Sunday, March 05, 2017

Washington Capitals: That Was The Week That Was -- Week 21

The title of the story for Week 21 for the Washington Capitals might read, “A Return to Normalcy.”    If by normalcy one means winning a week’s worth of games.  But it was also a big week off the ice as the Caps won the big trading deadline prize – St. Louis Blues defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk – to fill what might be the last remaining hole in the lineup.  Given the week’s results, early returns look good indeed.

Record: 3-0-0

After a pair of .500 weeks, the Caps won all three games on their schedule this week to go 31 games over .500 for the season.  Only two other teams in club history have finished a regular season 30 or more games over .500, the 2009-2001 club (54-15-13) and the 2015-2016 squad (56-18-8).  It was the sixth time in 21 weeks that the Caps cobbled together a win-only week, the first since Week 18.

Washington has now spent 45 consecutive days at the top of the league standings in pursuit of becoming the seventh team to win consecutive Presidents’ Trophies as the team with the most standings points earned in the regular season.  And with 18 games remaining at the end of Week 21, six more wins would make the Caps the first team post consecutive 50-win seasons twice since the 2004-2005 lockout.   They did it in 2008-2009 and 2009-2010, and they did it last season.

Offense: 2.33/game (season: 3.27/game; rank: 3rd)

It was a light week in the offensive end of the ice, especially for a week featuring three wins in three games.  Five players recorded the seven goals for the week, Nicklas Backstrom and Marcus Johansson the only Caps with as many as two.  Johansson (2-1-3) shared the points lead for the week with Matt Niskanen and Evgeny KLuznetsov, each with three assists.  Backstrom and Kuznetsov continue their assault on the league scoring rankings since January 1st.  Backstrom is tied for the league lead in points in 2017 (36, with Boston’ Brad Marchand) and leads overall in assists (24), while Kuznetsov is tied for fifth in points (32, with San Jose’s Brent Burns). 

The odd part about the Caps’ offense since New Year’s is that despite an overwhelming lead in goals scored (113 to 95 for the Winnipeg Jets), they have just one player in the top ten in goals scored (T.J. Oshie, tied for eighth with 13 goals).  What they do have is five players in double digits in goals: Oshie (13), Kuznetsov (12), Backstrom (11), Alex Ovechkin (10), and Justin Williams (10).  Only Backstrom among that group scored goals in Week 21.

Defense: 0.67/game (season: 2.03/game; rank: 1st)

What a week for the defense.  Except, well…perhaps not.   The Caps allowed 55.92 shot attempts per 60 minutes at 5-on-5, a respectable number, higher than the 53.75 mark over the full season.  Even in the middle games of the week, one in which they held the New Jersey Devils to 15 shots, the Devils out-attempted the Caps at 5-on-5 (38-35).  The 38 attempts allowed was the best for the week, but not a lot better than the 42 5-on-5 attempts the Caps allowed the New York Rangers (in more than five more 5-on-5 minutes) or the 41 attempts the Caps allowed the Philadelphia Flyers (numbers from  As it was, the Caps did allow the Rangers and Flyers 30 or more shots on goal overall, making it five times in the last seven games that opponents hit that threshold.

Goaltending: 0.67 / .974 / 1 shutout (season: 1.94 / .930 / 11 shutouts)

Braden Holtby had an amazing week.  One could argue that the collection of opponents in Week 21 were either in an offensive slump or were just poor offensive teams, but the fact is that he was next to impenetrable, stopping 74 of 76 shots in three games.  He recorded his eighth shutout of the season (most in the league), his fifth in his last 20 appearances. 

Holtby is continuing one of the most amazing runs of a goaltender in the post-2004-2005 lockout era.  Since January 1st, he is 19-0-1 (tops in wins, four more than Minnesota’s Devan Dubnyk), has a 1.71 goals against average (best in the league, five points better than Anaheim’s John Gibson), has a .935 save percentage (second to Gibson’s .941), and has five shutouts (one more than Gibson), all of that despite ranking just eighth in minutes (1,261).  It gets better.  In his last 100 appearances dating back to November 2015, Holtby is 71-13-12 (tops in wins, 15 more than San Jose’s Martin Jones), 2.07 (best, eight points better than Dubnyk), .926 (3rd, one point behind Dubnyk and Matt Murray), and has 11 shutouts (tops, two more than Gibson).  This arguably qualifies as the best sustained effort in goaltending in the history of the franchise.

