They lost ugly to a division rival, lost in overtime to another division rival while allowing a player to score five goals against them for only the second time in team history, but bookending the week were a pair of wins, including one over their arch rival, to give the Caps a second-straight winning week that felt like anything but.
A second straight two-win week, while hardly the stuff to inspire handsprings, is encouraging after three straight losing weeks. The problem, though, is that the Caps went 1-1-1 against Metropolitan Division opponents. The Caps might be bending that curve a bit, though. Their overall record against the Metro at the end of Week 22 stands at 11-12-2 with three games remaining (at Columbus, at Pittsburgh, and hosting the New York Rangers). The Caps’ three games in Week 22 against Metro teams went loss/overtime loss/win. When added to a win over the Pittsburgh Penguins on February 23rd, the Caps are 2-1-1 against Metro teams after losing four in a row against division rivals. On the other hand, and in a strange twist of fate, the Penguins are the only Metro team that the Caps have beaten since January 18th, having done so twice.
What should not get lost in the divisional noise in Week 22 is that the Caps beat the Minnesota Wild on the road to open the week. That win broke a four-game road losing streak for the Caps that had been their longest of the season.
Offense: 4.00/game (season: 3.44/2nd)
It is hard to find fault in a week in which the Caps scored four or more goals three times in four games. Ten different Capitals shared in the 16 goals scored. Alex Ovechkin led the club with four goals, posted in two-goal games against Minnesota and the New York Rangers. His second goal against the Rangers forced overtime in that game and gained the Caps a standings point; it also lifted into a tie with Boston’s David Pastrnak for the league lead in goals (47), although Pastrnak reclaimed the lead with a goal against Tampa Bay on Saturday night. The two multi-goal games gave Ovechkin a league-leading 13 multi-goal games this season and 145 for his career, fourth all-time.
Three other Caps had multi-goal weeks. Richard Panik, Nic Dowd, and Garnet Hathaway had a pair apiece. Dowd had the first multi-goal game of his career when he posted a pair in the Caps’ 5-2 win over the Penguins to end the week. Hathaway’s two goals gave him goals in three of his last six games at week’s end after suffering through a 24-game streak without a goal. Panik’s two goals, one to start the week against Minnesota and the other to end it against Pittsburgh, ended a slump in which he went without a goal for 13 straight games.
The Caps had 15 skaters record points for the week, Richard Panik leading the way with six (2-4-6). The six points over four games gave him his longest points streak as a Capital (four games) and matched his point total over his previous 14 games. The balance was evident with Ovechkin registering five points (4-1-5), and four different Caps posting four points: Carl Hagelin (1-3-4), Nic Dowd (2-2-4), Nicklas Backstrom (1-3-4), and Ilya Kovalchuk (1-3-4).
In an odd result, Hagelin matched Ovechkin’s shot total for the week (11), aided by Ovechkin not recording a shot on goal in the 5-2 win over the Penguins to close out the week. John Carlson added ten shots on goal of his own. He also had three assists to hit the 60 assist mark for the season, a career-high and making him only the second defenseman in Caps history to hit the 60-assist mark. Scott Stevens did it twice (60 assists in 1987-1988 and 61 assists in 1988-1989). Carlson became just the fourth defensemen since 2005-2006 to post at least 15 goals and at least 60 assists in a season (15-60-75), joining Nicklas Lidstrom (16-64-80 in 2005-2006), Erik Karlsson (16-66-82 in 2015-2016), and Brent Burns (16-67-83 in 2018-2019).
Defense: 4.00/game (season: 3.09/T-18th)
The Caps have had their problems on the defensive side of the puck. It went from bad to worse when the Caps started the week allowing three goals to the Minnesota Wild, then five goals to the Philadelphia Flyers, and finally six goals to the New York Rangers, five of those goals scored by Mika Zibanejad, including the overtime game-winner in the Rangers’ 6-5 win. It was only the second time in Capitals history that the club allowed a player to score five goals in a single game. Sergei Fedorov scored all five goals, including the overtime game-winner, on December 26, 1996 when the Detroit Red Wings beat the Caps, 5-4 in Detroit.
The 6-5 overtime loss to the Rangers made it ten consecutive games that the Caps allowed an opponent three or more goals and the sixth consecutive game of three or more goals allowed on the road.
The week had an odd twist to it in that the Caps were either stingy, twice holding the Flyers and Penguins under 30 shots (29 and 28, respectively), or generous, allowing Minnesota 40 shots and the Rangers 39 shots on goal. The Caps have been a bit leaky in this regard lately, allowing opponents more than 30 shots in six of nine games through Week 22. The Caps did limit the Flyers and Penguins to fewer than 40 shot attempts at 5-on-5 (34 and 39, respectively), ending a six-game streak in which they allowed 40 or more shot attempts at fives.
Goaltending: 4.02 / .882 (season: 2.93 / .902 / 1 shutout)
When the defense struggles, the goalies’ numbers take the hit, and both goalies did just that in Week 22. Braden Holtby got the call three times for the week, and what distinguished his performance, not in a good way, was how his save percentages deteriorated from period to period -- .929 in first period (26 saves on 28 shots), .909 I second periods (30 saves on 33 shots), and .861 in third periods (31 saves on 36 shots). The detail was a bit different, though. Holtby faced fewer than ten shots in five of nine regulation periods he played this week and was perfect in four of them (he allowed two goals on four third period shots against the Flyers). In the four regulation period in which he faced more than ten shots, he stopped 57 of 65 shots (.877 save percentage).
