The Caps went on their road trip carrying a two-game winning streak and ended it with four more consecutive games with points. But it might have been even better with better end-game management.
After the Caps opened with a 5-3 win in Chicago to open the week, they headed west for the seventh straight season to face the Calgary Flames, Edmonton Oilers, and Vancouver Canucks. Occasionally, the Winnipeg Jets are on the schedule for good measure, but these are the three teams the Caps face on this trip each year. In six trip before this one, the Caps’ record against these three teams was 10-8-0, 2-1-0 last season. The Caps opened with Calgary, against whom they were 4-2-0 in the six meetings prior to this on this trip. The Caps bumped that record up to 5-2-0 with a 5-3 win. Two nights later in Edmonton, where the Caps have had some difficulties, alternating wins and losses over their last six visits, the Caps blew a two-goal third period lead and lost in overtime to the Oilers, 4-3, for their only win-loss blemish on the week. They came back the following night in Vancouver, quite literally in fact, erasing a 5-1 deficit in the second periods with a goal just before intermission and three more in the final frame before escaping with a Gimmick win, 6-5, to bring the record to 2-0-1 on this trip and 12-8-1 in seven trips to the western provinces. The successful trip left the Caps tied with the Buffalo Sabres for the most standings points in the Eastern Conference at week’s end and an 8-2-3 record. Their 6-1-1 road record was best in the league through four weeks.
Offense: 4.50/game (season: 3.77/3rd)
Washington entered the week having scored 16 goals over their previous four games, and they continued to post goals with consistency in Week 4. Dual 5-3 wins over the Blackhawks and Flames brought the consecutive five-goal streak to three and the fourth time over a seven-game stretch in which they hit that mark. Washington might have made it four in a row after posting three second-period goals in Edmonton, but they failed to solve the Oilers any further in dropping that 4-3 decision in overtime. The Caps did make it four times in five games hitting the five goal mark, scoring five goals in regulation in Vancouver before a scoreless overtime and winning on a Nicklas Backstrom trick shot in the freestyle phase to earn a 6-5 decision over the Canucks.
Alex Ovechkin led the Caps with four goals for the week and tied Lars Eller for the points lead (five). Ovechkin’s four goals brought him to 667 for his career, one behind Luc Robitaille for 12th place all-time. He had one power play goal to give him an even 250 for his career. Those 250 goals would, absent any other goals scored, rank Ovechkin in a tie for 46th in the league since he entered the NHL in 2005-2006 and tied for 30th among active players.
John Carlson kept up his torrid pace, going 2-2-4 over his first three games of the week before his points streak was halted at nine games when he was blanked in Vancouver on Friday night. Michal Kempny posted the same 2-2-4 scoring line as Carlson to tie for the goals and points lead among Caps defensemen.
Tom Wilson had a bit of an odd week in a pleasant way. He was one of six Caps to register more than one goal for the week, both of his tallies being game-winning goals (at Chicago and at Calgary).
Defense: 3.75/game (season: 3.31/21st)
Too. Many. Shots. Allowed. In four games for the week, the Caps allowed opponents 153 shots, by far the most in the league in total (Toronto allowed 132 in four games), and the 38.3 shots allowed per game were most (the New York /Rangers allowed 37.0 per game). A team just cannot allow an opponent – any NHL opponent – that many shots on net and be successful for any length of time. The randomness of hockey – the shots that deflect off a stick, off a body, hit a post and go in instead of out – provides that over a sufficiently large population of shots, that randomness will make life difficult for a team. And that doesn’t get to the sheer ineffectiveness of allowing opponents access to the net. What made the situation a bit odd, even accounting for two overtime games for the week than would have inflated shots a bit, was that only the Vancouver Canucks among the four opponents for the week finished Week 4 in the top ten in shots per game (32.3/tied for tenth with Boston). Chicago finished 12th (32.2), Calgary 19th (30.9), and Edmonton 28th (28.1). But only Vancouver among them was held to fewer than 35 shots in a game (34).
