Sunday, January 20, 2019

Washington Capitals: That Was The Week That Was - Week 16

Week 16 was the worst for the Washington Capitals this season.  It was the first time in 16 weeks this season that the club failed to earn at least one standings point.  It was the first time that the Caps finished a week looking up at a team in the Metropolitan Division standings in quite some time.  And it had the look of a team running on fumes as they dead stick their way toward the All-Star game break.

Record: 0-3-0

Not since Week 22 of the 2016-2017 have the Capitals gone an entire week without earning at least one standings point (they were 0-3-0 in that week almost two years ago).  In 46 weeks since then, going into last week, the Caps had 30 winning weeks, seven weeks of a .500 record in standings points earned, six losing weeks, and none in which they were shutout in standings points.  It is – was – a remarkable record of consistency.

It was not just the losses, though, it was the “to whom.”  The Caps had chances to avenge lopsided losses to two opponents barely two weeks before the rematches and lost in lopsided fashion once more.  They lost at home to the St. Louis Blues, 4-1, after dropping a 5-2 decision in St. Louis on January 3rd, and they lost to the Nashville Predators, 7-2, in Nashville after being clocked, 6-3, on December 31st at Capital One Arena.

The Caps closed the week with a loss to the surging New York Islanders, 2-0, in what might have been the most purely uninteresting game of the season.  Not that former head coach Barry Trotz minded.  He got to visit the scene of some of his greatest triumphs, watch a well-done appreciation video of his seasons in Washington, and lead his team to a win that propelled them into the top spot of the Metropolitan Division ahead of the Caps.

The two losses at home to St. Louis and the Islanders gave the Caps eight regulation losses on home ice this season, surpassing the seven they had in 2016-2017, tying the eight they had in 2015-2016, and putting them on a path to surpass the 11 that they had last season.

Offense: 1.00/game (season: 3.28 / rank: 8th)

Three games, three goals, one-two-none.  There isn’t enough paint at Home Depot to cover up that mess.  No team in Week 16 scored fewer goals  Shoot, even the utterly pathetic Los Angeles Kings, who finished the week last in scoring offense in the league (2.22 per game) had five goals in three games.  The Caps had one even strength goal for the week.  I will repeat that…

The Washington Capitals had one even strength goal for the week.

For the record, that was T.J. Oshie, who scored an entirely cosmetic goal to make a 7-1 game a 7-2 game with 3:49 left in the Caps 7-2 loss to Nashville on Tuesday.

Lack of goals sometimes stems from lack of shots.  Such was the case for the Caps, who managed only 76 shots on goal for the week (25.3 per game), far below the 29.3 shots on goal per game at which they finished the week.  Even for a team that prides itself on “quality over quantity,” that was a low volume.  How low?  Nicklas Backstrom tied Alex Ovechkin for the team lead with 10 shots apiece.  Only two other Caps had more than five – Evgeny Kuznetsov (eight) and Oshie (seven).

Defense: 4.33/game (season: 2.98 / rank: 15th)

Thirteen goals in three games is a lot of goals.  It resembles the difficulties the Caps were having at the start of the season, when they could not keep pucks out of their own net.  Over their first dozen games of the season they had a rolling three-game total of 13 or more goals five times in 10 instances.  In their last ten instances, they have 13 or more goals allowed over three games four times.  Put another way, this is a club that has allowed four or more goals four times in their last ten games.

Shots allowed is not necessarily the culprit here, at least at the level of volume alone.  The Caps allowed 91 shots on goal for the week.  Of the 14 teams playing three games in Week 16, that is tied (with San Jose) for the eighth-highest amount.

Shot attempts are a different matter.  The Caps were minus-27 for the week in shots attempted-for and shots-attempted against at 5-on-5 for the week.  Being 11th among 14 teams playing three games in shot attempt differential at fives was bad enough.  Being minus-27 when tied (13th of 14 teams) and minus-30 in close situations (13th of 14 teams) was worse.  The Caps could not get teams off their collective back.

Goaltending: 4.44 / .857 (season: 2.85 / .910 / 3 SO)

It was not a good week overall, but in a way it was a long time coming.  Pheonix Copley allowed six goals on 36 shots in his first appearance this season, a 6-0 loss to the New Jersey Devils on October 11th.  In 15 appearances after that he stopped 385 of 417 shots, a .923 save percentage.  Only two of 46 goalies logging at least 750 minutes over those two months had a better save percentage (Tuukka Rask and Frederik Andersen, both at .928).

However, an injury to Braden Holtby against Columbus in the last game of Week 15 kept him out of the lineup to start the week, and it gave Copley a chance for consecutive starts for the first time since he had three consecutive starts in Games 17- 19 this season.  He won two of the decisions, all of them on the road, sandwiching wins over Minnesota and Colorado around a loss in Winnipeg and stopping 71 of 77 shots overall (.922 save percentage).

Things did not go as well for Copley in Week 16.  The week started well for him, stopping all 14 shots he faced in the first period against St. Louis to open the week.  However, he allowed four goals on 23 shots to end the game and then allowed all seven goals to Nashville on 29 shots in the middle game of the week, a true “take one for the team” moment for Copley, given Holtby’s injury status.  It made for a .788 save percentage over his last five periods of hockey for the week.

Holtby returned against the Islanders on Friday, and he looked superb for 45 minutes.  He stopped the first 22 shots he faced over that span, but he allowed goals on consecutive shots 2:26 apart, to Josh Bailey and Cal Clutterbuck, in dropping a 2-0 decision.  Still, it was the 16th time in 32 appearances that Holtby stopped at least 92 percent of his shots.  If you want a basis of comparison for that fact nugget, he was at a .920save percentage or better 35 times in 66 appearances in his Vezina Trophy season in 2015-2016.

Power Play: 2-for-7 / 28.6 percent (season: 21.3 percent / rank: 11th)

If there is a silver lining, it is in special teams in Week 16.  The Caps had two power play goals for the week, the first time they recorded more than one man advantage goal for a week since they went 3-for-8 in Week 11.  In fact, the two power play goals they recorded matched the total they had over the last four weeks (2-for-35/5.7 percent).

On the other hand, you could say two things about the power play to stick a pin in the balloon of hope.  First, the Caps scored on their first power play of the week, and then they went 1-for-6 (16.7 percent).  The other thing is that they had only seven opportunities in three games.  While it is true that the two opponents faced at home– St. Louis and the Islanders – generally play well within the rules (St. Louis and the Islanders rank in the bottom ten in the league in road shorthanded situations faced), the Predators had the fourth-highest number of shorthanded situations faced at home to end the week, and the Caps managed only two power plays against them.

For the record, the power play goals were scored by Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom.  For Backstrom it was his first power play goal since recording one in a 6-3 win over New Jersey on November 30th and his second power play goal on the road this season (and first in regulation), his first coming in overtime in a 3-2 win in Colorado against the Avalanche on November 16th.

