Sunday, October 17, 2010

That Was The Week That Was: October 10-16, By the Tens

Well, the first full week of Capitals hockey is in the books. How did the boys do? Let’s take a look at ten areas…

Record for the week: 3-0-0

The Caps came into the week with a 1-1 record, having been dispatched in the season opener by Atlanta, 4-2, and then stomping on the New Jersey Devils, 7-2.  The Caps reeled off three wins In the three games this week, two of the three wins going to an extra session (against Ottawa and at Nashville), and all three wins being of the one-goal variety.  Two wins were of the come-from-behind variety (against the Islanders and Predators), which gives the Caps three such wins in four victories so far.

Offense:  2.67 goals/game

The one thing the Caps did well this week was close fast.  Five of the eight goals scored in the three games came in the third period (three) or overtime (two). Given that the Caps played a pair of overtime games for the week a total of 86 shots on goal is not especially productive.  Another 87 shot attempts missed their mark – 37 shots blocked and 40 misses.  Given the opposition, this was a somewhat disappointing week for the offense.  Ottawa and the Islanders each rank in the bottom third in the league in goals allowed-per-game, yet the Caps managed only five goals against those clubs, one of them scored in an extra session.  Getting one first period goal in the three games is the thing that sticks out in terms of the lack of punch.

Defense:  1.67 goals allowed/game

Holding three teams to two or fewer goals in all three games extended the Caps’ streak to four, their longest such streak since the 14-game winning streak last season (which went to six games).  Most impressive is having given up just one third period/overtime goal on 29 total shots.  This is a bit deceptive, though, in that the outcomes were a bit uneven.  In the Islander game the Caps allowed 36 of New York’s total of 61 shot attempts in the third period.  Against Nashville, the Caps held the Predators to only 18 shot attempts in the third period and overtime (no doubt due, in part, to Nashville fading late after playing its third game in four nights).  And of the nine Predator attempts that made it all the way to the Caps’ net, only one of those shots came from inside of 30 feet.  Five came from outside of 45 feet.  On balance it was a good week for the defense, especially since the Caps ended the week with both Tom Poti and Mike Green on the sideline.

Goaltending: 1.61 GAA, .947 save percentage

Michal Neuvirth has taken advantage of his opportunity to grab on tight to the number one goaltending job.  More than any position in sports, perhaps, that responsibility lasts only as long as the last 60 minutes one plays, but for now, Neuvirth is it.  He had a fine week.  He was especially adept at two things.  First, he held the fort for the Caps in two of the games while teams applied early pressure.  Against Ottawa and Nashville he stopped 30 of a combined 31 shots in the first period of those games.  Second, he was almost impenetrable late.  In the three games he stopped 26 of 27 shots in the third period and overtime.  Dating back to the last regular season game of last year that Neuvirth played in the AHL, he is 19-5-0, 2.04, .923, and one shutout, and that includes a championship run with Hershey.

Power Play: 3-14 (21.4%)

The Caps started poorly and closed with a rush on the man advantage.  Against Ottawa and for more than two periods against the Islanders the Caps were 0-for-8 on the power play.  They drew a blank on the first 15 power play shots they took for the week in failing on those eight power plays.  But they connected on three of their last eight shots to make them 3-for-6 in power plays to end the week.  Perhaps the odd part of the week (and the season) is that none of the power play goals came off the stick of Alex Ovechkin.  But he did get the primary assist on two of those last three power play goals, both of them game-winners.

Penalty Killing: 14-14 (100.0%)

The PK continues to be the early season pleasant surprise.  The three games with a clean penalty killing record extends the Caps’ streak to five games, their longest since a six game streak during the 14-game winning streak in February 2008.  The Caps have benefitted from some timely goaltending from Neuvirth in shutting off power plays early in games.  Teams were 0-for-14 in first period shots on goal while on the man-advantage.  But the best part of penalty killing comes late.  If your best penalty killer is your goalie, then the best penalty kill is the one you don’t have to take.  In the three games this week the Caps surrendered only one abbreviated power play opportunity in the third period (54 seconds worth) and allowed no shots on goal in that one.

