And when Week 26 was over, all four contenders were vanquished in what ranks as among the best weeks of the season for the Caps.
This was the ninth four-game week of the season for the Caps and the fourth time in which the Caps swept the week. That achievement came against four eastern teams that were arguably of playoff caliber. The Columbus Blue Jackets were still harboring hopes of overtaking the Caps in the Metropolitan and league standings when they faced the Caps and were beaten, 3-2. It put the Blue Jackets in a spin; they ended their week on a five-game losing streak. The Toronto Maple Leafs, using the Caps as a measuring stick in their effort to return to the postseason, fell behind by four goals on their way to a 4-1 loss. The New York Rangers were looking to settle themselves in advance of the postseason and use a win over the Philadelphia Flyers as a springboard against the Caps three nights later. They were shutout, 2-0. Finally, the Boston Bruins were in particular need of a win to avoid having to face the Caps in the first round of the playoffs. After splitting the first two goals of the game, the Caps pulled away for a 3-1 win and put the Bruins in the crosshairs. When it was over, the Caps had 55 wins for the season, the second highest total in franchise history with one more chance to tie the franchise record.
Offense: 3.00/game (season: 3.22 /game; rank: 2nd)
The Caps played three of the top dozen scoring defenses in the league in Week 26 – Columbus, the Rangers, and Boston – and scored eight goals. Frankly, that is not a bad week’s work. Not extraordinary, just solid. And consistent; the Caps finished the week with three goals or more in three of the four games. That made 50 times this season the Caps recorded three or more goals in a game. Only Pittsburgh (59) and Minnesota (53) have done it more often.
What was remarkable about the scoring for the week was the balance. Ten different players shared the 12 goals for the week; 15 different players recorded points. Justin Williams and Kevin Shattenkirk were the multiple goal scorers for the week, each with a pair. It might be worth noting here that these two players are strong evidence of the effectiveness of Brian MacLellan making personnel decisions and addressing specific needs. Williams was one of two right wings MacLellan acquiring in 2015 (T.J. Oshie being the other) to plug a hole at right wing. And, there is Williams’ track record as a clutch performer (“Mr. Game 7”). Shattenkirk was a trading deadline acquisition this season obtained to beef up the blue line and add a bit more punch from the right side.
Williams led the team in points for the week (five) with five players coming up right behind with three apiece (Andre Burakovsky, Alex Ovechkin, Evgeny Kuznetsov, Nicklas Backstrom, and Shattenkirk). Every one of the 13 forwards who dressed in Week 26 recorded a point except for Paul Carey, who was held without a point in the only game he played, although he was quite active against the Bruins on Saturday.
Defense: 1.00/game (season: 2.16 /game; rank: 1st)
The Caps faced three of the top six scoring offenses in the league in Week 26 and held the Rangers, Maple Leafs, and Blue Jackets to a total of four goals and 89 shots. The three games for the week holding teams to one or fewer goals made it 29 times this season they did so, tying Montreal for most in the league. The Caps held the last three opponents for the week – Toronto, the Rangers, and Boston – to fewer than 30 shots apiece, the Rangers (24) and the Bruins (22) to under 25. The Caps finished the week having held 27 opponents to under 25 shots in a game this season, tying the Bruins for second most in the league, behind Los Angeles (34). They recorded eight periods of the 12 played for the week holding opponents under ten shots. None of the four opponents got off to good starts, shots-wise, all of them failing to hit the ten-shot threshold on the shot meter.
The Caps had a bit of an odd week at 5-on-5. They lost the shot attempts battle rather badly to Columbus to open the week (41-57/41.8 percent Corsi-for), but then rebounded to win that battle in each of the next three games to finish the week just under 50 percent (49.2; numbers from Corsica.hockey).
Goaltending: 1.00 / .964 / 1 SO (season: 2.06/ .925 / 12 shutouts)
Braden Holtby and Philipp Grubauer split the week, and their numbers were almost indistinguishable. Holtby was 2-0-0, 1.00, .964; while Grubauer was 2-0-0, 1.00, .960. Holtby had the shutout, a 24-save gem against the Rangers. It was his league-leading ninth shutout this season, giving the Caps a league-leading 12 blankings this season (Ottawa has ten).
Both Holtby and Grubauer pitched perfect first periods, Holtby stopping all 17 first period shots he saw and Grubauer stopping all 11 of the shots he saw in the opening frame. Holtby was perfect in the second periods of his two games as well, stopping all 21 shots he faced.