It was a bit of an odd week, the infrequency of opportunities masking a level of efficiency the Caps have not had on their power play in a while.  They managed 11 shots on goal in 11:48 of power play time, and they spread the shots around, five different players with at least one, Ovechkin and Evgeny Kuznetsov leading with three apiece.

Penalty Killing: 8-for-9 / 88.9 percent (season: 78.4 percent / rank: 23rd)

The other side of special teams had a good week, continuing a nice run of late.  In killing off eight of nine shorthanded situations, the Caps are 22-for-25 (88.0 percent) over the last two weeks, seventh-best in the league over that span.  Take the result with a grain of salt, since the Islanders and Predators, who went a combined 0-for-7 against the Caps, rank in the bottom ten in power play efficiency this season (24th and 29th, respectively), but one takes their opportunities for improvement where presented.

For the week, the Caps allowed only 12 shots in 15:06 of shorthanded ice time.  That makes only 21 shots allowed in 35:50 in shorthanded ice time over the past two weeks.  If there is something on which to build as the Caps try to navigate their way out of their recent slump, penalty killing seems to be it.

Faceoffs: 74-for-160 / 46.3 percent (season: 46.4 percent / rank: 31st)

By now, we know that the Caps just are not very good at this aspect of the game.  Week 16 was no exception.  It was, in fact, typical – a 46.3 winning percentage week in a season in which they are winning 46.4 percent of their draws.  For the week, they won one zone in one game (they were 11-for-18 in the defensive zone against Nashville).  Otherwise the Caps lost all three zones for the week and won more than 50 percent only against Nashville (30-for-58). 

One might look at the offensive zone performance as a factor in the low offensive production for the week.  The Caps won only 22 of 53 offensive zone draws (41.5 percent), and no Capital taking more than three draws finished the week over 50 percent in the offensive end.

The odd part of the week from an individual standpoint was the performance of Evgeny Kuznetsov.  He has had a season-long antagonistic relationship to faceoffs, it seems, but in Week 16 he was 50 percent in the offensive end and 54.5 percent in the defensive end.  That is progress.  But he did finish the week under water (42.4 percent overall) one of four skaters taking at least ten draws to do so.  Only Nic Dowd (9-for-15/60.0 percent) among that group finished at 50 percent or better.

Goals by Period:

When a club scores only three goals and allows 13, the goals by period will not look good, and for the Caps they do not in Week 16.  The most troubling aspect of the week is that they were weakest in what was their strongest period this season.  They were outscored, 7-1, in the second periods of games, all of the goals allowed coming against St. Louis (three) and Nashville (four), blowing open what were (at least on the surface) competitive games.

That the Caps allowed 11 of their 13 goals allowed for the week in the second and third periods continues one of the more disturbing trends in this area.  They have been unable to finish well.  They have allowed only 38 first period goals this season (tied for sixth-fewest) and have a plus-10 goal differential.  But they have allowed 49 goals in each of the second and third periods of games (ranking tied for 12th and tied for 14th, respectively, in those categories), and only their impressive second periods to date (63 goals, third-most in the league) is keeping them from looking even worse as finishers.


The winless week slipped the Caps behind their 47-game points pace of last year, albeit be a single point (one fewer win, one more loss in extra time).  Otherwise, as has been the case for some weeks now, the Caps are tracking this year’s performance with last year’s in many categories.  They remain virtually unchanged on a year to year basis in wins (27 this year, 28 last season), points (59/60), power play goals (30/28), shot attempts at 5-on-5 (2064/2060), shot-attempts against at 5-on-5 (2225/2222).  However, while the Caps opened the 2018 portion of last season with a 4-2-1 record, they are just 3-4-2 so far in the 2019 portion of this season.  That is not the kind of divergence the Caps want to continue.

In the end…

There are really few good things to say about Week 16, fewer that have much meaning to explain the current state of the club.  The Caps are not playing well, either in their performance numbers (wins, losses, goals scored and allowed) or their production numbers (shots, shot attempts taken and allowed).  Individually and collectively they look slow, sluggish, and distracted, almost what you or I might look like at work two weeks before we embark on an eagerly anticipated vacation.  The Caps cannot afford to coast into the All-Star Game, though.  At week’s end they find themselves looking up at the Islanders for the top spot in the Metro, but lurking under the surface is the fact that they are only five points ahead of (and with a game in hand on) the Buffalo Sabres who occupy the first non-playoff qualifying position.  It is not the best place to be for the defending champs.

Three Stars:
  • First Star: Brooks Orpik (0-0-0, even, the only player to dress for all three games to finish the week “even;” appeared in his 1,000th career game)
  • Second Star: Alex Ovechkin (1-1-2, minus-4, the only Capital with more than one point for the week)
  • Third Star: Braden Holtby (23 saves on 25 shots returning in goal from injury)

Friday, January 18, 2019

A NO-Point Night: Washington Capitals -- Game 47: Islanders 2 - Capitals 0

The Washington Capitals dropped their fourth straight game on Friday night, a 2-0 loss to the New York Islanders in former head coach Barry Trotz’s first return to Capital One Arena as head coach of the Islanders.  It was the sort of game that will not lure new fans to hockey, a largely grind-it-out, zone-to-zone affair that wore down the beleaguered Caps and left them looking up from a standings position they have not occupied in quite a while.

First Period

The first period resembled a chess match between players using the same strategy.  Hardly surprising given the principals behind the respective benches, but it made for the sort of hockey that only hockey x’s and o’s geeks could love.  There were few scoring chances, and fewer of a truly dangerous variety as the clubs jockeyed for position and possession. 

-  New York led in shot attempts, 19-15, and shots on goal, 11-7, but it was not a dominating period for either team.

- Jakub Vrana led the Caps in shots (two) and shot attempts (three).

Second Period

Neither team could find the back of the net in the second period, making it the first time this season that the Caps went to the second intermission in a scoreless game.

-  The Caps had a 25-22 advantage in shot attempts in the second period and a 9-8 advantage in shots on goal.

-  New York won 20 of 32 faceoffs through two periods (62.5 percent).

-  Andre Burakovsky took a team low seven shifts through 40 minutes.

Third Period

The Islanders scored two goals less than three minutes apart, Josh Bailey redirecting a Mathew Barzal drive and Cal Clutterbuck finishing off a 2-on-0 break with a snap shot past goalie Braden Holtby.  And that, as they say, was all she wrote.

Other stuff…

-  The Caps were 7-1-0 when recording fewer than 25 shots on goal going into this game.  They finished with 19 shots on goal.

-  The 19 shots on goal was the first time this season they recorded fewer than 20 shots in a game.

-  The 19 shots on goal was the first time that the Caps finished a home game with fewer than 20 shots on goal since they had 17 in a 4-2 win over the Columbus Blue Jackets last February 9th.

-  The 19 shots on goal was the first time the Caps had fewer than 20 shots on goal in a home game and lost since they finished with 14 shots on goal in a 3-1 loss to the Philadelphia Flyers on February 8, 2015.

