Sunday, April 10, 2016

Washington Capitals: That Was The Week That Was -- Week 26

Week 26 was the last full week of action of the regular season for the Washington Capitals, and a full one it was.  It was both a “winning” week and a “losing” week. It was one with frustrating performances and historic performances.  It was some of the best and worst the Caps offered this season.  It was hockey, and when the smoke cleared they had the best record in the league and knew who their first round playoff opponent would be.

Record: 1-0-2

Week 26 could have been so much more, record-wise.  The Caps carried a lead into the third period against the New York Islanders and had a two-goal lead on the Isles with less than 12 minutes left in regulation time on home ice, as close to a lock on a win as you could imagine, the Caps having a perfect 36-0-0 record when leading after two periods to that point this season.  The Islanders then scored two goals in less than two minutes to tie the game, then grabbed the extra standings point in overtime to give the Caps a disappointing start to the week.

Then the Caps spotted the Pittsburgh Penguins a three-goal lead 29 minutes into the middle game of the week before clawing their way back to tie the contest in the third period.  All the work went for naught when Sidney Crosby scored on a breakaway in overtime for the Caps second straight extra-time loss and third straight defeat overall, the first time all season the Caps lost three in a row. 

Washington salvaged the week with perhaps their best performance of the 2016 portion of the season, spotting the St. Louis Blues an early goal, then roaring back behind five unanswered goals and a bucket of milestones met to salvage what was, from a standings points perspective, a winning week.

Offense:  3.67/game (season: 3.06 /game; rank: 2nd)

The Caps had a big week in the offensive end because the Captain had a big week.  Alex Ovechkin started the week with 45 goals and was trying to fend off the challenge of Chicago’s Patrick Kane for the league goal-scoring lead.  By the time the week ended, Ovechkin had five of the team’s 11 goals, hit the 50-goal mark for the seventh time in his career (third-most all time), recorded his 15th career hat trick (most in the NHL since he came into the league), and passed Hall of Famer Bryan Trottier for 33rd place on the league’s all-time goal scoring list.

Five other Caps shared in the other six goals, Marcus Johansson the only other Capital with more than one for the week, both of them in the loss to Pittsburgh.  There were 13 different Caps sharing in the points for the week.  Johansson (2-3-5) and John Carlson (1-4-5) tying Ovechkin for the team lead with five points apiece.  Carlson had quietly put together a rather impressive season in the offensive end of the ice, despite missing 25 games to injury.  His eight goals in 56 games (0.14 per game) is his second-best goals per game output of his career (0.15 goals per game last season), and his 0.70 points per game is a career high.  His plus-minus of plus-16 might have been played into a career high had he not missed so many games (plus-21 in 82 games in 2011-2012).

Meanwhile, Johansson finished the week with 46 points, one off his career high (47 in 2013-2014), and his points-per-game (0.63) is his highest in a full NHL season (he had 0.65 per game in the abbreviated 2012-2013 season).

Defense: 3.00/game (season: 2.33 /game; rank: 2nd)

“Defense” was a mixed bag for the Caps in Week 26.  On a shots-on-goal basis, it was a good week, the Caps holding three opponents to an average of just 27.3 shots on goal per game, a bit more impressive for the fact that two of the games went to extra time.  But the circumstances in which goals were scored largely reflected breakdowns at inopportune times.  The Caps yielded far too many odd man rushes to far to the Penguins in the middle game of the week, ultimately losing the game on the ultimate odd-man rush, a breakaway when two Caps were caught along the right wing wall at their own blue line, a bad thing when there are only three men on the ice.  In the Islander game the visitors got back into the game when a Capital was late getting back to defend Kyle Okposo, who took a rebound off the end wall and stuffed it in to start the Islander comeback.  It was not so much a systemic problem on defense as it was poor moments borne of poor judgement or effort.

