The Caps went 0-1-1 in Week 8, the first time that they went without a win for a week since Week 16 last season, when they played only one game, an overtime loss to the Philadelphia Flyers. The regulation 3-0 loss to the New York Islanders and the 2-1 Gimmick loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning was the first time they went winless for a week with two or more games since Week 23 of the 2014-2015 season. So, what happened?
All of a sudden, the Capitals find themselves struggling against Eastern Conference teams. The regulation and Gimmick loss for the week left them 6-5-3 against Eastern Conference teams this season. It is worse against Metropolitan Division teams, where the 3-0 loss to the New York Islanders in regulation left the Caps 2-4-2 against division opponents.
Of more immediate urgency, the losses were the Caps’ second and third consecutive losses, the first time they lost three straight games since Games 78-80 last season, the difference in that case being that by that time, the Caps had 55 wins and were coasting to a Presidents Trophy-winning season. At the moment, the Caps are one of four teams with 29 standings points fighting for the last spots in the playoff-eligible mix. They hold the first wild-card spot at the moment, although they do have two games in hand on the Boston Bruins, and three games in hand against the Tampa Bay Lightning and the Philadelphia Flyers.
Offense: 0.50/game (season: 2.52 /game; rank: T-18th)
Nicklas Backstrom. That’s it. That was the offense. It was not as if the Caps lacked for shots on goal, either. They had 38 against the Islanders and 35 against the Lightning. That makes four straight games in which the Caps topped the 30-shot mark (35.0 per game). Six goals on 140 shots over four games (4.3 percent shooting) had turned the Caps into a team full of Justin Williams’. Speaking of Williams, is there a player in the league with more bad luck than this guy?
Against the Islanders, Williams had seven shots on goal (ten attempts) with nothing to show for it, having a goal scored at the horn to end the first period taken down because the video replay showed the puck had not completely crossed the goal line before the clock ran out. He ended the week with no goals on ten shots and just two goals on 52 shots for the season. His 3.8 shooting percentage for the season ranks 272nd among 290 forwards with at least 25 shots on goal. If 50 goals in your threshold, he ranks 109th of 109 forwards (although Caps fans might take some solace in the fact that Filip Forsberg and Carl Hagelin rank just above him in the next two slots). The hockey gods would appear to owe Williams some slack.
Defense: 2.00/game (season: 2.22 /game; rank: T-5th)
When a team out-attempts opponents by a 98-67 margin in two games at 5-on-5, you would think it would be a good week. And for the Caps, there was the consistency in holding opponents to low shot attempt totals. They held the Islanders to 34 shot attempts at 5-on-5 and held the Lightning to just 33 shot attempts in almost 48 5-on-5 minutes (numbers from Corsica.hockey). All they had to show for it was allowing three 5-on-5 goals (scoring none) and losing both games. Defense has not been the problem for the Caps, and it wasn’t in Week 8. The Caps allowed 47.38 shot attempts per 60 minutes at 5-on-5 for the week, even better than their season mark of 51.39 that ranks fifth-lowest in the league.
Goaltending: 1.98/ .934 (season: 2.08 / .925 / 2 SO)
Braden Holtby tended goal for all the minutes in Week 8, and he probably deserved better. Of the three goals the Islanders scored in the third period of their 3-0 win over the Caps, one came on a breakaway, and another came on an ugly turnover that left the puck on an Islander stick all alone in front of the goaltender (they still needed several whacks to score). Against the Lightning, Holtby allowed a power play goal. With fewer breakdowns (and a lower propensity to take penalties), Holtby might have had even better numbers and a successful week. As it was, he allowed just the one goal to the Lightning, the first time in five games he allowed fewer than three goals. Still, he has losses in his last three decisions (0-2-1), the first time that happened since he took three straight losses in regulation in his Games 52-54 of the 2014-2015 season.
