The same look on offense and defense, power play and penalty kill, and even strength. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but neither was it all good, although ringing up their fifth straight winning week – extending their longest streak of winning weeks this season – is certainly a plus.
There are some teams this season that just seem to give the Caps fits. Ottawa was one of those teams, even though the Caps did win two of three from the Senators in their season series. One team that gave the Caps a devil of a time this season and against which they did not fare as well was the New York Islanders. Washington lost the first game of the week to the Isles, 3-2, their third loss to New York in the five-game season series, now ended. They are the only team against which the Caps have played more than one game this season and have a below .500 standings points record (they lost to San Jose in the only meeting of the clubs so far). Washington earned just four of a possible ten points against the Islanders.
On the other end of the spectrum were Boston and Montreal. The Caps made it two-for-two this season against the Bruins and eight wins in a row since they lost to the Bruins in March 2014. The domination of the Bruins has been outright spooky. The three goals the Caps allowed to the B’s on Wednesday was the most they scored against the Caps in any of the eight losses, tying their goal total in the first meeting this season, but Boston still has scored a total of just ten goals in the eight games and has been shut out three times.
Then there is the matter of “Verizon Center North.” If the Caps’ dominance of Boston has a spooky quality to it, their success in Montreal is outright bizarre. Beating the Canadiens, 3-2, to end the week, the Caps extended their run of success at Bell Centre to 12-0-2 in their last 14 meetings there dating back to November 2009. And what is more, the scores there have not been particularly close. The 3-2 win on Saturday was the exception, seven of the 12 wins on Bell Centre ice having been of the multi-goal variety, including a 4-1 win on January 9th.
Offense: 3.33/game (season: 3.25 /game; rank: 5th)
Week 17 was a week for the stars to shine when it came to scoring goals. Alex Ovechkin (2), Nicklas Backstrom (2), Evgeny Kuznetsov (2), and T.J. Oshie led the way, but the Caps also got goals from the supporting cast. Brett Connolly, Andre Burakovsky, and Jay Beagle chipped in, too. Beagle’s goal to open the scoring against Montreal was paired with a Caps win, hardly an unusual occurrence. The Caps record when Beagle records a goal over his career is now 32-1-5.
Backstrom had a hand in half of the goals for the week, adding three assists to his two goals to lead the team in overall scoring. He had points in all three games for the week after going consecutive games without a point as the week started. In his last 15 games he is 6-16-22, plus-8.
The Caps scored the first goal in all three games for the week, which made the loss to the Islanders on Tuesday unusual. The Caps finished the week with the most wins (29) and best winning percentage (.784) when scoring first.
What was not unusual was the Caps scoring five goals at home in the middle game of the week, the 5-3 win over Boston. It was the seventh straight game on home ice the Caps scored five or more goals, over which they averaged 5.43 goals per game.
Defense: 2.67/game (season: 2.12 /game; rank: 1st)
It was not an awful week on defense, and in some ways it was not bad at all. Washington did face two top-ten teams in scoring offense in Week 17 – Montreal (ranked seventh at week’s end) and the Islanders (eighth), both on the road, where Montreal ranked even higher (fourth at week’s end). The Caps held them to a total of five goals. Even against Boston, the third goal allowed was a bit of window dressing for the B’s, coming as it did with just 1:31 left in a 5-2 game.
The Caps did have a good week in terms of their 5-on-5 play. In 145 minutes at 5-on-5 they finished with a 52.67 percent Corsi-for and held the three opponents to just over 51 shots per 60 minutes at 5-on-5 (numbers from Corsica.hockey). They held both road opponents – the Islanders and Canadiens – under 30 shots on goal, making it three straight road games doing so. The odd thing about that is how well they have been able to clamp down on Montreal. The Caps held the Habs to 22 shots on goal after holding them to 23 shots on goal in their previous meeting on Bell Centre ice on January 9th. In the 12-0-2 streak the Caps have in Montreal, they held the Canadiens to fewer than 30 shots nine times and fewer than 25 five times.
Goaltending: 2.00 / .933 (season: 2.01 / .928 / 8 SO)
With a back-to-back set of games to start the week, the Caps split the goaltending duties, Philipp Grubauer getting the Islander game in Brooklyn on Tuesday and Braden Holtby getting the nod the following night against the Bruins in Washington. Holtby then got the last game of the week in Montreal.
Grubauer played rather well against the Islanders and might have deserved better than to suffer the loss. He stopped 26 of 28 shots, the first time he allowed fewer than three goals in a game since shutting out the Philadelphia Flyers on January 15th. He had allowed three goals in each of his three appearances after that before holding the Islanders to a pair.
Holtby wrapped up the week with a pair of appearances that reflected his season to date in some respects. He stopped 44 of 47 shots at even strength against Boston and Montreal (.936 save percentage), but stopped just four of six shots when the Caps were shorthanded (.667). That was not unusual. Among goalies appearing in more than ten games this season, Holtby is second in even strength save percentage (.940 to Devan Dubnyk’s .942) but 46th in that group in save percentage when the Caps are shorthanded (.840).