Ilya Samsonov was in goal for one game this week and allowed six goals on 39 shots in a 6-5 overtime loss to the Rangers. It was his fifth straight loss over six appearances (0-4-1) in which he stopped 133 of 153 shots (.869 save percentage). It is quite a reversal from his 11-win streak from November 20th through January 31st over which he stopped 278 of 297 shots (.936).
Power Play: 1-for-10/10.0 percent (season: 19.5 percent/17th)
The Caps are in a serious slump on their power play. Week 22 was the fifth time in the last eight weeks that they finished under 15 percent for the week. Over those eight weeks they are 13-for-83 (15.5 percent), 24th in the league over that span. Only once in that span did they score two power play goals in a game (February 13th at Colorado).
The Caps did not apply a lot of power play pressure in Week 22, at least in terms of shot volumes. They had 15 shots on goal in 18:15 of power play ice time. Alex Ovechkin and Tom Wilson had four shots on goal apiece, although they got to them in different ways. Ovechkin got his over the first three games of the week, while Wilson recorded all of his in the game against the Rangers.
Ovechkin scored the Caps’ lone power play goal of the week on the Caps’ first power play of the week, that on a 5-on-3 advantage against Minnesota. They then went 0-f0r-9 over the remainder of the week.
Penalty Killing: 14-for-20/70.0 percent (season: 82.8 percent/5th)
Twenty shorthanded situations faced is quite a volume for a week’s work. The Caps have not faced that many shorthanded situations in a single week since Week 18 of the 2015-2016 season when they went 17-for-20 on the penalty kill. The impressive, for lack of a better word, part of the penalty kill in Week 22 was that the Caps spent more than half a game – 34:31 in ice time – killing penalties. The heavy penalty killing workload pushed the Caps over 400 minutes in shorthanded ice time, the only team in the league to top that mark through Week 22 (409:02).
The Caps went shorthanded five or more times three times this week, bringing their total of such games to 17 for the season. They are 10-5-2 in those games, but it is a dangerous way to play.
Faceoffs: 104-for-232 / 44.8 percent (season: 48.4 percent/28th)
Another week, another under-50 percent effort in the circle, but Week 22 comes with a twist. The Caps finished the week over 50 percent in the offensive zone (32-for-61/52.5 percent), but they took 36 fewer draws in the offensive end of the ice than they did in the defensive end, where they were just 38-for-97 (39.2 percent).
On an individual level, there was the good and the bad, and there was a pattern to it. Nicklas Backstrom, Lars Eller, and Evgeny Kuznetsov all finished over 50 percent in the offensive zone, but in the other end, they all finished under 50 percent. On the other hand, Nic Dowd struggled in both ends, finishing under 50 percent in both, but did top 50 percent in neutral zone draws.
Goals by Period:
The Caps did well in first periods, even if they were a bit misleading. Of eight first period goals scored for the week, the Caps had three of them in the 4-3 win over Minnesota to open the week, and they had three more in the 5-2 win over Pittsburgh to wrap up the week.
The progress by period of goals against was another matter and not as pleasant to contemplate. The Caps were leakier as games went on, allowing seven goals in four third periods for the week, almost half of the week’s total goals allowed. Those seven goals allowed in the third period brought the Caps’ total for the season to 74, placing them in the top-ten in third period goals allowed (tied with Florida, Ottawa, and Los Angeles, ot a neighborhood in which they might want to find themselves).
The saving part of the week is that the Caps did get out of it with 93 third period goals scored for the season. That is tops in the league, five more than the Rangers.
The recent struggles of the Capitals have brought this year’s team into an almost identical record as last year’s club through an equivalent number of games. Unsurprisingly, the similarities between last year and this extend to the scoring for and against, this year’s club scoring only four more goals than last year’s club and the scoring defense now being identical for the two years. The Caps are continuing to limit 5-on-5 shot attempts this year compared to last, and the possession effects appear in the lower blocked shot and takeaway numbers. Credited hits run counter to that trend, with this year’s club running almost ten percent ahead of last year’s club, an unexpected result if a team is better at dominating possession.
In the end…
Week 22 had a glass-half-full/glass-half-empty quality to it. The Caps went 2-1-1, which continues the improvement from their three-week streak of losing weeks, but losing twice to division rivals, including the one now in a flatfooted tie with them in record (the Flyers) hurts, and is part of a year-long struggle against Metropolitan Division teams. But any week that includes a win over the Penguins is not all bad, especially when it is the win that closes a week and leaves fans happy. But with only 14 games left in the season, the Caps are going to have to show more, especially in the defensive end of the ice, to suggest they have a deep playoff run in the cards.
- First Star: Richard Panik (2-4-6, plus-5, one game-winning goal, five hits, three blocked shots, plus-5 on-ice even strength goal differential)
- Second Star: Nic Dowd (2-2-4, plus-4, first career multi-goal game, nine hits)
- Third Star: Ilya Kovalchuk (1-3-4, plus-4, eight hits, plus-4 on-ice even strength goal differential)
Captain rates the week…