Power Play: 1-for-12 / 8.3 percent (season: 14.5 percent; rank: 22nd)
Opportunity was not a problem for the Caps in Week 8. Washington had six power play chance in each of the week’s two games, the first time this season the Caps had consecutive games with six or more power play chances and the first time since Games 61 and 62 of the 2013-2014 season that they enjoyed as many or more power play chances in consecutive games.
If there was something odd about the Caps’ power play for the week, it was the shot mix among the players. Eight different players recorded shots on goal for the week, but Alex Ovechkin had just two of the total of 17. John Carlson led with four, and both Nicklas Backstrom (with the only goal) and Justin Williams had three apiece. Even Brett Connolly and Dmitry Orlov got in on the act (one apiece). It made for a large shot total, but the Caps also had a total of 21:16 in power play ice time. With 0.80 shots per minute, you might say that the Caps just weren’t getting enough pucks on net, or at least could have done with more frequency to make goalies work harder to fight through screens and deal with rebounds. It seems to be a lingering problem.
Penalty Killing: 4-for-5 / 80.0 percent (season: 82.4 percent; rank: 17th)
The penalty kill was odd. One problem the Caps have been having lately is taking too many penalties. In eight games coming into Week 8, Washington was facing an average of 4.25 shorthanded situations per game, compared to 2.69 per game in their first 13 games. Facing five shorthanded situations in two games, Week 8 was right in line with the first part of the season, an encouraging sign. Still, it was odd. Why? Four of those shorthanded situations came as a result of Alex Ovechkin taking minor penalties (two in each game). Three of those penalties (two slashing, one tripping) were stick penalties.
The Caps did a credible job of denying opponents opportunities, at least with respect to getting shots on net. In the two games, the Islanders and Lightning combined for five shots in 8:49 of power play time, the 0.57 shots per minute being a good week’s worth of holding down shots.
Faceoffs: 60-for-117 / 51.3 percent (season: 51.2% / rank: 8th)
The Caps had a decent week in the circle, owing mostly to the efforts of Nicklas Backstrom and Jay Beagle, who combined to take 66 of the 117 faceoffs the club took for the week, and who won a combined 54.5 percent of them. Backstrom was especially efficient in the offensive zone, winning 14 of 25 draws (56.0 percent), while Beagle was over 50 percent in both the offensive (5-of-7) and defensive (6-of-10) zones. For the week, the team was 50 percent or better in all three zones.
Goals by Period:
If every period was the first period, life would be unicorns and accordions in Capitals Nation. Not that the team is lighting it up in the first period. They scored no goals in the first period of either game this week, although they did finish the week with 22 first period goals, tied for eighth-most in the league. What is remarkable is that they did not allow a first period goal in Week 8 and that the nine goals they have allowed in 23 first periods this season is the fewest in the league.
Now about that third period. Things got away quickly for the Capitals against the Islanders, giving up three goals in a span of 4:28 of the third period after the teams went scoreless over the first two periods. They finished the week having allowed 24 first period goals for the season, almost as many as their total in the first two periods of games combined (26). Closing out games and owning the third period have not been characteristics of this team so far.
In the end…
In the scale of “whatever” to “full-throated panic,” the recent play of the Caps might be said to merit “concern.” They have not put together consecutive winning weeks since Weeks 1 and 2, and they have two losing weeks in their last four, over which they are 5-5-2. They aren’t scoring much – four games with more than two goals in their last 12 contests – and they are very leaky late in games. Their possession numbers still look good, ranking fifth overall in Corsi-for at 5-on-5 (52.68 percent), so it might be a case of bad luck or bad alignment between process and results, a matter that one might expect to correct itself given the skill level on this team. But for the time being, this is a club that looks too much as if it is running at 85-90 percent, and in a league this balanced, that number needs to be higher on a more consistent basis.
- First Star: Braden Holtby (0-0-1, 1.98, .934)
- Second Star: Nicklas Backstrom (1-0-1, 52.4 percent faceoff wins)
- Third Star: John Carlson (0-1-1, 7 shots on goal, 14 shot attempts, 3 hits, 3 blocked shots)