Yes, the Caps had a losing week. Yes, it was their second losing week in a row, the first time this season they had that experience. But it is not as if we have not been here before, and recently at that.
The Caps had a 1-2-0 week for the second week in a row. That might actually be the good news, record-wise. It is almost exactly where they were a year ago, when the Caps last had consecutive losing weeks, in Weeks 16 and 17. In fact, the Caps were winless in those two weeks last season, compiling an 0-5-1 record in the six games played over those two weeks.
There are similarities between the two two-week slumps. There is good and bad in comparing the streaks. On the “good” side, these things being relative, last year the Caps were outscored, 34-17, in the six games, while this year, they were outscored, 23-16. On the “bad” side, this year’s two-week slump included three losses to divisional opponents – Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, and the New York Islanders, the last of which opened Week 19. Last year, the two-week slump included only one loss to a divisional opponent (Islanders). Worse still, each of the three losses to divisional opponents in this year’s slump came on home ice.
But here is the thing. After last year’s two-week slump, the Caps finished the season on a 21-9-2 run and won the Metropolitan Division. This team certainly has it in them to finish in a similar fashion this season, but doing so will mean having to post a better record in the eight remaining games against Metro opponents than they have displayed so far this season through Week 19 (9-10-1).
Offense: 2.33/game (season: 3.50/4th)
The good part about the offense in Week 19 was its balance. Six different players recorded goals for the week. The bad part, only T.J. Oshie had more than one (he had two), the Caps posting only seven goals over the week’s three games. And, Alex Ovechkin did not have one, leaving him stuck on 698 career goals. The no-goal week extended Ovechkin’s streak without a goal to four games, his longest of the season and his longest since he went four games without a goal in late March last season. Worse, he did not have a point for the week and was a minus-5, worst among the 20 skaters to dress in Week 19.
The Caps had 11 skaters record points for the week, led by John Carlson (1-3-4). Carlson’s week was a bit odd. Not the points, the four he had bringing his total to 69 for the season, 12 more than Roman Josi among defensemen and 20 more than Victor Hedman, who is third among defensemen. The odd part for Carlson was that three of them came on power plays, one at even strength. The one even strength point brought his season total to 46 even strength points for the season, extending his career high in that category, despite having played in only 58 games (he had 38 even strength points in 82 games in 2014-2015).
Lars Eller and Nicklas Backstrom added three points apiece for the week (both went 1-2-3), while Carl Hagelin and T.J. Oshie rounded out the number of Capitals with two or more points in Week 19.
Defense: 3.33/game (season: 3.02/17th)
The Caps were lit up pretty good in Week 19 as far as allowing shots on goal. All three teams posted 30 or more shots on goal against the Caps, the first time since November that the Caps allowed teams 30 or more shots in three or more consecutive games. What is more, the Caps were consistently leaky in allowing shots, giving up ten or more in seven of the nine periods of hockey for the week. And it was not as if the three opponents had a season history of posting high shot volumes. Yes, Colorado (34 shots on goal against the Caps) finished the week ranked tied for sixth in shots on goal per game (32.9), but Arizona (30, including an empty netter) finished 18th in the league (31.3), and the Islanders (32 shots) finished 28th in the league (29.3).
It was a similar story in 5-on-5 shot attempts. The Caps allowed each of the three Week 19 opponents more than 60 shot attempts at fives. It was small wonder that of 20 skaters to dress in Week 19, only four finished the week with plus ratings (Nick Jensen, Richard Panik, and Carl Hagelin all finished at plus-2; Travis Boyd was plus-1).
Goaltending: 3.09 / .905 (season: 2.85 / .904 / 1 shutout)
The silver lining here is that Braden Holtby had an excellent week. In two starts and an appearance in relief of Ilya Samsonov to start the week, Holtby stopped 71 of 75 shots overall (.947 save percentage), including 52 of 54 second and third period shots faced (.963). He posted save percentages over .900 in all three games in which he appeared for the week, the first time he went three games over .900 since he posted a four-game streak with save percentages over .900 in mid-November. The difference is that he earned wins in the four decisions with a combined .942 save percentage in those games, while he split two decisions and had a no-decision in the three games this week.
For Ilya Samsonov, the question is whether the shot he took off his mask in practice earlier this month has had lingering effects, or the reality of being a rookie goaltender in the NHL is settling in on him. Whatever, after winning 11 straight decisions from November 30th through January 31st, he has lost his last two decisions in three appearances (one no-decision) and has stopped just 45 of 54 shots on goal (.833 save percentage). That includes allowing five goals on 20 shots in 30 minutes of work in a 5-3 loss to the Islanders to start the week. It was another first in Samsonov’s young career, the first time he was pulled after starting a game.
Power Play: 3-for-11/27.3 percent (season: 20.5 percent/14th)
One could argue that the power play saved the week, and it killed it. After going 1-for-3 in a 5-3 loss to the Islanders to open the week, the Caps posted two power play goals in five chances to come from behind and defeat the Colorado Avalanche, 3-2, in the middle game of the week. It was the first time since January 3rd, in a 4-3 win in Carolina over the Hurricanes, that the Caps posted two power play goals in a game. But the Caps have been getting more consistently productive with the man advantage. After that two-goal power play effort against Carolina, the Caps went three games without a power play goal. But since that drought, the Caps posted at least one power play goal in nine of 12 games (they had three three-game streaks in that span), ending with the two-goal game against Colorado.