-  The Caps had only ten shot attempts in the third period of this game.  Given that the Islanders were playing in the second-half of a back-to-back set of games (they are now 7-0-0 in such games this season) and their fifth game in seven nights, that's equal parts bizarre and inexcusable.

-  The four-game losing streak (0-3-1) is the Caps’ first this season, their first since Games 65-68 in March 2017.

-  The shutout was the first one the Caps suffered on home ice this season and the first suffered on home ice since dropping a 2-0 decision to the Toronto Maple Leafs on October 17, 2017.

-  The shutout left the Caps with 16 goals in their last eight home games (3-3-2).

-  Odd that Michal Kempny, the team leader in plus-minus, was minus-2.  It was only his third game this season at minus-2, but it was his third game in his last ten at minus-2.  He is “even” during that span.

-  This was only the fourth game this season in which the Caps allowed an opponent 25 or fewer shots on home ice (the Islanders finished with 25 shots).  It was the Caps third loss in those games (1-2-1).

Other stuff…

The Caps now find themselves in third place in the Metropolitan Division, behind the Columbus Blue Jackets and the surging first-place Islanders.  They are only five points ahead of the Buffalo Sabres, who are in ninth place in the Eastern Conference.  That is an uncomfortable place to be for the defending Stanley Cup champions, and waiting for the All-Star Game break to get their second wind might not cut it. 

Thursday, January 17, 2019

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 47: Islanders at Capitals, January 18th

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

The Washington Capitals, among the league’s streakiest teams of late, try to end one streak and start another when they host the New York Islanders on Friday night at Capital One Arena.  The Caps go into this game carrying the weight of a three-game losing streak, their second three-game losing streak in less than three weeks.

The Islanders were scheduled to host the New Jersey Devils on Thursday night, taking a tw0-game winning streak into that game.  The last month has been rather kind to the Isles, who are 12-3-0 through Wednesday since beating the Detroit Red Wings, 4-3, in a Gimmick on December 15th.  That is the best record in the league over that span of time, pending the Islanders’ outcome against New Jersey on Thursday night.

The offensive spark for the Islanders in this extended run of success has been provided by Mathew Barzal, who has a hand in 18 of the 50 goals scored by the Islanders over their last 15 games.  The production includes a team-leading 10 goals in addition to eight assists, including a hat trick in a 4-0 win over the Toronto Maple Leafs on December 29th.  Barzal has been especially productive on power plays over this stretch of games, going 3-4-7, figuring in almost all of the team’s nine power play goals in those 15 games.  Barzal set for himself a very high standard last season, when he went 22-63-85 to win the Calder Trophy as the league’s top rookie.  He has produced at a comparable pace this season, going 13-30-43 in 45 games through Wednesday.  Keeping him off the score sheet is important.  The Islanders are 19-7-3 in games in which he recorded at least one point this season, 9-2-0 in multi-point games.  Barzal is 1-3-4, minus-3, in six career games against the Capitals.

The Islanders have veterans on defense – Nick Leddy and Johnny Boychuk have a combined 1,254 regular season games of experience through Wednesday, for example.  But over the last 15 games, it is Devon Toews who leads the defense in goals scored (three, tied with Boychuk).  Most impressive about that fact is that he has done it over a span of just 11 games, scoring all three goals since he was recalled from the AHL Bridgeport Sound Tigers in late December.  His first goal was a memorable one, coming in the Islanders’ first game of the new year.  Toews scored in overtime to give New York a 4-3 win over the Chicago Blackhawks (and no, he is not related to Blackhawk forward Jonathan Toews).  Coincidental or not, Toews has been something of a good luck charm.  The Isles are 9-2-0 since he was called up.  What he has not yet done, though, is make his presence known on the road.  While he is 3-0-3 in six home games, he is just 0-1-1 in five road contests so far.  This will be his first career appearance against the Caps.

Robin Lehner has been so hot in goal lately that there is the danger of melting ice in his crease.  In New York’s 12-3-0 run, he is 9-1-0, 1.46, .951, with one shutout.  Even his lone loss was impressive, stopping 24 of 26 shots in a 2-1 loss to the New York Rangers.  It is quite a turnaround for Lehner, who before going on this run lost six straight decisions (plus a no-decision) over a month-long period from mid-November to mid-December (0-4-2, 2.87, .891).  After starting his career in Ottawa, without establishing himself as a number one goalie over five seasons with the Senators, and a three-year stint with the Buffalo Sabres, during which he serve in the number one role in his last two seasons, he appears to have found a home with the Islanders.  His goals against average to date (2.16) and save percentage (.928) are career bests for any season in which he appeared in at least 20 games.  Lehner is 1-3-1, 2.60, .913 in five career appearances against the Caps.

1.  How impressive is the Islanders record to date?  Only once since 1983-1984 have they had more wins through 45 games (as of Wednesday) than the 26 recorded this season.  They had 30 wins at the 45-game point (tying the team record) in 2014-2015.

2.  If the Islanders score three or more goals on the road, they win.  They are 12-0-0 on the road when scoring three or more goals.  On the other hand, they are 2-8-1 on the road when scoring two or fewer goals.

3.  The Isles have shown a willingness to sacrifice in their 12-3-0 run through Wednesday.  Their 248 blocked shots rank second in the league (Philadelphia has 267 blocked shots through Wednesday) over that span.

4.  The Islanders and the Winnipeg Jets are the only teams in the league to allow only one goal in overtime this season.  New York gave one up on a power play in a 3-2 loss to the Florida Panthers on October 24th.

5.  The Isles are upside down in one area – scoring first.  When scoring first, New York is just 14-7-4, their winning percentage of .560 tied for 23rd in the league.  On the other hand, the Islanders are 12-8-0, their .600 winning percentage ranking third.

1.  The Caps have had seven different defensemen record at least one goal this season John Carlson, Matt Niskanen, Michal Kempny, Dmitry Orlov, Madison Bowey, Brooks Orpik, and Tyler Lewington), matching the total from last season. 

2. The Caps are one of three teams in the league with two defenseman having a plus-20 or better (John Carlson is plus-22; Michal Kempny is plus-25).  Toronto and Calgary are the other clubs.

3.  The Caps, despite troubles lately, still have the second-best home power play in the Eastern Conference (26.8 percent).  Boston is at 33.8 percent.

4.  Through 46 games, the Caps have scored first 23 time and given up the first goal 23 times.  They are a top-ten team in winning percentage in both scenarios, fifth when scoring first (.739/17-6-0) and eighth when allowing the first goal (.435/10-8-5).

5.  The Caps have out-shot opponents only 16 times in 46 games so far.  This bears watching because the Islanders are one of the few teams that have out-shot opponents fewer times (15).  The Caps are the superior team in those situations, a 9-4-2 record to the Islanders’ 5-9-1.

