Sunday, December 10, 2017

Washington Capitals: That Was The Week That Was - Week 10

For the Washington Capitals, Week 10 was the best week of the year, a perfect 3-0-0 week that represented their first unbeaten week since going 2-0-0 in Week 1.  They scored early, scored late, beat teams from three different time zones, and  did it all in multi-goal wins.  If you were to draw it up at the beginning of the week, it would have looked a lot like this.

Record: 3-0-0

When Week 10 started, the Caps sat in fifth place in the Metropolitan Division, four points behind the first place Columbus Blue Jackets and one point ahead of the sixth place New York Rangers.  At week’s end, despite a perfect week, they made up two points on first place, finishing the week in second place, two points behind the Blue Jackets.  The win over the Rangers to end the week left the Caps with a 5-2-0 record against teams in the Metropolitan Division through Week 10.

The 3-0-0 week was the first in which they posted as many wins without a loss, either in regulation or extra time, since they posted four wins without a loss in Week 26 (the last full week of the regular season), last year.  The three wins extended the Caps’ winning streak to four games, all of the wins by multi-goal margins.  It is the last time that the Caps recorded four straight wins by more than one goal since they recorded that achievement in Games 53-56 last season, all of them at home, as they did in this instance.

Offense: 4.67 /game (season: 3.06 /game, rank: T-10th)

The Caps had 14 goals spread among nine players in Week 10, led by Tom Wilson with three in the three games.  Wilson had a career week with points in all three games, one of them a four-point effort against the Chicago Blackhawks (2-2-4), his first such game in the NHL.  Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, and Brett Connolly each had two-goal weeks that were noteworthy for each. 

For Ovechkin, the two goals gave him 21 for the season and left him as the 11th player in NHL history to record 20 or more goals in each of his first 13 NHL seasons.  He also finished the week at the top of the goal scoring rankings with 21. 

When Backstrom scored the game’s first goal in the Caps’ 6-2 win over the Chicago Blackhawks in the middle game of the week, it snapped a 21-game streak without a goal for the center.  He added a goal in the Caps’ 4-2 win over the Rangers to end the week, the first time he scored goals in consecutive games since early October, the last goals he scored before his 21-game drought.

Both of Connolly’s goals came on power plays and extended his goals streak to three games before it was ended in the Caps’ 4-1 win over the New York Rangers to end the week.  It was the first time that Connolly had goals in three consecutive games since last February, when he put together a three-game goal streak against Los Angeles, Carolina, and Detroit.

Meanwhile, Jay Beagle built on a fine record when he hits the score sheet.  When he posted an assist in the win over San Jose to open the week and a goal in the Caps’ 4-2 win over the Rangers to end it, it made the Caps 76-9-7 in games in which Beagle recorded a point over his career and 38-1-5 in games in which he recorded a goal.  As for points, 13 different Caps posted points in the three games, led by Wilson and Ovechkin with seven apiece.

Defense: 1.67 / game (season: 2.93 /game, rank: 14th)

It was not a bad week on defense, given the nature of the opponents.  Chicago and San Jose were, by week’s end, among the top ten teams in the league in shots per game, the Blackhawks fifth (34.8 shots per game) and the Sharks tenth (33.0).  But where the Caps did particularly well was in shutting things down late.  They did not allow any of their three opponents as many as ten shots in the third period for the week and held those three teams to a total of 23 third period shots on goal.

Oddly, perhaps, but the week was not especially good from a shots attempts point of view.  The Caps were under 50 percent for the week in shot attempts-for at 5-on-5 (46.97 percent; numbers from, and it might have been worse but for a good effort against the Rangers to end the week (54.17 percent).

Goaltending: 1.67 / .946 (season: 2.76 / .913)

It was a fine week all around for Braden Holtby and Philipp Grubauer in combining for the three wins.  Grubauer opened the week by following up a strong 25 saves on 26 shots performance against Tampa Bay in his previous start with a 24 save effort in the Caps’ 4-1 win over San Jose.  Two straight wins for Grubauer after going 0-5-1 in his first eight appearances (two no-decisions) was a welcome sight for Caps fans.

Braden Holtby got the call in the other two games in Week 10, and he built on a strong run of late.  With 64 saves on 68 shots (.941 save percentage) over the two games, it brought his record to 5-1-0, 2.34, .926 over his last six games.

Grubauer and Holtby combined for strong first periods in games in Week 10, stopping 32 of the 33 first period shots they faced (.970 save percentage).  That save percentage dropped off somewhat from period to period (.946 in the second periods of games, .913 in the third periods of games), but it was still a solid week overall for the Caps in net. 

Power Play: 3-for-13 / 23.1 percent (season: 21.2 percent, rank: 7th)

The Caps were effective and efficient on the power play in Week 10, posting their fifth straight week at 20.0 percent or better on the man advantage.  They achieved that by pummeling opponents for 22 shots with the man advantage in 18:47 of power play ice time.  Washington has now gone 16 games without having recorded consecutive games without a power play goal.  Over those 16 games they are 13-for-56 (23.2 percent).  Not a spectacular power play (ninth-best over that span) but solid.