The “moment” hypothesis, as opposed to a systemic problem, is reflected in the shot attempts at 5-on-5.  The Caps had a solid week in that respect, finishing all three games above 50 percent and going 54.2 percent Corsi-for at 5-on-5 for the week.  They won six of the nine regulation periods of the week in that respect and were especially efficient early in games, posting a 58.3 percent Corsi-for in the first periods of games and a 54.7 percent Corsi-for in the second periods for the week (numbers from

Goaltending: 2.90 /.890 (season: 2.23 / .921 / 3 shutouts)

The weight of the all-time wins record that goalie Braden Holtby was pursuing seemed to be a heavy burden this week.  Holtby got all the minutes in Week 26 and had his struggles.  It would not have been so bad but for the two goals on six shots faced in two overtime games that for all intents and purposes denied Holtby the all-time wins record he was pursuing.  Even in the third periods of games, in which he stopped 30 of 32 shots for the week for a .938 save percentage, all was not unicorns and accordions.  The two goals he allowed were the two goals the Islanders scored in the third period to tie the game before the Isles won in overtime.  One of those goals was one of those “why don’t the hockey gods love us” moments when a puck that rebounded off the end wall eluded Holtby’s stick and ended up on the blade of Kyle Okposo’s stick to get the Islanders back in the game in the third period.

Not that his first two periods of play were all that shimmering.  He stopped 21 of 23 shots in the first periods of games (.913 save percentage) and 18 of 21 in the second periods of games for the week (.857).  But he did save the best for last.  He allowed a goal by St. Louis’ Vladimir Tarasenko 75 seconds into the game, then slammed the door on the Blues, stopping the last 17 shots he faced to earn the win that tied him with Martin Brodeur for the all-time record in wins by a goaltender in one season (48).

And here is the remarkable thing about Holtby’s record-tying season.  None of the other goaltenders with 45 or more wins in a single season recorded fewer than 20 regulation losses in doing so.  Holtby will go into the season finale on Sunday with just nine losses in regulation this season.

Power Play: 0-for-7 / 0.0 percent (season: 22.2 percent; rank: 4th)

Woof.  If there was a worse week for the Capitals’ power play, we don’t want to think about it.  It was not even the fact that the Caps took their second “oh-fer” in four weeks (0-for-6 in Week 23).  It was the lack of pressure.  Washington managed just four shots in 12:25 of power play ice time (Ovechkin (2), Carlson, Kuznetsov).  Part of it might have been Nicklas Backstrom missing the first game of the week against the Islanders (the Caps had no power play shots on goal in that game), but it was just a week in which the power play didn’t have enough wattage to light the refrigerator with the door open. 

Penalty Killing: 9-for-9 / 100.0 percent (season: 85.0 percent; rank: 4th)

Where the power play failed, the penalty kill sparkled.  Not since Week 3 had the Caps faced as many as nine shorthanded situations in a week and killed them all off.  And the Caps were impressively efficient in killing off all nine power plays.  They permitted only nine shots on goal in 19:25 of shorthanded ice time (0.46 shots per minute).  That included holding the St. Louis Blues without a shot on goal on their power play in six shorthanded minutes.

Faceoffs: 83-for-166 / 50.0 percent (season: 49.7% / rank: 19th)

The Caps split the week right down the middle for Week 26 overall.  They also “split” the week by games, winning one (against St. Louis), losing one (against Pittsburgh), and winning 50 percent in the other (against the Islanders).  By zone it was equally inconclusive, the Caps less successful in the offensive end (45.3 percent) than they were in the defensive end (57.4 percent), while losing the neutral zone total for the week (48.5 percent).

Among those Caps taking at least ten draws for the week, Jay Beagle (57.1 percent) and Mike Richards (63.1 percent) were impressive.  Richards was the only Capital to win all three zones for the week (offensive: 6-8; defensive: 6-10; neutral: 9-15).  Beagle finished the week with the third best faceoff winning percentage in the league among players taking at least 500 draws (58.1 percent, trailing only Ryan Kesler (58.5 percent) and Jonathan Toews (58.6 percent)).