It was not surprising that the Caps finished fourth-worst in the league for the week in shot attempts-for percentage at 5-on-5 (45.32). They were bad at the game level, finishing all four games under 50 percent, and in situations, over 50 percent only when ahead against Calgary, when tied against Edmonton, and when in close situations against Vancouver. The defense was entirely too loose, a matter that needs to be addressed before 3-0-1 weeks become 0-3-1 weeks.
Goaltending: 3.66 / .902 (season: 3.20 / .896)
The Caps did little in front of Braden Holtby or Ilya Samsonov to make their jobs easier, and their numbers reflected the situation. Holtby got the first three starts for the week, and if the games lasted only 20 minutes, he would have had a spectacular week. Holtby stopped 39 of 40 first period shots faced (.975 save percentage). Things deteriorated from there, though. He was still a very good 36 for 39 in the second periods of the three games (.923), but was 34 for 39 in the third period (.872) and allowed a goal on the only overtime shot he faced.
Samsonov got the last start of the week, and his problem was in reverse. He stopped only 18 of the first 23 shots on goal he faced against Vancouver (.783) as the Caps fell behind, 5-1, in the second period. But the coaching staff stuck with him, and Samsonov found his game late as the Caps came back, stopping the last 11 shots he faced in regulation and overtime, the Caps ultimately completing the comeback in the 6-5 Gimmick win.
Power Play: 2-for-8/25.0 percent (season: 25.0 percent/T-7th)
The power play had a “glass half full/glass half empty” quality to it in Week 4. Yes, the power play converted 25.0 percent of its chances. On the other hand, that is down for a second consecutive week (28.6 percent in Week 2, 27.3 percent in Week 3). There was that 25.0 percent efficiency rate for the third staright week, but the Caps managed only eight power play chances in four games, their fewest number of chance for a week so far. Eight teams had fewer chances in Week 4, but all of them played in fewer games (the Devils, for example, had five chances in just one game played). The Caps also saw their chances dry up over time. For the week they were 1-for-5 in first period power plays, 1-for-2 in second period power plays, but 0-for-1 in third period chances.
The power play was not only infrequent in deployment, it lacked a certain efficiency, despite the 25.0 percent conversion rate. The Caps managed eight shots on goal with 13:49 in man advantage ice time, but if one takes away the eight seconds it took for T.J. Oshie to convert a power play chance in the Caps’ only opportunity against Chicago to open the week, the Caps were 1-for-7 in shots in 13:41 in power play ice time. They closed the week without a power play shot on goal in 4:00 of man advantage ice time against Vancouver.
Penalty Killing: 14-for-16/87.5 percent (season: 84.8 percent/9th)
The best that can be said for the penalty kill in Week 4, and it ended up being a significant plus, is that it benefited from practice. The 16 shorthanded situations faced is a season high for a single week (they faced 14 such situations in three games in Week 2). The 14 kills beat the 13 that the Caps posted in Week 2. The week extended an odd pattern of the penalty kill being off in odd numbered weeks (Weeks 1 and 3) and better in even numbered weeks (Weeks 2 and 4).
The Caps also benefited from timing on the penalty kill. While they faced 16 shorthanded situations for the week, they faced only two (killing both) against the only team in the top half of the power play rankings through Week 4 (Edmonton is first at 33.3 percent). The other 14 chances came against Vancouver (17th/20.9 percent), Calgary (18th/19.0 percent), and Chicago (26th/10.3 percent).
The Caps managed to be efficient in defending power plays, despite the frequency. In 29:19 of shorthanded ice time, the Caps allowed only 23 shots on goal. However, even that is a dangerous volume of power play shots to allow in a single week.
Faceoffs: 110-for-242 / 45.5 percent (season: 50.1 percent/15th)
Faceoff efficiency is not generally an indicator of win-loss success over a population of chances, but sometimes they indicate something is up. And it certainly was in Week 4. The Caps found the ice tilted heavily toward their end of the ice, at least in terms of zone starts. Washington took almost twice as many draws in the defensive end (106) as they did in the offensive zone (59) in Week 4. The silver lining is that the Caps were better than 50 percent only in the defensive end, although by a thin margin (54-for-106/50.9 percent). On the other hand, they struggled quite a bit in the offensive end (22-for-59/37.3 percent). It was not as if the Caps battled teams especially adept in the circle, either. Only Vancouver among the four opponents finished the week over 50 percent for the season (55.0/second).
