Sunday, October 30, 2016

Washington Capitals: That Was The Week That Was -- Week 3

Week 3 of the season was “A Tale of Two Games”…it was the worst of games, it was the best of games; it was the worst of special teams, it was the best of special teams; it was a game of Holtby, it was the game of Grubauer…you get the picture. 

Record: 1-1-0

On the one hand, it was a light schedule, what with just two games on the docket.  On the other, they were in western Canada in the most distant road trip of the young season.  Last season, when the Caps took a similar four-game road trip to the western provinces, the Caps opened with three wins.  One of them was against the Edmonton Oilers, then a precocious team with iffy defense and goaltending that the Caps beat by a 7-4 margin.  This time around, the Oilers got their four goals, but things might be turning around in the Edmonton end of the ice in their new arena, where the Caps managed but one goal.  The Caps followed up the 4-1 loss in Edmonton with what might have been their best all-around game of the season. They dominated possession, had balanced scoring, and held an opponent to two or fewer goals for the fifth time in seven games (not counting shootout goals). 

Offense:  3.00/game (season: 2.71 /game; rank: T-15th)

Scoring one goal against Edmonton was surprising in one respect, the Caps being among the most skilled and deepest offenses in the league, largely returning the league’s second-ranked scoring offense from last season.  On the other hand, the Oilers, who allowed three or more goals in their first three games of the season, allowed a total of one goal in two games leading up to their game against the Caps. They allowed only one goal to the Caps and as of the end of the week allowed just two goals over four games.

Meanwhile, the Caps unloaded on the Vancouver Canucks, scoring five goals for the first time this season, getting points from nine different skaters, and dominating the possession numbers (a 56-35 edge in shot attempts at 5-on-5).  And it came with a couple of unexpected results.  The Caps got a five-goal game without any of them off the stick of Alex Ovechkin (the first time in 11 five-goal games he did not light the lamp), and Tom Wilson – that would be second-line Tom Wilson – got his first of the season with assists from Evgeny Kuznetsov and Marcus Johansson on a snipe that was certainly no fluke.

Defense: 3.00/game (season:  2.14/game; rank: 6th)

The Caps are proving to be a rather difficult team to play against in two related respects that were on display in Week 3.  They allowed Edmonton only 29 shots on goal and Vancouver only 25 shots on goal, ending the week with six straight games holding opponents under 30 goals and not yet having allowed as many as 30 shots in regulation time this season (they allowed Pittsburgh 28 shots in regulation and two in overtime in the season opener).  The Caps and Oilers split 90 shot attempts at 5-on-5 in the 4-1 Edmonton win, but Washington held the Canucks to just 35 5-on-5 shot attempts, just 0.72 shot attempts per minute at fives.  The Caps ended the week allowing the third-fewest shot attempts per 60 minutes at 5-on-5 (48.48; numbers from

Goaltending: 3.00 /.889 (season: 1.99 / .921 / 1 SO)

The goaltending was efficient and inefficient in Week 3, but no in ways one might expect.  Braden Holtby took the loss in Edmonton, allowing four goals on 29 shots.  It was his second straight game with a save percentrage south of .900, and they are the only two times in which he allowed more than two goals.  Allowing a goal to Patrick Maroon when he lost track of the puck barely a minute after the Caps got within a goal was a tough play and a difficult position in which Holtby found himself, but it was a much the turning point in the contest as any other.

In the second game of the week, Philipp Grubauer did what a backup needs to do, provide solid minutes.  He might not have been as sharp as he was in his shutout of the Colorado Avalanche in Week 2, but he was solid against the Canucks, stopping 23 of 25 shots, including all six he faced as the Caps pulled away from a one-goal lead to start the third period to a 5-2 win.

Power Play: 1-for-5 / 20..0 percent (season: 14.3 percent; rank: 23rd)

Well, they got one.  With one power play goal in two games, the Caps avoided ending the week with the fewest power play goals in the league.  As it is, the three they have so far through seven games is tied with the four other teams just ahead of the New York Islanders with two extra man goals.  Marcus Johansson did the honors against the Canucks, joining T.J. Oshie and Alex Ovechkin as the only power play goal scorers so far this season.  It was not the prettiest of goals, coming off an Oshie shot that hit the post and dropped into the crease about 12 inches from the goal line from where Johansson could swipe it in.

You could say the Caps were victimized somewhat by bad luck.  It was not for lack of shots; they had 12 shots on goal in 8:40 of power play ice time, a healthy 1.39 shots per power play minute.  T.J. Oshie had five of those 12 shots but did not convert any of them, although his miss when hitting a post resulted in Johansson’s oower play goal.  What the Caps diod not get, shooting-wise, was a lot from Alex Ovechkin who had two power play shots against Edmonton and none against Vancouver.

Penalty Killing: 6-for-7 / 85.7 percent (season: 76.2 percent; rank: 23rd)

After allowing a power play goal to the Edmonton Oilers in the first game of the week, the Caps finally stopped the bleeding on their penalty kill, denying the Canucks a goal on any of their three man advantages.  It was the first time since Game 3 against Colorado that the Caps did not allow a power play goal (they didn’t allow a goal of any kind in that one). 

The Caps held Vancouver to three power play chances after allowing four chances to the Oilers in the first game of the week, and in that respect, avoiding shorthanded situations has been the best penalty killing tool they have.  By week’s end, the Caps held opponents to three or fewer power play chances  five times in seven games. 

It was an efficient penalty kill in denying shots. In the two games the Caps allowed just ten shots on seven power plays covering 12:43 in shorthanded ice time (0.79 shots per minute).  Perhaps the Caps are turning a corner here.

Faceoffs: 66-for-132 / 50.0 percent (season: 51.4% / rank: 7th)

Two games, one over 50 percent, on under, two players finishing the week with more than 10 draws and a winning percentage over 50 percent (Nicklas Backstrom: 53.6 percent; Jay Beagle: 52.0 percent), two players finishing the week with at least ten draws and winning less than 50 percent of them (Lars Eller: 48.0 percent; Evgeny Kuznetsov: 45.7 percent).  Little wonder that the Caps split 132 draws right down the middle (66 wins, 66 losses) for the week.  If there was a noteworthy performance, it was Justin Williams against Vancouver.  He won all six draws he took, including four in the offensive end. 

Goals by Period:

If there is something the Caps still need work on, it is that second period.  While they won the first and third periods of the week, they are still coming up short in the second period.  It was another case of allowing as many goals in the second period (three) as in the first and third periods combined.  Their minus-6 goal differential in the second periods of games is tied for the fourth-worst in the league.  Given that the Caps are tied for the best first period goal differential (plus-6) and tied for the third-best third period goal differential, it’s clear that the second period is a problem that needs to be addressed.

In the end…

If you subscribe to the idea that you are only as good as your last game, then the Caps had a good week.  Yeah well, that goes only so far.  Splitting weeks is not the game plan, road trip notwithstanding.  But look at it this way.  The Caps have gone 33 consecutive weeks without a losing week (27 winning weeks and six .500 weeks) since Week 23 of the 2014-2015 season.  That is some impressive consistency.  

Three Stars:
  1. First Star: Marcus Johansson (2-1-3, plus-2, game-winning goal, five shots on goal)
  2. Second Star: T.J. Oshie (1-1-2, plus-1, eight shots on goal, 12 shot attempts, two blocked shots)
  3. Third Star: Matt Niskanen (0-2-2, plus-2, three hits)

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