Goals by Period:

It would have been a lot better week if the goal breakdown by regulation period reflected a different distribution among the games.  The Caps had an 11-7 edge in goals scored in regulation.  It is those seven goals against.  Two of them came in the first period, both of them scored by the Penguins, the first two goals of the game in a 4-3 overtime loss.  There were two scored by opponents in the third period, both by the Islanders to tie the game after the Caps took a 3-1 lead, only to lose by a 4-3 score in overtime.  Sometimes it’s not the “what,” or even so much the “how,” but the “when”

In the end…

On one level, you cannot say Week 26 was a good one for the Caps, not with a 1-0-2 record.  But the team had clinched the Presidents Trophy before the week started, they knew they would have the top seed in the postseason and home-ice advantage as long as they were playing.  That left the incentive a number of team and personal milestones, many of which were achieved:
  • The 2015-2016 Caps reached the 120-point mark for the second time in seven seasons and are just the ninth team to reach that mark in NHL history.  They are one of three teams to have done it at least twice.  Montreal has done it four times, while the Detroit Red Wings have done it twice.
  • The Caps finished the week with 56 wins, a franchise record and the ninth team in NHL history to reach that mark.
  • The Caps became the first team in 39 years to go an entire NHL season without losing consecutive games in regulation, the 1976-1977 Montreal Canadiens being the last team to do it on their way to a 60-8-12 record.
  • Braden Holtby won his 48th game of the season, tying Martin Brodeur’s league record, set with the New Jersey Devils in 2006-2007.  Holtby is the only player to win 45 or more games in fewer than 70 season appearances (he did it in his 66th appearance) and is the only one to do it with fewer than 20 regulation losses (he has nine).
  • Alex Ovechkin recorded his seventh 50-goal season, becoming the first player in NHL history to record two separate three-season streaks of 50 or more goals.  In doing so he won the Maurice Richard Trophy as the league’s top goal scorer for the sixth time, the last four in succession.
  • Jason Chimera recorded his 20th goal of the season in the week’s final game, the 5-1 win over the St. Louis Blues.  It tied a career-high in goals scored for Chimera, set with the Caps in 2011-2012.
  • Nicklas Backstrom had three assists against the Blues, his fourth game with three or more assists this season, tying him with teammate Evgeny Kuznetsov and Ottawa’s Erik Karlsson for the league lead.  It was his 31st career game with three or more assists, most in the league since he came into the NHL in 2007-2008.
  • Backstrom finished the week with 50 assists for the season, giving him six seasons of 50 or more assists since he entered the league in 2007-2008, tied with Ryan Getzlaf, Henrik Sedin, and Joe Thornton for most in the league in that span.
It was quite a week.  Bring on the Flyers.

Three Stars:
  • First Star: Alex Ovechkin (5-0-5, plus-5, 20 shots on goal, 31 shot attempts, five hits)
  • Second Star: John Carlson (1-4-5, plus-6, 4 blocked shots, 3 hits, on ice for one goal against)
  • Third Star: T.J. Oshie (1-3-4, plus-3, 8 takeaways, 4 hits, 4 blocked shots)

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 82: Ducks at Capitals, April 10th

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

Well, we are at the end of it.  The journey that started last October ends where it began, on the ice at Verizon Center where the Washington Capitals will host the Anaheim Ducks in a game that was postponed from January when the region was buried in snow from Winter Storm Jonas.

Washington comes into this game with few things left on the checklist to check off.  They can set a franchise record of 122 standings points with a win, and if that win is recorded by goalie Braden Holtby, he will hold the record for most wins in a season by a goaltender.  The Ducks, meanwhile, have a bit more to reach for – the top seed in the Pacific Division.  If the Ducks capture two points, they will pass the Los Angeles Kings in the division and face the Nashville Predators in the first round of the playoffs instead of the San Jose Sharks.

The Ducks are stumbling a bit coming into this game with a 2-2-1 record over their last five games.  Scoring has been an issue with only 12 goals in those five games, five of them coming in a 5-3 win over the Colorado Avalanche in the Ducks’ last game, played on Saturday night in Denver.

What the Ducks have been lacking is a certain star power in their offensive game.  Ryan Getzlaf has a goal and an assist over the last five games, and until Corey Perry recorded three assists against Colorado on Saturday night, he has not had a multi-point game since March 3rd (5-7-12 in his last 18 games).  The Ducks are led in goals over the last five games by Ryan Kesler (three), giving him his third straight 20-goal season and eight of his career.  Kesler has been quite the road warrior lately, going 3-11-14 in his last 13 road games.  In 11 career games against the Caps, Kesler is 3-6-9, plus-2.