Individually, T.J. Oshie had a result not for the scrapbook. He was the only player in the league who took at least ten faceoffs for the week and won none of them (0-for-11). At the other end of the success spectrum, Lars Eller was the only Capital taking at least ten draws for the week that finished over 50 percent (33-for-58/56.9 percent). And, if you take out his 7-for-11 in the offensive zone, the Caps were a ghastly 15-for-48 (31.3 percent). The other three Caps to take at least ten draws for the week finished under 50 percent: Nicklas Backstrom (45.7 percent), Nic Dowd (47.5 percent), and Evgeny Kuznetsov (47.5 percent).
Goals by Period:
The Caps continued their second period dominance in Week 2. Outscoring opponents by an 8-6 margin in the middle frame for the week, the Caps finished the week leading the league in second period goals scored (22) and are one of 12 teams to have allowed fewer than ten second period goals (nine).
The surprise might have been the third period. The Caps were on their way to losing the third period for the week, having been outscored, 6-5, in the final 20 minutes over three games, including blowing a two-goal third period lead against Edmonton in on their way to an overtime loss. But they scored three third period goals against Vancouver to wipe out a 5-2 deficit after 40 minutes, going on to win in the freestyle competition, 6-5. The Caps finished the week tied for third in most third period goals scored (15), but they are also fifth in most third period goals allowed (17) and have allowed the most goals in the league in the third period and overtime (20).
Something might be getting lost in the Caps’ start this season: quality of opponent. Last season, the Caps opened their schedule facing playoff qualifiers from the previous season in each of their first five games, but the next eight games on their schedule featured no qualifiers from the previous postseason. Through 13 games this season, the Caps opened with games against last season’s playoff qualifiers in each of their first eight games, and while they have faced only one in their last five contests (Calgary), they are ahead of last year in facing stiff competition. It makes their four standings points advantage over last year through 13 games just a bit more impressive.
The success could be a product of allowing more than a third of a goal per game less (3.31) than they did at a comparable point last season (3.69) while maintain the same level of offensive output. If there is an odd part of this year’s goal scoring, it is in the goals by strength -- 49 goals scored in total, but only 27 of them have come at 5-on-5. Special teams have been an odd source of consistency at a gross level, not so much in detail. The Caps had 15 special teams goals at this point last season, 14 at the 13-game mark this season. The bigger difference is that last year, the split was 15 power play goals and none shorthanded, while so far this season it is 11 power play, three shorthanded goals. To that add the fact that the Caps already have four empty net goals this season (tied with Colorado for most in the league), while they had only two through 13 games last season.
In the end…
Wins matter. Sometimes this gets lost in the sifting through more granular data. At that level, the Caps did not have the best of weeks – too many shots allowed, too many shot attempts at evens, too many power play chances allowed, too many third period adventures. But they still went 3-0-1, and to top off the week, they came back from a 5-1 deficit to win a game in which Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, T.J. Oshie, Tom Wilson, and John Carlson all failed to record a point (although it was Backstrom who got the game winning trick shot). It was a week in which the underlying numbers profile suggested they go perhaps 2-2-0. To go 3-0-1 is a good result in terms of banked wins, but they must “play” better in order to “do” better as time goes by.
- First Star: Alex Ovechkin (4-1-5, minus-2), one power play goal, 20 shots on goal, 34 shot attempts, 14 credited hits (tied for most on team), three takeaways (tied for second on team), 20:08 in average ice time)
- Second Star: Lars Eller (2-3-5, plus-3, one shorthanded goal, 56.9 percent faceoff wins, 52.17 percent on-ice shot attempts-for at 5-on-5 (tops among forwards)).
- Third Star: Michal Kempny (2-2-4, (first career two-goal game), plus-3, eight blocked shots)
Captain rates the week…