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

New York: Anders Lee

Anders Lee is a go-to player for the Islanders.  His 16 goals is tied for the team lead (with Brock Nelson).  His eight power play goals leads the club.  And, his three game-winning goals are tied for the top spot (with Valteri Filppula and Jordan Eberle).  He does it despite being only fourth on the team in average ice time (17:16 per game), although he does get top power play minutes (3:08 per game, second to the 3:19 Mathew Barzal gets).  Lately, though, Lee’s contributions have been more in setting up others.  He is 2-6-8, plus-5, over his last eight games.  He has been dangerous on the road more recently, too.  After recording only two goals in his fist 11 road games this season, he has seven goal in his last 12 road contests.  Lee is 7-3-10, minus-5, in 19 career games against Washington.

Washington: Braden Holtby

It would seem likely that Braden Holtby will return between the pipes on Friday night after missing a pair of games from taking a stick to the face in the Caps’2-1 overtime loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets last Saturday night.  Holtby has had a preponderance of his appearances on home ice this season (19, to 12 on the road).  His numbers are, in fact, better on home ice, both in his goals against average (2.70 versus 3.07) and save percentage (.916 versus .906).  The strange part of his recent game overall has been the inconsistency.  In his last 13 appearances, he had five instances of a save percentage over .940, and he had five instances of a save percentage under .890.  Splitting the difference among them, his .906 save percentage in those 13 games is not what Caps fans might consider “Holtby-esque.”  Holtby is 15-4-3, 2.39, .922 in 22 career games against the Islanders.

In the end…

This game has a large distraction attached to it, the first time Islander head coach Barry Trotz will coach a game at Capital One Arena since the Caps beat the Vegas Golden Knights, 6-2, in Game 4 of last spring’s Stanley Cup final.  Trotz, who won the Jack Adams Award as the league’s top coach with the Caps in 2016, has to be on short lists for consideration to win the award for a second time this season.  The underlying test for the Caps, though, is that the Islanders are playing at the top of their game.  The Caps are not.  If the effort/performance/focus level remains at the relative levels these teams established over the last month, it will be a difficult game for the Caps, who have alternated winning and losing streaks of three of more games (two each) over the last month.  On the other hand, what more motivation could the Caps want to ramp up their effort than to let their former coach know that they are getting along just fine under new management?

Capitals 4 – Islanders 3

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

A NO-Point Night: Washington Capitals -- Game 46: Predators 7 - Capitals 2

The Washington Capitals looked tired, slow, and frankly, unmotivated on Tuesday night in a 7-2 loss to the Nashville Predators in a game that was settled early.

First Period

Nashville broke on top early when a feed from Tom Wilson to Alex Ovechkin in the Nashville zone was broken up, Mattias Ekholm collecting the loose puck and springing Viktor Arvidsson for a breakaway that beat goalie Pheonix Copley low on the glove side 3:45 into the contest.

An odd-man break gave the Preds a 2-0 lead mid-way through the period, Nick Bonino one-timing a Colton Sissons feed on a 2-on-1 break, a goal of uncertain nature given that the shot was buried in the padding at the back of the Capitals’ net and unseen by the referee until Copley dug it out.

Washington had a great chance late to cut the lead in half with goalie Jusse Saros out of the net, but Nashville backchecked well to deny Tom Wilson a chance to receive a pass and get a shot on an open net with less than five seconds left in the period.  The Caps skated off down a pair to their hosts.

-  Nashville held a 20-16 edge in shot attempts and a 9-8 advantage in shots on goal. 

-  Nicklas Backstrom had a decent first period with three of the Caps’ eight shots on goal and winning four of five faceoffs.

-  Jonas Siegenthaler defended… two hits and two blocked shots in 5:38 of ice time.

-  The Caps spread their misery around in one sense; ten different players were minus-1 for the period.

-  This was only the 15th time this season that Nashville took a lead into the first intermission.

Second Period

It took the Predators less than two minutes to extend their lead.  After beating the Caps to loose pucks deep in the Capitals’ zone, the puck went out to P.K. Subban at the left point.  His shot was redirected by Arvidsson down and between Copley’s pads just 81 seconds into the period.

Washington dug deep and pinned the Predators in their own zone, Tom Wilson eventually getting a chance from the low slot, but his backhand shot that slid through the defense and past Saros hit the far post.  But with Alex Ovechkin poised to jump on a rebound just off that post, the puck caromed back across the crease instead of out to Ovechkin for what would have been a tap-in goal.  The Caps did continue the pressure, earning a power play as a result when Subban was whistled for a tripping call.

The Caps were rewarded for their hard work when John Carlson’s slap-pass from the top of the zone was redirected by Backstrom behind Saros to cut the lead to 3-1.

The momentum the Caps took early in the period was snuffed out when, skating on a power play, they were loose with the puck at the offensive blue line and allowed a shorthanded breakaway to Arvidsson, who completed the hat trick, sliding the puck through Copley’s pad to make it 4-1, 7:52 into the period.

The Preds poured it on late in the period when Rocco Grimaldi skated into the Caps’ zone with Jonas Siegenthaler back.  Grimaldi took advantage of Siegenthaler giving ground and while spinning clockwise, backhanded the puck past Copley’s right pad to make it 5-1 at the 14:57 mark of the period.

Nashville got another redirected shot for a goal with less than ten seconds in the period when Nick Bonino got the shaft of his stick on an Ekholm drive from the left point to make it 6-1.

-  The power play goal was just the Caps’ second on the road since December 1st, and their first in more than a month, the other recorded in a 6-5 Gimmick win in Carolina on December 14th.

-  Dmitrij Jaskin had a chance to cut the lead to 3-1 mid-way through the period but hit the post behind Saros.  It was one of three posts the Caps hit in the period.

-  The Predators out-attempted the Caps, 22-17, in the second period and out-shot them, 11-10.

-  Through two periods, Backstrom had five of the Caps’ 18 shots on goal.

- Through two periods, Brett Connolly, Lars Eller, and Dmitrij Jaskin were the only Caps not toting a “minus” on their ledger.

Third Period

With the competitive portion of the game over, Nashville managed to add to their lead eight minutes into the period when Calle Jarnkrok one-timed a feed from Kevin Fiala cleanly past Copley’s glove to make it a 7-1 game.  As if to add insult to injury, the Caps then immediately went to a penalty kill when John Carlson, who was high-sticked under his helmet visor by Filip Forsberg, let the referees have it and was sent off for the night with an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty and a game misconduct for good measure.

The Caps did get one back late when Evgeny Kuznetsov and T.J. Oshie broke out on a 2-on-1.  Kuznetsov did a fine job of changing the puck position on his stick to allow him a passing angle through defenseman Yannick Weber, hitting Oshie for a lay-up over Saros’ right pad with 3:49 left in the contest.

Other stuff…

-  Nicklas Backstrom led the team with six shots on goal, his high for the season.

- With seven goals allowed, the Caps have now allowed the Predators 23 goals over the last four games these teams faced one another, and it is the fourth time in the last six meetings that the Caps allowed five or more goals to Nashville.