Jakov Silfverberg is tied with Kesler for the team lead in points over the last five games (2-3-5).  With two goals against Colorado on Saturday, he hit the 20-goal mark for the first time in his four-year career and tied his career-best in points (39) set last season.  What he does not yet have that he had in each of his first three seasons is at least one shorthanded goal (we’ll be pulling for him to miss a fourth season), but he does have something he did not have in any of his first three season, an overtime goal, scored in a 3-2 win over Winnipeg on March 20th.  Silfverberg is 1-2-3, even, in eight career games against the Caps.

With John Gibson having appeared in the last seven games for the Ducks, it could be Frederik Andersen getting the nod in goal for the Ducks in the back half of their weekend road back-to-back.  Andersen last appeared in a game on March 30th, when he logged 11 minutes and change in the second period of an 8-3 win over the Calgary Flames.  It was an odd circumstance, Andersen coming into the game after Gibson was shaken up in a collision with teammate defenseman Hampus Lindholm.  Andersen probably wanted a do-over after allowing three goals on five shots and yielding to Gibson in the third period.  In his last three appearances dating back to March 24th he has allowed 12 goals on 64 shots (.813 save percentage).  He has never faced the Capitals.

Here is how the teams compare overall:

1.  Anaheim leads the NHL in both power play (23.4 percent) and penalty kill (87.1 percent), the power play even better on the road – 24.8 percent.

2.  You would not expect a 100-point team to have a poor record when scoring first, but the Ducks can be caught when they get the first goal.  They rank just 18th in winning percentage (.660/33-7-10), and their ten overtime losses when scoring is most in the league.  Their 50 instances of scoring first is second most in the league, behind Chicago (53, with a record of 41-6-6).

3.  Despite scoring first 50 times this season, the Ducks do not often lead at the first intermission, and when they do they are not especially successful, at least in the context of league rankings.  Anaheim has taken a lead into the first intermission 33 times and has a record of 23-4-6, a winning percentage of .697 that ranks tied for 22nd in the leagtue.

4.  Anaheim does not work or play well with others.  Their 328 minor penalties is third most in the league.  If they take three against the Caps, they will jump into second place over the Winnipeg Jets.

5.  Anaheim is the fifth-best possession team in the league, as measured in Corsi-for percent at 5-on-5 (52.4).  They are also fifth in that measure in road games (51.1 percent; numbers from

1.  Let’s look at a few milestones that can be reached for the Caps in Game 82.  With three points, Evgeny Kuznetsov would finish the season with 80 points.   He would become the fourth Capital to hit that mark since the 2004-2005 lockout, joining Alex Ovechkin (seven times), Nicklas Backstrom (twice), and Alexander Semin for the club.

2.  John Carlson and Andre Burakovsky are within striking distance of 40-point seasons, Carlson needing one point and Burakovsky needing two.  If both make it, the Caps would finish the season with nine players with 40 or more points.  Compare that to last season when the Caps had six such players.

3.  Kuznetsov is currently at plus-25. No Capital has finished a season at plus-25 or better since the 2010 season when six players topped that mark.

4.  Alex Ovechkin stands at 19 power play goals.  If he gets one more he will have his fifth 20-power play goal season, tying Brett Hull for most over the last 40 years.

5.  The Caps have an odd relationship of Corsi-for to scoring on home ice.  Their Corsi-for at 5-on-5 ranks just 15th in the league (51.7 percent), but their goal differential of plus-22 at fives on home ice ranks fourth in the league (numbers from

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

Anaheim:  Bruce Boudreau

OK, he is not a player, but Bruce Boudreau is about to wrap up a remarkable regular season.  After the Ducks stumbled out of the gate with an awful October (1-7-2), the “Bruce Watch” began anticipating his firing as head coach.  The end of October would be the low-water mark for the club.  They slowly and methodically resurrected their season, going 44-18-9 since then as they come to Washington.   Boudreau will finish the season with a points percentage over .600 for the eighth time in nine NHL seasons, the only season he missed it being the one in which he was fired by the Caps and hired by the Ducks (39-32-9 overall, a .544 points percentage).  Boudreau is 3-1-1 in games coached against Washington.