With his two fine performances in Week 26, Holtby seems to be righting himself after consecutive sub-par performances against Minnesota and Arizona. For Grubauer, his two wins make him 3-0-0 (one no-decision), 1.61, .938. When Grubauer stopped 21 of 22 shots on Saturday, it might have been his last regular season game as a Capital, given the attention he is getting as a possible selection of the Vegas Golden Knights in the upcoming expansion draft. If it was, it was a fine performance to go out on, closing a fine season and as an important ingredient to the Caps’ success this season.
Power Play: 2-for-13 / 15.4 percent (season: 23.2 percent; rank: 3rd)
The Caps faced three top-ten penalty killing units in Week 26 – Boston (first), Toronto (ninth), and Columbus (tenth) – so going 1-for-9 against that trio, especially with two of the games on the road, was not particularly surprising. Still, it was just the second time in the last seven weeks in which the Caps had ten or more power plays that they finished the week under 20 percent.
The Caps’ efficiency on the power play reflected the skill of the penalty killers they faced. They scored two goals on 14 shots in 17:25 of power play time. The Caps had particular trouble getting their power play unleashed against Boston in the last game of the week. Against the league’s top penalty killing unit, the Caps managed only two shots on goal in 6:35 of power play time. Alex Ovechkin and Kevin Shattenkirk led the team with three shots on goal apiece, but it was Shattenkirk getting one of the power play goals for the week. Justin Williams had the other.
Penalty Killing: 7-for-8/ 87.5 percent (season: 84.2 percent; rank: 6th)
The charm of Week 26 as far as penalty killing goes was the few shorthanded situations faced as much as the efficiency with which the Caps dealt with them. It was the second time in nine four-game weeks this season in which Washington faced fewer than ten shorthanded situations (they faced eight in Week 20. They held three of the four opponents to two or fewer power play opportunities. The Caps finished the week having held opponents to two or fewer power play chances 30 times. The odd thing is that the Caps are 18-7-5 in those games, 37-11-3 when allowing three or more chances.
It was an efficient as well as an effective penalty kill in Week 26. The Caps held their four opponents to just seven shots on goal in 12:51 of shorthanded ice time. They did not allow a power play shot on goal in either of the final two games of the week. Against the Rangers, that was due to not having to face the Ranger power play; they did not have any chances. Against Boston, the Caps shutout the Bruins on shots on two power plays and 4:00 of ice time.
Faceoffs: 106-for-215 / 50.7 percent (season: 49.9 percent; rank: 14th)
It was a fair week overall, but not as good in the particulars. The Caps won 34 of 54 draws against Columbus to open the week (63.0 percent), but then finished under 50 percent in each of the last three games of the week. It was just one under 50 percent in the middle two games of the week, against Toronto and the Rangers, but the Caps won just 22 of 52 against Boston (42.3 percent) in the last game of the week.
The final numbers were a bit inflated by the success the Caps had in the neutral zone, winning 40 of 60 draws (66.7 percent). They split 70 draws in the offensive zone, but they won just 34 of 85 defensive zone draws (40.0 percent).
The good part was that each of the big four who took at least ten draws for the week finished over 50 percent – Nicklas Backstrom (51.6), Lars Eller (52.4), Jay Beagle (50.8), and Evgeny Kuznetsov (55.6).
Goals by Period:
The second period has been on in which the Caps struggled from time to time this season. Not so in Week 26. They recorded seven goals in the middle frame for the week, scoring at least one in the second period of each game and finishing with a plus-6 goal differential in the period, far better than the plus-2 differential for the season with which they started the week. The Caps were as impressive in the first period, just in a different way, denying any of their four opponents a goal, scoring two of their own to finish the week with a plus-42 goal differential in the first periods of games. The Caps did get a third period scare from Columbus, who got a pair to close a 3-0 deficit to 3-2, but they could get no closer.
In the end…
To find fault with a 4-0-0 week, especially against the quality of opponent, would be to pick nits off of nits. Consider that last season, the Caps went 1-0-2 in week 26, coasting into the postseason, and this club’s Week 26 look reflects a more determined attitude to enter the postseason taking care of business in a businesslike way.
When the Caps wrap up their regular season on Sunday against the Florida Panthers, they will have a chance to tie a franchise record for wins in a season and post more wins on home ice (33) than any team has in more than 20 years, since the Detroit Red Wings posted 36 wins at Joe Louis Arena in 1995-1996. Week 26 teed it up for them with a superb effort.
Three Stars of the Week:
- First Star: Justin Williams (2-3-5, plus-4, 1 GWG, 1 PPG, nine shots on goal, 12 shot attempts)
- Second Star: Kevin Shattenkirk (2-1-3, plus-2, 2 GWG, 4 hits, 5 takeaways, five blocked shots)
- Third Star: Braden Holtby (2-0-0, 1.00, .967, one shutout)