The latest run of good fortune on the power play ended in the Caps’ 3-1 loss to Arizona to end the week. It was not for lack of effort, the Caps posting eight power play shots on goal in the loss. On the tother hand, the Caps allowed Arizona three shorthanded shots on goal, suggesting that the matter of allowing chances on their own power play has not yet been completely resolved. Overall, the Caps finished the week with three power play goals on 25 shots in 18:47 of power play ice time. The effort was there, and the results were good, if unbalanced. But with as much shooting pressure as the Caps managed to apply, it might have ended better.
Penalty Killing: 7-for-9/77.8 percent (season: 83.7 percent/4th)
The penalty kill was, in some respects, the mirror image of the power play. The good part was that the Caps allowed only ten power play shots on goal in nine shorthanded situations over 14:03 in shorthanded ice time. On the other hand, opponents scored twice on those ten shots on goal.
Closing the week by allowing power play goals in consecutive games, the Caps have allowed a least one power play goal in six of their last ten games, killing of 29 of 36 shorthanded situations (80.6 percent). That the Caps fell under 80 percent in Week 19 is something to watch, the team looking to prevent an extended penalty killing slump of the sort they suffered in Weeks 13-15 in which they were under 80 percent in each week.
Faceoffs: 92-for-198 / 46.5 percent (season: 48.6 percent/26th)
It was an odd week in the circle for the Caps. In the first and third games of the week, the ice was tilted in the Caps favor, based on zone faceoffs, the Caps having 28 offensive zone faceoffs and 14 defensive zone faceoffs against the Islanders, and 28 offensive zone and 18 defensive zone faceoffs against Arizona. Despite the advantages, those are the games the Caps lost. Against Colorado, in a win, the Caps had 26 offensive zone draws and 30 defensive zone draws. Go figure.
What was, and has been a constant is the Caps not being very efficient in this area. They did finish over 50 percent against the Islanders to start the week (53.3 percent), breaking a four-game streak of games under 50 percent. But the Caps were under 50 percent against the Avalanche and the Coyotes to end the week. It was even worse when broken down by zones, the Caps finishing over 50 percent only in neutral zone draws.
Individually, Nic Dowd had a good week, but even here one should not make too much of it. Although Dowd won 20 of 30 draws overall, that was fueled in part by his going 7-for-8 in neutral zone faceoffs.
Goals by Period:
This is, if not the most disturbing area, than one that causes concern. The Caps were outscored, 5-1, in the first periods of games and allowed the game’s first goal in all three games for the week. Worse, the Caps fell behind by a pair of goals to start games. While they did come back to beat Colorado, 3-2 after allowing the game’s first two goals, this is not what one would think is a recipe for sustained success.
That negative first period goal differential put the Caps into negative territory in the first period overall for the season. It makes one wonder how the Caps would be faring if their third period goals scored (80) wasn’t leading the league and their goal differential (plus-20) wasn’t ranked third overall.
The Caps, despite the second straight losing week, still maintain a healthy advantage overall on last year’s club on a year-over-year basis. They remain on a pace to hit the 50 win mark for the sixth time in franchise history (52) and the third time in the last five seasons. At their current points pace they would finish with 11 points, fourth best in team history.
The improvement is consistent with that in goal differential, from plus-11 through 58 games last season to plus-28 so far this season, and shots on goal differential (a net plus-255 shots on goal). In this context, the recent slump by the Caps, especially in how it resembles a slump at a similar point in the season last year, might be thought of as one of those weak points any team is likely to suffer over an 82-game, six-month regular season. The key will be in making sure that the slump is as brief as was last year’s at a similar point, and that the Caps use the stretch run as a springboard for the postseason.
In the end…
Week 19 was not good. In fact, there were elements of it that were quite disturbing at the team and individual level. As to the former, the Caps struggled to beat Colorado on the road and lost in Arizona to end the week. Despite splitting the road games and finishing the week with a league high 21 road wins, one cannot help but think the Caps are entering a phase in which road games, typically, will be harder to come by. At the individual level, one might be concerned about Ilya Samsonov, who has not been up to the earlier version of himself over his last few appearances. Fortunately, Braden Holtby, at least for now, has shaken off his own recent iffy results (even if much of it can be attributed to the play in front of him). And, there is the matter of the record that is still sitting out there. Getting past 700 goals for Alex Ovechkin might be just the thing to ease the stiffness with which this team is playing lately. With another three-game week coming up in Week 20, the Caps will have their chances to right themselves.
- First Star: T.J. Oshie (2-0-2, minus-1, one game-winning goal, eight shots on goal, 14 shot attempts, ten credited hits)
- Second Star: Braden Holtby (1-1-0, 1.67, .947)
- Third Star: Lars Eller (1-2-3, even, four shots on goal, 13 shot attempts)
Captain rates the week…