Power Play: 2-for-8 / 25.0 percent (season: 20.9 percent; rank: 11th)
For the fourth straight week, the Caps finished with a power play of 35 percent or better. Over that span they are 13-for-36 (36.1 percent), lifting them into 13th place in the league’s power play rankings. It might have been better but for getting only one power play opportunity against the Islanders to open the week. It was the sixth time this season that the Caps were awarded one or no power plays in a game, compared to seven times all of last season.
Overall it was an effective week performance-wise, as the 25.0 percent conversion rate suggests, but the efficiency wasn’t really there. In 14:15 of power play ice time, the Caps managed just seven shots on goal. Part of that is mitigated by the fact that Alex Ovechkin scored on the only power play shot he took against Boston, and Nicklas Backstrom did the same against Montreal, but it really was not that great of a week on the power play. The seven shots might be categorized as “perimeter” shots since six of them came from Ovechkin (2), Backstrom (2), Andre Burakovsky, and John Carlson. Only Justin Williams recorded a shot on goal from the middle of the power play for the week.
Penalty Killing: 5-for-8 / 62.5 percent (season: 84.2 percent; rank: 5th)
After hitting their season high point of 87.1 percent after Week 13, the Caps’ penalty kill has been sliding. The 62.5 percent in Week 17 was their worst week since Week 1 of the season when they killed two of four shorthanded situations (50.0 percent). Since that Week 13, Washington is just 32-for-43 (74.4 percent).
Unlike the power play, which was effective but not efficient, the penalty kill was neither. The Caps gave up three goals on 11 shots on goal in 13:41, the shots per minute saved by shutting out Montreal on two shots in six minutes of shorthanded ice time. For the optimistic, it is that last bit that is the takeaway. The Caps ended the week holding the Canadiens off the board on their power play, which finished the week as the tenth-best power play on home ice in the league.
Faceoffs: 82-for-157 / percent (season: 50.6% / rank: 11th)
It was a very good week in the faceoff circle in that the Caps were over 50 percent in all three games and over 50 percent in two of the three zones for the week. Only a 49.0 percent finish – one under 50 percent (24-for-49) -- in the offensive zone blemished the week. At the game level, they won in the offensive zone once in three games (against Boston), in all three games in the defensive zone, and in two of three games in the neutral zone (against the Islanders and Canadiens). Perhaps most impressive was the Caps holding their own (53.6 percent, their best mark of the three games) against the third-best team in the league in taking draws (Boston).
At the individual level, Nicklas Backstrom stood out, winning 31 of 53 draws (58.5 percent), including 15 of 19 against Montreal. Jay Beagle also finished above 50 percent for the week among the four Caps taking at least ten draws (14-for-26). The other two Caps in that category finished under 50 percent for the week (Lars Eller: 13-for-28; Evgeny Kuznetsov: 13-for-30).
Goals by Period:
Giving up first period goals has started to creep into the Caps’ game. Although the Caps still do lead the league in fewest first period goals allowed (23), they allowed one to both Boston and Montreal to end the week. Worse, though, was the four goals allowed in the third periods of games. One of them was an empty netter against the Islanders, and one was a window dressing goal scored late by the Bruins, but one still would like to see better (read: stingier) finishes in games.
The goals allowed covered up, to an extent, the strong starts and finishes in games for the week. The Caps scored goals in the first and third periods in all three games. In fact, the only period of the nine in which they did not score a goal was the second period against the Islanders in the first game of the week.
In the end…
The Caps finished the week with 52 games on their record and the top spot in the league’s standings, a spot they have occupied since January 15th. Going 2-1-0 might not sound especially impressive for a single week, but if the Caps do that over their last 30 games, they will finish with 116 points, the third highest standings points total in team history, and as likely as not their second straight Presidents Trophy (116 points has been exceeded for the prize six times in 10 full seasons since the 2004-2005 lockout, twice by the Caps).
Washington will be hard-pressed to sustain their success going into Week 18. It is a four-game week with teams in a variety of circumstances – the Los Angeles Kings trying to hold onto, at a minimum, the wild card spot their currently occupy in the Western Conference; the Carolina Hurricanes, just a few points on the outside looking in on the playoffs; the Detroit Red Wings, desperately trying to extend their streak of postseason appearances to a 26th season; and the Anaheim Ducks, trying to overtake the San Jose Sharks for the top spot in the Pacific Division.
This is a team that has risen to a variety of challenges through 52 games this season in their climb to the top of the league standings. They appear to have shaken off most of the rust that accumulated over the All-Star break in winning Week 17. Week 18 will be another challenge to be met and overcome.
- First Star: Nicklas Backstrom (2-3-5, plus-2, 1 GWG, 3-for-53 (58.5 percent) on faceoffs)
- Second Star: Evgeny Kuznetsov (2-2-4, plus-1)
- Third Star: Matt Niskanen (0-3-3, plus-1, 5 blocked shots, almost 23 minutes of ice time per game)