-  This is the second time this season that the Caps played consecutive games against St. Louis and Nashville and allowed 11 games over the two contests.  They lost to Nashville, 6-3, and St. Louis, 5-2, in Games 38 and 39.  It is the third time this season that the Caps allowed 11 goals over two consecutive games (a 6-5 loss to Anaheim followed by a 5-3 loss to Vegas in Games 26 and 27).

-  The Caps more than doubled the hits Nashville had, 27-12, but that’s largely a product of Nashville controlling play.

-  The Predators finished with a 64-49 edge in shot attempts, a 29-28 lead in shots on goal.

-  With an assist on the Backstrom goal, Alex Ovechkin extended his points streak to four games, his longest streak in a month.

- Jonas Siegenthaler had seven blocked shots, tying the season high for a Capital (Matt Niskanen had seven in a 4-2 win over Chicago on November 21st).

- Viktor Arvidsson had 11 shot attempts (six shots on goal) for Nashville.

- The seven goals allowed by Pheonix Copley is his season and career high and worst since allowing six goals in a 6-0 loss to New Jersey on October 11th, his first appearance of the season.  In 16 appearances after that he allowed as many as four goals only twice.

- The loss gave the Caps their second three-game losing streak over their last nine games.

In the end…

…ugh. ‘Nuff said.

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 46: Capitals at Predators, January 15th

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

The Washington Capitals wrap up their back-to-back set of games to start the week when they visit Nashville and the Predators at Bridgestone Arena.  The Caps will be looking to avoid their second three-game losing streak in their past nine games.

The Predators defeated the Caps, 6-3, in the last game on the 2018 portion of Washington’s schedule.  The Preds then went on to earn points in an additional six consecutive games to start the 2019 portion of their schedule before being blown out, 6-3, by the Carolina Hurricanes in the last game of a six-game road trip.

On a club with the likes of Filip Forsberg and Ryan Johansen as dependable scorers, it might be a bit of surprise that the leading scorer for the Predators in the new year so far is defenseman Mattias Ekholm.  He is the only player since January 1st to average at least a point per game (3-6-9 in seven games).  A fourth-round draft pick of the Predators in 2009, Ekholm has given occasional, if not consistent hints that he could be a very good offensive defenseman.  In 2015-2016 he finished with eight goals and 35 points, the point total almost doubling his output from the previous season (18).  However, he then slipped to three goals and 23 points the following season.  Last year, he rebounded to a 10-24-34, plus-25 year.  This season he is improving on those numbers.  In 46 games he already has six goals and 34 points and is a plus-19, tenth in the league among defensemen through Sunday’s games.  Multi-point games have been Ekholm’s stock and trade of late.  Before he was shutout on the score sheet in the loss to Carolina on Sunday, he had four straight two-point games and had five in seven games.  He is 3-9-12, plus-5, in his last nine games.  Ekholm is 3-5-8, plus-3, in ten career games against the Capitals.

Viktor Arvidsson leads the club in goals since January 1st (five).  He is another fourth-round draft pick of the club (112th overall in 2014) whose rise to the NHL could be described as impressive.  He spent most of the 2014-2015 season in the AHL with the Milwaukee Admirals but did get six games with the Preds.  The following season he dressed for 56 games with Nashville. However, it was in 2016-2017 where he blossomed, recording 31 goals, becoming only the third player in team history to record a 30-plus goal season at age 23 or younger (Filip Forsberg did it twice, and Patric Hornqvist did it once).  He followed that up with a 29-goal season last year, and even though he has been limited to 23 games this season due to injury (broken thumb), he is scoring goals at a faster pace – 14 in 23 games, the first time in his career to date he is averaging more than half a goal per game (0.61).  Arvidsson is 3-3-6, plus-1, in eight career games against Washington.

In goal, head coach Peter Laviolette has a difficult choice based on his netminders’ records against the Caps.  Pekka Rinne is a perennial focus of Vezina Trophy talk, and his record against the Caps – 5-1-0, 2.50, .910 – is very good.  However, he has had issues stopping the puck lately.  Over his last 13 appearances Rinne is 4-6-2 (one no-decision), 3.32, .888, with one shutout.  He has lost his last two decisions (0-1-1), allowing nine goals on 53 shots (.830 save percentage).

Enter Juuse Saros.  He also has a good record against the Caps (2-0-0, 2.50, .914) although that comes in only two appearances against Washington.  What argues for his consideration in this contest is his record over his last five games.  Since December 15th, Saros is 3-0-1 (one no-decision), 0.71, .975, with one shutout.

1.  Nashville has a tendency to give up shorthanded goals.  They have allowed seven this season; only four teams (and only one in the West – Los Angeles) have allowed more.

2.  The Predators need to control their bench.  They have been hit with nine bench penalties this season; only Minnesota (10) and St. Louis (12) have more.

3.  Expect frequent stoppages of play with Nashville.  They have taken 2,892 faceoffs this season, second-most in the league behind Detroit (2,987).

4.  If Nashville takes a lead into the first intermission, it’s a good bet that they win.  They just do not do it particularly often.  Fourteen times in 47 games they had a first intermission lead, 12 times they won (12-1-1).  Their .857 winning percentage is fifth-best in the league.

5.  Continuing the “front-runner” theme, the Predators have the second-best record in the league when scoring first (21-2-1/.875), trailing only the Calgary Flames (22-3-0/.880).

1.  The Caps have had trouble keeping Central Division teams from scoring this season, and especially lately.  Four times in nine games against the Central so far this season, including last night’s 4-1 loss to St. Louis, the Caps allowed four or more goals, and they have done so three times in their last four games against that division (twice to St. Louis, once to Nashville).

2.  Allowing power play goals against the Central has also been an issue.  In those nine games against that division, the Caps have allowed a power play goal in six of them.  They are 2-0-1 in the three games they did not allow one, 1-4-1 in the games in which they did allow one.

3.  Hits don’t matter against the Central for the Caps, at least not in a good way.  Four times in nine games the Caps were credited with 25 or more hits.  They lost all of them (0-2-2).

4.  Blocked shots have been a different matter.  Four times in nine games against the Central the Caps recorded 18 or more blocked shots.  They were 3-0-1 in them.  They are 0-4-1 in the five games they recorded fewer than 18 blocked shots.

5.  The Caps are looking to avoid a third straight loss in Nashville.  They are 1-4-1 in their last six visits to Nashville after going 4-3-0 with one tie in their first eight visits to Tennessee.  Washington has been out-scored, 25-17 in that recent 1-4-1 run.

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

Nashville: Kevin Fiala

Kevin Fiala has had a bit of an odd year for the Nashville Predators.  The forward is fourth on the team in points (27) overall and third in power play points (seven).  However, despite logging only 15:28 per game in ice time, ninth among Predator forwards, he is a team-worst minus-8.  It is not even close, either (Kyle Turris is minus-3), and only five of 26 Predator skaters are minus players at all).  Most of the “minus” on Fiala’s ledger was posted in his first 11 games, when he was just 1-2-3 but a minus-6.  He has been a lot more productive and effective lately, though.  In 36 games since that slow start, Fiala is 7-17-24, minus-2, but he is 2-8-10, plus-4 in his last nine games.  Only twice in those nine games did he fail to record a point.  Fiala is 1-3-4, plus-2, in five career games against Washington.