Washington: Justin Williams

When Justin Williams takes the ice on Sunday night, he will do so for the 1,000th time in the regular season for his career.  Williams has been everything anyone could have expected in his first season in Washington.  He will have appeared in all 82 games for the season, the fifth time he will have appeared in all 82 games.  He ranks third on the club with 22 goals, topping the 20-goal mark for the first time since the 2011-2012 season with Los Angeles.  He has 30 assists, fourth on the team and the first time he reached that level since 2011-2012.  His 52 points is fourth on the club and, again, his best since 2011-2012.  His plus-15 is a career best, tying a mark he recorded in 2012-2013.  He has not been especially hot lately (1-2-3 in his last ten games), but he has had success against the Ducks, going 11-14-25, plus-4, in 36 career games.

In the end…

At the moment, it appears that Philipp Grubauer will “probably” get the call in goal for the Capitals on Sunday, meaning there would be no last attempt to secure the all-time goalie wins record for Braden Holtby.  That would make give the Caps few incentives in this contest, other than to remind their former coach that they are still a formidable team.  But this team has, for the most part this season, done a good job of taking care of business.  This is a chance to punch the time clock and carry the lunch pail one last time before the fun starts in the postseason.

Capitals 3 – Ducks 2

Washington Capitals Recap: A TWO-Point Night: Capitals 5 - Blues 1

If the Washington Capitals were in need of an all-around performance to get them prepared for the postseason that starts in less than a week, they got it on Saturday night as they spotted the St. Louis Blues an early goal, then roared back with five unanswered goals in what was a milestone night up and down the roster.

It did not start well for the Caps as the Blues jumped in front in the first 90 seconds of the game.  It started with Vladimir Tarasenko setting up between the hash marks as Alex Pietrangelo  circled with the puck behind the net.  The Caps seemed a bit mesmerized by Pietrangelo as he came out with the puck to the right of goalie Braden Holtby.  It was enough for Pietrangelo to find Tarasenko for a one-timer to give the Blues a 1-0 lead just 75 seconds into the contest.

It did not take long for the Caps to shake off the insult.  Just as the clock passed the four minute mark, T.J. Oshie pinched down the wall to keep a loose puck out of the grips of Carl Gunnarsson.  Nicklas Backstrom circled in to take control, then fed John Carlson at the top of the offensive zone.  Carlson took advantage of two Blues closing on him.  It gave Carlson the opportunity to slide the puck off to his left where Alex Ovechkin was waiting.  A one-timer later, it was 1-1, and the Caps were off and running. 

Less than three minutes later it was Ovechkin again.  Backstrom took a faceoff to the right of Elliott in the Blues’ zone.  With his second swipe at the puck, he pulled it back to Ovechkin, past the attempted steal by Robby Fabbri.  It was a positional mistake by Fabbri, whose momentum left him out of position to do anything but turn his head around just as Ovechkin was settling the puck and snapping it past Elliott to make it 2-1 at the 6:49 mark.

In the third period, another pair of Caps got into the scoring column.  John Carlson and Tom Wilson worked a lovely give-and-go, starting when Carlson fielded a pass at the top of the offensive zone from Brooks Orpik.  Carlson turned and fed Tom Wilson at the right wing wall, then broke to the net behind Alexander Steen.  Wilson froze Jori Lehtera with a look that said “shot,” then led Carlson for a tap in behind Elliott that gave the Caps a 3-1 lead 5:21 into the period.

A little more than five minutes later the Caps added another goal, courtesy of Jason Chimera.  It started with Dmitry Orlov with a stretch pass to Evgeny Kuznetsov skating through the neutral zone.  Kuznetsov circled into the Blues’ zone, weaved his way across the middle, faked a pass to Tom Wilson, then, as he pulled goalie Brian Elliott to defend against a shot, he whipped a backhand pass across the slot to a fast-closing Chimera, who batter the puck behind Elliott to make it 4-1 at the 10:56 mark.

