loss on January 2nd and again against Florida in a 5-2 loss on February 2nd.

Faceoffs: 58-for-102 / 58.9 percent (season: 49.7% / rank: 19th)

It was a good week in the circle for the Caps.  Washington won both games overall, and they dominated in the ends, winning more than 60 percent of their draws for the week in the offensive (62.9 percent) and defensive (65.7 percent) ends.  It was an especially good week for Evgeny Kuznetsov, who went 21-for-31 for the week (67.7 percent).  Marcus Johansson (55.6 percent) and Nicklas Backstrom (52.2 percent) also finished the week over 50 percent among Caps taking at least ten draws.

Goals by Period:

Scoring first period goals has been a problem for the Caps lately.  In going 0-for-2 in first periods in Week 23 they went their second consecutive week without scoring a goal in the first period of a game.  The Caps have now gone seven straight games without scoring a first-period goal, the last time they did so being when they scored a pair in a 3-2 win over the Toronto Maple Leafs on March 2nd.

They made up for that by dominating the second period, outscoring Carolina and Nashville by a combined 4-2 margin.  When couple with the fact that the Caps held both teams without a goal in the first period, they could work their late-game charm, winning their sixth game in overtime this season and winning their 34th game when leading after two periods, tops in the league.

In the end…

Week 23 was the 20th winning week for the Caps this season, evidence of the consistency with which they have performed this season.  They did it by beating a good possession team in Carolina and beating a Nashville team that had just one loss in regulation in 17 games, since they lost in regulation to the Caps on February 9th. 

The Caps enter the last dozen games of the season looking to maintain focus and build on the things that served them so well over the first 60 games of the season – balanced scoring, solid goaltending, effective special teams.  In Week 24 they will get a chance to do so against two teams in the playoff mix (Pittsburgh and St. Louis), and two other teams in their last gasps in fighting for their playoff lives (New Jersey and Ottawa).  It should be a good test.

Three Stars:

  • First Star: Evgeny Kuznetsov (0-4-4, plus-3, two game-winning assists, fourth three-assist game of the season (tied for first in the league), 67.7 percent on faceoffs)
  • Second Star: Daniel Winnik (2-0-2, plus-2, two goals on two shots against Nashville)
  • Third Star: Braden Holtby (2-0-2, 0.99, .957)

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