Washington: Nicklas Backstrom

Over a seven-game stretch straddling the end of November and the beginning of December, Nicklas Backstrom went 4-9-13, plus-9, and had three games with three or more points.  Since then, however, he is 1-6-7, even, in 14 games and is without a multi-point game in that stretch.  He has just one power play point (an assist).  The Caps are 8-4-2 in those 14 games (he also missed a 5-3 win over the Philadelphia Flyers due to illness), but as the Caps take a 3-3-2 record over their last eight games into Nashville, Backstrom is just 1-1-2, minus-1 in seven of those contests.  He is, however, the Caps’ leading point-getter against Central Division teams this season (2-5-7 in nine games), and he is the only Capital with more than one power play point (1-1-2).  Backstrom is 4-14-18, minus-5, in 18 career games against Nashville.

In the end…

Everything here points to a Capitals loss.  They are almost sleepwalking through this part of the schedule, they are on the road for the back half of a back-to-back set of games, it is their third game in four nights, they might not be entirely healthy, and they don’t do very well in Nashville, which is a formidable opponent anywhere.  The Caps have the Predators precisely where they want them.

Capitals 3 – Predators 2

Monday, January 14, 2019

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 45: Blues at Capitals, January 14th

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

The Washington Capitals opened the 2019 portion of their regular season schedule in St. Louis, where they dropped a 5-2 decision to the Blues.  They get a chance for a some retribution on Monday night at Capital One Arena when the Blues visit.  The Caps, whose last loss in regulation was their 5-2 loss to the Blues on January 3rd, will be looking to extend their points streak to six games, while the Blues will be trying to extend their current winning streak to three games.

St. Louis has been inching closer to playoff contention as of late, opening the new week five points behind the Minnesota Wild for the second wild card spot in the Western Conference.   It will be a hard path for the Blues, who have to jump past five teams to get into the playoff mix.  But they have gotten off to a good start in the new year with a 4-2-0 record since January 1st. 

The Blues have done it largely by buttoning up on the defensive side of the puck allowing only 11 goals in six games this month.  That has been largely the product of the pleasant surprise that is Jordan Binnington in goal.  Binnington was not an especially heralded goaltender when taken by the Blues in the third round (88th overall) in the 2011 entry draft.  In fact, even with six games on his NHL resume to date, he has fewer games played among goalies in that class than those named “Gibson.”  Not only John Gibson, who was taken 39th overall by the Anaheim Ducks in that draft, but Christopher Gibson, who was taken 49th in that draft by the Los Angeles Kings and who has 13 NHL games on his record. 

Binnington got one appearance with the Blues in 2015-2016, but he did not get his first NHL start until this past January 7th. It was quite a statement, Binnington stopping all 25 shots he faced in a 3-0 win over the Philadelphia Flyers on January 7th.  He has since won twice more, stopping 49 of 51 shots (.961 save percentage) in the two wins.

Flipping the calendar to 2019 has been kind to Vladimir Tarasenko.  A goal scorer who was not scoring goals (he had only 11 goals in 37 games in the 2018 portion of the schedule), Tarasenko leads the club with three goals in six games since the start of the new year.  He had his first multi-goal game in more than two months (October 27th) when he potted a pair in a 3-1 win over the Dallas Stars on Saturday night.  He is 3-2-5 over his last five games.  In nine career games against the Caps, Tarasenko is 7-1-8, plus-6.

David Perron is tied for the club in points in the new year (2-5-7).  Originally a first-round pick of the Blues (26th overall in 2007), Perron is in his second tour with the club after stops with four other clubs in a 12-year career.  Without a 20-goal season since 2013-2014 (28 goals with the Edmonton Oilers), Perron has 15 goals in 42 games, putting him on a pace to top that mark for the third time in his career (he also had 21 goals in 57 games in 2011-2012 with the Blues).  The odd part of Perron’s goal scoring this season is how little bearing it seems to have on wins and losses.  In 11 games in which he has goals this season, the Blues are 5-4-2.  Perron has yet to record a goal in 17 career games against Washington, but he does have nine assists.

Ryan O’Reilly also has seven points in the new year (1-6-7) and is tied for the team lead in plus-minus (plus-6).  He has been hot of late, going 3-7-10, plus-9, in his last nine games.  It is part of a larger season that has him on a pace to finish the season with 80 points, surpassing his career high in points (64 in 2013-2014 with Colorado). O’Reilly is in a rather select club, a club of one in fact.  He is the only active player to have appeared in at least 650 career games and log 90 or fewer penalty minutes (90 minutes in 694 games), and he is only the third player in NHL history to have done so.  He has only six minutes in penalties in 43 games this season.  O’Reilly does not have a penalty minute in 17 career games against the Caps, against whom he is also looking for his first goal.  In 17 career games against Washington, he is 0-7-7, minus-1).

1.  Scoring on the road remains an issue for the Blues.  Only the Los Angeles Kings have scored fewer goals (39) on the road than St. Louis (40), although the Blues are the only team yet to play as many as 20 games on the road this season (17).

2.  On the other hand, the 43 goals allowed by the Blues on the road are, by far, the fewest in the league (Calgary has allowed 56 goals in 24 road games).

3.  St. Louis is one of only two teams in the league with a road power play over 24 percent (24.5) and a road penalty kill over 84 percent (84.5).  Pittsburgh is the other (33.9 and 89.1).

4.  The Blues have the fifth-worst shot attempts-for percentage at 5-on-5 on the road this season when tied with opponents (43.78 percent).

5.  The game against the Caps will be the 2,000th road game in Blues history.  They are 760-944-81 with 214 ties in 1,999 road games.

1.  The Caps have four players with more than 20 points on home ice this season: Nicklas Backstrom (29 in 21 games), Alex Ovechkin (24/22), Evgeny Kuznetsov (24/20), and John Carlson (24/21).

2.  Looking for a game-winning goal?  If it is Capital One Arena, chances are it will come from T.J. Oshie. He has four of the Caps’ 12 game-winning goals on home ice this season.

3.  Matt Niskanen has the only overtime goal scored by the Caps at home this season (October 17th in a 4-3 win over the New York Rangers).

4.  Only two teams have fewer power play chances on home ice than the Caps (55).  Los Angeles and St. Louis each have had 49 chances.

5.  On the other side, only four teams have had to face more shorthanded situations on home ice than the Caps (80) – Montreal (81), New York Rangers (81), Vancouver (88), and Colorado (95).