Power Play: 3-for-11 / 27.3 percent (season: 22.1 percent; rank: 5th)

Three games, a power play goal in each.  That qualifies as a good week.  The 11 power play chances was the highest number of opportunities since they went 3-for-12 in Week 16.  As with much of what has taken place for the Caps since January 1st, it kept them on top of the league power play rankings in the 2017 portion of the season (29.5 percent; Minnesota is second at 27.8 percent). 

If there was an odd quality about the power play success in Week 21, it was that all three power play goals came after two periods, one of them a game-winner in overtime.  If you subscribe to the notion that teams don’t get many chances in the third period or overtime of games, the Caps made the most of what opportunities they had. 

On an individual level, Nicklas Backstrom and Alex Ovechkin represented ends of the spectrum of fortune.  Backstrom scored on both of the power play shots he took for the week, each coming on almost identical plays, curling into the right wing circle and ripping a shot off as the defense backed off looking for a pass.  He did it in the third period against the Rangers and in overtime against the Flyers.

On the other hand, Ovechkin drew a blank on four power play shots for the week (tied with John Carlson for most on the club).  Each of Ovechkin’s last three goals recorded have come on the power play, but he has just those three goals in his last 14 games.

As a team, the Caps were reasonably efficient, recording 17 shots on goal in 18:40 in total power play time.

Penalty Killing: 14-for-14 / 100.0 percent (season: 84.9 percent; rank: 5th)

Again, there is good and bad in the penalty killing.  The bad, of course, has to be facing 14 shorthanded situations in three games.  It was the most shorthanded situations faced since the Caps killed 16 of 18 such situations in a four-game Week 13.

The good was in the efficiency and the effectiveness in the penalty killing itself.  In killing off all 14 shorthanded situations, the Caps limited their three opponents to just 13 shots on goal in 28 shorthanded minutes. 

Over their last seven games, the Caps are 20-for-22 killing penalties (90.9 percent).

Faceoffs: 94-for-180 / 52.2 percent (season: 49.9 percent; rank: 16th)

Not a bad week, but not a great one, either, in the circle.  The Caps won two of three games (they were under 50 percent against New Jersey) and won two of the three zones for the week (under 50 percent in the offensive zone).

It was a good week for the “big four,” though.  Nicklas Backstrom, Lars Eller, Jay Beagle, and Evgeny Kuznetsov went a combined 92-for-169 (54.4 percent), although that was primarily a product of good weeks from Backstrom (62.5 percent) and Beagle (56.3 percent). And those tow starred in the zones in which they do their best work, Backstrom going 17-for-24 in offensive zone draws (70.8 percent), while Beagle was 15-for-24 in the defensive end (62.5 percent).

Goals by Period:

Slow starts, big finishes.  That was Week 21 for the Caps, by period.  They did allow a first period goal to the Rangers to start the week, but then shut teams out over the last 54:52 of first period time for the week.  They kept teams off the scoreboard for the first 41:19 of third period ice time before allowing a goal to the Flyers in the last game of the week.  Defensively, it was quite a week by period.

On offense, the Caps couldn’t seem to get started in games, drawing a blank in the first period of each game.  They did managed to improve in each succeeding period and had the week’s only overtime goal, pushing their overtime record to 7-2 this season (compare that to 1-5 in the Gimmick).

In the end…

A few weeks ago, the Caps were steamrolling opponents with unrelenting offense, scoring more than five goals per game at a furious pace.  Lately, and especially in Week 21, they are still winning, but they have done it with decent defense and sparkling goaltending.  This was a week in which the Caps shook off a couple of lackluster weeks, perhaps in the early excitement of adding a new piece to the mix that might finally be just that piece the team needs for a long playoff run.  For the time being though, this is a team that just keeps brushing opponents to the side as they continue building to the league’s best record.

Three Stars of the Week:
  • First Star: Braden Holtby (3-0-0, 0.67, .974, one shutout)
  • Second Star: Nicklas Backstrom (2-0-2, minus-1, 2 PPG, 1 GWG, 62.5 percent faceoff winning percentage)
  • Third Star: Matt Niskanen (0-3-3, plus-4, eight shots on goal, four hits, two blocked shots)

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