There were two items of business left for the Caps in the third period.  They checked one off the list mid-way through the period.  T.J. Oshie stripped Jay Bouwmeester of the puck just outside the Caps’ blue line and fed it up to Nicklas Backstrom heading the other way.  Backstrom led the Caps on a 3-on-1 rush.  With the lone defender occupying Oshie in the middle, Backstrom floated a saucer pass to the left side where Alex Ovechkin one-timed it past Anders Nilsson, in goal in relief of Brian Elliott for the third period.  It gave Ovechkin the hat trick and a 50-goal season for the seventh time in 11 NHL seasons. 

That left the last order of business for the Caps, now all but assured with the bunches of goals.  Braden Holtby stopped all ten shots he faced in the third period to secure his 48th win of the season, tying a record set by Martin Brodeur in 2006-2007 with the New Jersey Devils, the Caps skating off with the 5-1 win.  

Other stuff…

-- The Capitals became the ninth team in NHL history to win 56 or more games in a season.  In doing so they became the first team in 39 years to do it without losing consecutive games in regulation (they will finish the season with that fact intact), the 1976-1977 Montreal Canadiens being the last team to do it on their way to a 60-8-12 season.

-- Washington also became just the ninth team in NHL history to reach 120 standings points in a season.  They are one of three teams to have done it at least twice.  Montreal has done it four times, while the Detroit Red Wings have done it twice.

-- Braden Holtby winning his 48th game and tying Martin Brodeur for the all-time record of wins in a season is an amazing accomplishment, but there is something even more remarkable about it.  In none of the other instances of a goalie winning 45 or more games in a regular season did they record fewer than 20 regulation losses.  Holtby has nine.

-- The greatest pure goal scorer I ever saw was Mike Bossy.  But for his sheer consistency and reliability, it would be hard to top Alex Ovechkin.  His hat trick gave him his seventh 50-goal season and sixth Maurice Richard Trophy as the league’s top goal scorer, his fourth in a row (a record since the Trophy was first awarded after the 1998-1999 season).  He became the first player in NHL history to record three-straight 50-goal seasons in two separate streaks.  And consider this.  After the 2011-2012 season, when he had “just” 38 goals in 78 games (his second straight season in which he did not reach the 40-goal mark), he was considered in decline.  In the four seasons since, he has 186 goals.  The second-ranked goal scorer over that period is San Jose’s Joe Pavelski, who has 131.

-- Jason Chimera recorded his 20th goal of the season in this game.  It tied a career-high in goals scored for Chimera, set with the Caps in 2011-2012.

-- Nicklas Backstrom had three assists, his fourth game with three or more assists this season, tying him with teammate Evgeny Kuznetsov and Ottawa’s Erik Karlsson for the league lead.  It was his 31st career game with three or more assists, most in the league since he came into the NHL in 2007-2008.

-- John Carlson had a two-point game (goal, assist), giving him consecutive multi-point games and nine for the year in just 56 games.  Since he returned from injury on March 25th, he has not gone consecutive games without a point and is 2-6-8 in nine games.

--  Mike Richards might not have had much action on the scoring side, but he did make his presence felt.  In 14:28 of ice time, he had four hits and won 13 of 19 faceoffs (68.4 percent).

-- If there was a hole in the offense for the Caps, look to Andre Burakovsky and Marcus Johansson.  Between them, they did not record a shot attempt.

-- St. Louis recorded the first three shot attempts, the last resulting in their only goal.  After that, the Caps out attempted the Blues, 55-38, at 5-on-5, finishing the game with a 57.3 percent Corsi-for at fives.  And it was something of a “score effect” that the final numbers were that close.  The Caps had a 26-9 edge in shot attempts at 5-on-5 in the first period and a 15-12 edge in the second (numbers from

In the end…

This might have been the best game the Caps played in the 2016 portion of the season.  On the road, against an opponent they have a history of some struggles against (2-2-1 in St. Louis since the 2004-2005 lockout), and against a team that still had something to play for (a top-seed in the Central Division).  One might have liked to see a Burakovsky or a Johansson make more of an impact, and one hopes that the injury Jay Beagle suffered when he took a shot off the inside of his ankle does not take him out of the lineup, but having the stars come up big was a big plus as the Caps wrapped up the road portion of their regular season schedule.  It was a superb effort in all three periods in all three zones, just the tonic for the team and its fans as the playoffs are about to begin.