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

St. Louis: Colton Parayko

Durability has been an issue for St. Louis defensemen this season.  Colton Parayko is the only one of ten defensemen to dress this season for the Blues who has appeared in every one of the Blues’ 43 games.  Durability has been a hallmark of his four seasons with the Blues to date, having missed only four games in that span.  He has been a reliably productive offensive contributor from the blue line as well, posting more than 30 points in each of his three seasons preceding this one.  He is not, however, on a pace to match that this season, his 12 points in 43 games on a pace for 23 by season’s end.  What he is on a pace for is a career best in goals.  The eight he has so far is one short of the nine he recorded in 79 games in his rookie season.  His scoring matters.  St. Louis is 5-0-2 in the seven games in which he has goals this season, 8-0-3 in the 11 games in which he has points.  Parayko is 2-2-4, plus-3, in the seven games in which he faced the Caps in his career.

Washington:  Brooks Orpik

When Brooks Orpik takes the ice on Monday night, it will be the 1,000th time he appeared in an NHL regular season game, making him the 37th active player to appear in at least 1,000 career regular season games.  And, unless he records a hat trick, he will become the first player in NHL history to appear in at least 1,000 games and record fewer than 20 career goals (he has 17).  Goal scoring has not been a feature of his five seasons with the Caps, three of the previous four ending without one.  He does have one this season, but his importance is perhaps more as a steadying influence on the ice.  He has been limited by injury to 17 games this season, but in the 11 games in which he skated at least 15 minutes, the Caps are 7-2-2.  While that might be a product of the Caps spreading out ice time in games in which they have leads, it is a signal that the Caps are doing well when Orpik gets more ice time. He is 0-3-3, plus-1, in 19 career games against St. Louis.

In the end…

The Caps face a difficult start to the week with back-to-back games against St. Louis on Monday and the Nashville Predators on Tuesday.  Add to that the fact that the Caps do not really have much of a rivalry against Central Division teams and that we are getting into what passes for the “dog days” of the NHL schedule, and this is a tough two-game stretch.  There is some motivation for the Caps in that they lost recent games to these two teams by a combined 11-5 margin, but it is the sort of spot in the schedule that poses challenges for any NHL team.  It is something to plow through… get it?

Capitals 4 – Blues 3

Sunday, January 13, 2019

Washington Capitals: That Was The Week That Was - Week 15

After stumbling in Week 14 to their first losing week since Week 5, the Washington Capitals returned to their winning ways in Week 15, winning three of four games and earning points in all of them.  It enable the Caps to retain a slim lead at the top of the Metropolitan Division and climb into second place in the Eastern Conference.

Record: 3-0-1

For the second time this season, the Caps finished a four-game week without a loss in regulation.  They also turned the trick in Week 8 when they won all four games on the schedule.  And, it was a week of streaks.  In opening the week with a 3-2 win in Detroit over the Red Wings, the Caps posted their fourth straight win over the Red Wings and the 11th straight game earning at least one point against Detroit (9-0-2).

Washington followed up that win with a 5-3 decision over Philadelphia in the second game of the week, the first of four meetings of the clubs this season and a win that extended the Caps’ points streak on home ice to seven games against the Flyers (5-0-2).

The two wins set the Caps up for a rematch against their Opening Night opponent, the Boston Bruins.  The Caps did not dominate quite as completely as they did in the 7-0 lashing they gave the Bruins back in October, but the 4-2 win in Boston extended one of the strangest regular season streaks in the NHL.  The win was the Caps’ 14th consecutive regular season win over the B’s.  And it isn’t as if the Caps have been squeaking out wins against that team.  They outscored Boston, 52-21, over those 14 games, and nine of the 14 wins were by multi-goal margins.

The Caps fought off some misfortune in their last game of the week against the Columbus Blue Jackets to earn a standings point.  Despite missing Alex Ovechkin for a stretch due to what was first described as an equipment problem (but would later be identified as a hand laceration that required stitches)  and losing goalie Braden Holtby to an eye injury when Cam Atkinson’s stick clipped his mask, the Caps got a late goal from Evgeny Kuznetsov to tie the game and push it to overtime.  Columbus won on an Artemi Panarin goal in overtime, but the standings point the Caps earned pushed their division lead to three points over the Pittsburgh Penguins.

The seven points in four games for the week left the Caps with the league’s second best record in Week 15 (San Jose won all four games in which they played for eight points), picking up ground on 29 other teams in the league and leaving them still in first place in the Metropolitan Division.  The seven-point week also enabled the Caps to vault past the Toronto Maple Leafs into second place in the Eastern Conference, 13 points behind the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Offense: 3.25/game (season: 3.43/game, rank: 7th)

Offense for the Caps in Week 15 had a decided forward tilt to it.  Of the 13 goals scored for the week 12 of them were by forwards, Jakub Vrana leading everyone with three goals.  The two goals he scored in the Caps’ win over the Flyers allowed him to tie his previous best for a single season (13 last year) and then to pass it, that wone being the game-winner against Philadelphia.  He recorded his 15th goal of the season in the Caps’ win over Boston on Thursday.

Three other Caps recorded a pair of goals – Tome Wilson, T.J. Oshie, and Alex Ovechkin.  Oshie and Ovechkin had two-goal games, Oshie’s (his second two-goal game this season) coming in the 5-3 win over the Flyers and Ovechkin’s coming in the 4-2 win over the Bruins.  Oshie’s second goal against Philadelphia was an empty-netter, but it was also a shorthanded goal, his second as a Capital and the Caps’ third this season.  Ovechkin’s two goals against Philadelphia was his 128th career multi-goal game, passing Jaromir Jagr and Mike Bossy for ninth-place on the all-time list.  It also enabled him to pass Bobby Hull for 50th place on the all-time points list in the NHL (1,171).

Wilson’s two goals continued an amazing start for the sixth-year forward.  At week’s end he had 13 goals in 25 games, one within the career best of 14 that he set last season.  His 0.52 goals per game at week’s end was 20th in the league among players appearing in at least 25 games.

Oshie, Ovechkin, and Vrana led the team in points for the week (four apiece), while John Carlson led the defense (three).  Michal Kempny, who is having a career year of his own, recorded the only goal by a defenseman, the game-winner in the Caps’ 3-2 win over Detroit to open the week.  The goal was his fifth, almost as many as he recorded over the last three seasons before this one (six in 106 games).

Defense: 2.25/game (season: 2.89/game, rank: 14th)

It was an iffy week for the Caps on the defensive side of the puck, but it was not an unusual week.  The Caps allowed 184 shot attempts at 5-on-5 and were minus-11 for the week.  It made for a shot attempts-for percentage at fives of 48.46, which is consistent with their performance this season to date (48.34 percent).

The shots on goal performance alternated from very good to not so good.  The Caps opened and closed the week being stingy in the shots allowed category, allowing Detroit only 25 shots on goal and Columbus only 22 shots on goal.  The odd part there was in splitting those games and both being decided by one goal.  In the two two-goal decisions the Caps did not fare very well in shots allowed, permitting 40 shots on goal to the Flyers in the 5-3 win and 41 shots to the Bruins in the 4-2 win in the middle games of the week.