One of the encouraging things about the power play this week was in the unexpected sources of goal scoring.  Brett Connolly had a pair of man advantage goals, and Jakub Vrana had the other.  In a reversal of roles, Alex Ovechkin had a pair of power play assists, bringing him to within two of 200 career power play assists (he is the only non-center among the top dozen in power play assists since 2005-2006).  Seven different players recorded points on the power play.  One of them was Nicklas Backstrom, who with an assist on the man advantage finished the week with 256 career power play assists, by far the most in the league since he entered the NHL in 2007-2008 (Joe Thornton has 217).

Penalty Killing: 8-for-8 / 100.0 percent (season: 79.4 percent, rank: 20th)

The Caps were perfect on the penalty kill for the second straight week, the first time this season they went consecutive weeks without giving up a power play goal.  They went the entire five-game home stand without allowing a power play goal and extended the consecutive games streak without having allowed one to six.

The penalty kill was impressive in its efficiency as well, holding three opponents to just eight shots on goal over eight power plays in 14:23 of shorthanded ice time.  As a bonus, they recorded a shorthanded goal when Tom Wilson flicked a shot the length of the ice to seal the Caps’ 6-2 win over Chicago in the middle game of the week.

Faceoffs: 98-for-179 / 54.7 percent (season: 52.2 percent, rank: 6th)

As with most other aspects of their week, it was a good one in the circle for the Caps overall, even if they slipped under 50 percent in their 6-2 win over the Blackhawks in the middle game of the week (44.8 percent).  They were 54.7 percent overall, and they were 50 percent or better in all three zones – 55.8 percent in the offensive zone (24-for-43), 50.0 percent in the defensive zone (33-for-66), and 48.6 percent in the neutral zone (41-for-70).

Individually, the top faceoff guys were top faceoff guys.  Each of the four players taking at least ten draws for the week finished over 50 percent – Nicklas Backstrom (29-for-52/55.8 percent), Lars Eller (21-for-38/55.3 percent), Jay Beagle (19-for-36/52.8 percent), and Evgeny Kuznetsov (21-for-40/52.5 percent).

Goals by Period:

The dominant week extended to domination by period, the Caps outscoring opponents by at least two goals overall in each of the three periods of the week.  What is more, the Caps scored the first goal in eight of the nine periods played in Week 10, allowing the period’s first goal only in the last period of the week, when the Rangers tied the game, 2-2, 9:37 into the third period of the Caps’ 4-2 win.

Of note is the continued good fortune that the Caps are enjoying early in games, outscoring opponents by an 8-2 margin over the last two weeks to open up a plus-9 goal differential in the first periods of games overall this season.  With five first period goals in three games this week, the Caps now have 32 first period goals this season, tied with Tampa Bay for third most in the league.  In holding their three opponents to just one first period goal, the Caps jumped into the top ten in fewest first period goals allowed (23/tied for eighth fewest).

In the end…

Three wins for the Caps in Week 10 left them with a 4-1-0 home stand, and 12 home wins this season.  Only the Tampa Bay Lightning have more home wins (13) in the league, and only the Los Angeles Kings have a better record over their last ten games (8-1-1) than the Caps do in theirs (8-2-0).  Since November 1st, the Caps have the second best record/points total in the league (13-5-0/26 points), topped only by the Nashville Predators (13-3-2/28 points).

However, the injury T.J. Oshie suffered in the 4-1 win over San Jose to open the week looms large for the Caps, who did get Andre Burakovsky back off the injured list to wrap up the week.  Oshie’s absence is important in a broad sense, given his contributions at even strength and on the power play, and in his energetic style overall.  It was encouraging to see Brett Connolly step up to contribute on the man advantage and for Tom Wilson to make a difference on the right side of the top line.  Spreading out the contributions can make up for a player’s absence, at least in the short term, and will undoubtedly make the Caps a better overall group when Oshie returns. 

In the meantime, the Caps inched up the standings, finishing the week in second place in the Metropolitan Division, two points behind the Columbus Blue Jackets.  However, just five points separate the top six teams in the division, meaning that even a short slump can leave a team looking up at several teams in a very crowded division.

The Caps now face the challenge of taking the momentum they built with their four-game winning streak on the road, spending six of the next eight games away from Capital One Arena.

Three Stars:

  • First Star: Tom Wilson (3-4-7, plus-6, 11 PIMs, 1 SHG, first career four-point game)
  • Second Star: Alex Ovechkin (2-5-7, plus-6, 2 PPA, 2 GWG, 15 shots on goal, 25 shot attempts)
  • Third Star: Nicklas Backstrom (2-3-5, plus-5, snapped 21-game goalless streak, 55.8 percent faceoff wins)

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