Goaltending: 2.23 / .930 (season: 2.75 / .913 / 3 SO)

The Caps had an overall good week in goal, but a pall was cast over the performance when Braden Holtby had to leave Saturday’s contest against Columbus after Blue Jacket forward Cam Atkinson’s stick clipped Holtby under his mask and left him with a facial injury.  He did not return to the contest.  It was an unfortunate end to Holtby’s week.  He stopped 72 of 77 shots (.935 save percentage) and won both of his decisions.  What is more, he was consistent across periods, stopping 31 of 33 first period shots (.939), 23 of 25 second period shots (.920), and 18 of 19 third period shots (.947).

Pheonix Copley was good in facing different situations.  He faced a high volume of shots in his start against Philadelphia, allowing three goals on 40 shots in the 5-3 win, a performance that was marred only by a couple of goals late in the game when the contest was largely decided (the Flyers did get to within a goal with seven seconds left before the Caps iced it with an empty netter).  Copley then was called into service when Holtby went out with his injury against Columbus.  In 34 relief minutes he stopped all but the last shot he faced, 10 of 11 overall in being tagged with a hard-luck overtime loss.  Even with the loss, Copley finished the week having earned points in his last nine decisions over ten appearances, going 7-0-2, 2.41, .923, with one shutout.

Power Play: 1-for-12/8.3 percent (season: 20.9 percent, rank: 14th)

The troubles continued on the power play in Week 15.  Firing blanks on 11 of 12 power play chances for the week, the Caps were under ten percent (8.3) for the third straight week in which they had ten or more chances (0.0 percent on 12 chances in Week 12 and 7.7 percent on 13 chances in Week 10).  Week 15 was part of a longer dry spell for the Caps that has seen them go 6-for-56 (10.7 percent) over the last six weeks.  Half of the six power play goals came in Week 11, and twice in those six weeks the Caps went without a power play goal entirely.

Even the source of the power play goal was unusual.  Jakub Vrana recorded that goal in the 5-3 win over Philadelphia.  It was his first power play goal of the season.  It was the lone bright spot in what was a frustrating week on the man advantage.  The Caps just could not generate much, recording only nine shots on goal in 10:44 of power play ice time.  Evgeny Kuznetsov led the Caps with three power play shots on goal for the week, while Alex Ovechkin was the only other Capital with more than one (two).

Penalty Killing: 14-for-16 / 87.5 percent (season: 77.8 percent, rank: 24th)

It was two different weeks for the Caps.  In the first one, the Caps killed off the first 12 shorthanded situations they faced. However, starting with a third period power play goal by the Bruins in the Caps’ 4-2 win over Boston, the Caps skated off only two of four shorthanded situations.  It left them with a very good 14-for-16 week on the penalty kill, the 87.5 percent kill rate continuing what has been a nice recent trend.  Over the last four weeks the Caps have killed off 35 of 41 power plays (85.4 percent).  The Caps have the eighth-best penalty kill in the league over that span.

If there was a cloud over the penalty killing week, it was the frequency.  The 16 shorthanded situations faced was the second highest total for a week this season, surpassed only by the 17 shorthanded situations that the Caps faced in Week 7 (they killed 13 of those for a 76.5 percent kill rate).  Even with that, the Caps had a decent week limiting shots, holding four opponents to 23 shots on goal in 25:58 of shorthanded ice time.  The blemish there was Boston recording 11 shots on goal with a power play in only 8:39 of power play ice time.

Faceoffs: 106-for-265 / 40.0 percent (season: 46.4 percent, rank: 31st)

If you are putting together a video for youngsters on how to take and win faceoffs, you will not use any clips of the Capitals in Week 15.  There is no way to sugar coat this – they were terrible, individually and as a group.  Individually, Lars Eller did finish the week over 50 percent (52.9 percent), the only Capital taking ten or more draws to do so.  The other five Caps taking ten or more draws need some remedial work.  It was past disappointing and more alarming that Evgeny Kuznetsov finished the week 17-for-66 (25.8 percent).  An offensive center who goes 4-for-24 in the offensive zone (16.7 percent) would seem to need to pay more attention to detail.  It just is not an area of the game in which he has shown much progress.  Through 15 weeks, Kuznetsov is 175th of 182 players taking at least 100 draws in faceoff winning percentage (38.9 percent), and no player taking more than 200 draws is worse.

The Caps did win one game for the week, winning 40 of 76 draws against Columbus to close the week (52.6 percent).  But it is part of a season-long problem for the Caps, who through 44 games in 15 weeks have double-digits in games with a faceoff winning percentage under 40 percent in games (10) as well as such games in which they won more than 50 percent of their draws (15).  The Caps ended the week last in the league in faceoff winning percentage (46.4).

Goals by Period:

It was a good week for the Caps for goals scored and allowed by period in one important respect.  The Caps closed much better than they have in many weeks this season, doubling up on opponents, 6-3, in the third periods of games in Week 15.  It was especially important in the last game of the week, when Evgeny Kuznetsov scored late in the third period to force overtime an enable the Caps to grab a hard-earned standings point in what was otherwise an extremely frustrating contest.

The Caps did not lose any regulation period for the week, the sort of consistency that makes for a successful week.  Washington continued their middle period dominance, doubling up opponents by a 4-2 margin.  The four goals brought their middle period total for the season to 62, tied with Pittsburgh for first in the league.  Their plus-20 goal differential in the second period is second in the league (Tampa Bay is plus-29).

Year over Year:

Once more, what is remarkable about the Caps in their year-over-year numbers after more than half the season is how similar those numbers are from last season to this.  Washington had 27 wins after 44 games last season, and they have 27 wins in 44 games again.  Two standings points better than last season, a four-goal difference in goals allowed, one shot more in more than 1,400 allowed in the two seasons, power play goals, power play chances, shot attempts for and against at 5-on-5; it is almost a duplication of last year’s performance.  There are worse things one could say about a team trying to defend a Stanley Cup championship.

In the end…

That the Caps were able to grind out three wins and earn points in four games of a four-game sdchedule, despite the nature of opponents (two division rivals and one with particular motivation to end a long losing streak against the Caps), despite suffering an injury at two critical positions to arguably the team’s most important players (although both occurred in the last game of the week), and an especially frustrating game to end the week’s schedule, it made for a satisfying week on balance.

This is a team that has shown a certain resiliency this season, dealing with more injuries than they did last year and battling opponents on a nightly basis that bring their best efforts against the defending champs.  That resiliency would be sorely tested under the best of circumstances, but with injuries to Braden Holtby and Alex Ovechkin, a tighter race in the Metropolitan Division, and a difficult schedule leading up to the All-Star Game break that will see the Caps dealing with two back-to-back sets of games, it will not get easier.

Three Stars:
  • First Star: Jakub Vrana (3-1-4, plus-2, 10 shot on goal, one game-winning goal)
  • Second Star: Tom Wilson (2-1-3, plus-3, seven shots on goal, 11 hits, nine blocked shots, six takeaways)
  • Third Star: T.J. Oshie (2-2-4, plus-5, 10 shots on goal, one shorthanded goal)