Paying the Price: 55 hits/51 blocked shots

Hits are a somewhat arbitrary statistic.  Some clubs might suffer from the whims and foibles of an official scorer who grew up having memorized the records of the entire stable of mixed martial arts participants and think “hits” in a hockey game pale in comparison.  Other clubs…say, Pittsburgh, get the benefit of a hit scored merely by being in the camera frame when an opponent is captured on video.  Nevertheless, it wasn’t an especially physical week for the Caps in terms of dishing it out.  55 hits in nine-plus periods of hockey is not glass-shattering in the context of the league rankings (the Caps rank 15th in the league at the moment), and the one notable hit of the week ended badly.  That was the one Mike Green took at 13:58 of the third period on Islander Matt Moulson that resulted in Green suffering a “stinger” and missing the rest of that game and the Nashville contest last night.

The 51 blocked shots for the week in three games was a pace better than that of the league leader in this statistic for the season (Buffalo and Chicago, 91 blocked shots apiece in six games each).  22 blocks in the New York Islanders contest was the high for the week, helping the Caps offset those 36 shot attempts the Islanders unleashed toward the Caps’ net in the third period in that contest.  Of the 51 blocks last week, 39 came from defensemen.  John Erskine led the defense with nine in the three games, and John Carlson had eight.  Overall the Caps blocked 51 of 186 shot attempts for the week, the highlight being the Islander game when the Caps had almost as many blocks (22) as the Islanders had shots on goal (24).

Faceoffs: 74-for-175 (42.3%)

It was a brutal week for the Caps in the circle.  In no zone – offensive, neutral, defensive – did the Caps win a majority of draws for the week.  In fact in the three games they won only a majority of zone draws only once, in the defensive zone (13-for-21) against Nashville last night.  Most confounding, if not for the performance of Nicklas Backstrom in the circle (32-for-52 for the week, 61.5 percent), it would have been a disaster for the Caps (34.2 percent otherwise).  Tomas Fleischmann had an especially difficult week (8-for-34, 23.5 percent), but the guys the Caps count on to win draws – Boyd Gordon (16-for-36, 44.4%) and David Steckel (9-for-19, 47.4%) – did not have a strong week, either.

Turnovers: Minus-6

The calculation here is the Caps’ takeaways plus opponent giveaways, less opponents takeaways plus Caps’ giveaways.  The Caps had a “plus” 49 (their takeaways and opponent giveaways) and a “minus” 55 (vice versa).  Only against the Islanders did the Caps finish on the positive side for the week.  Although the Caps finished on the negative side for the week, they finished the week tied behind only Chicago in takeaways for the season (it also bears noting that the three teams the Caps played, no doubt fueled by their results against the Caps, are in the top six in takeaways).  The flip side of that coin is that the week left the Caps tied for fifth in most giveaways, although they are one of only nine teams with a takeaway-to-giveaway ratio of greater than 1:1.


The Caps will not win any style points for the week, but they did grind out three wins in three tries.  The last time we looked, the NHL doesn’t grade on a style curve, only on points earned, and six-for-six is a good week – points in the bank.  It was encouraging in two respects.  First, the Islanders are a difficult team to play against; they might lose more often than the win this year, but their opponents probably won’t look good in beating them.  The Caps didn’t in their win last Wednesday.

The Nashville win came on the road, with the forwards playing an awful game for the first 30 minutes, with two minute-eating defensemen (Mike Green and Tom Poti) on the bench, the Caps having to kill off four power plays in the first period, and the team having to come back from a two-goal deficit against a club that prides itself on defense.  Even with Nashville playing its third game in four nights, that had to be described as a “character” win, getting two points when they had no business getting any.

Stars of the Week:

1st Star: Michal Neuvirth (3-0-0, 1.61, .947)
2nd Star: Nicklas Backstrom (1-3-4, plus-1, 1 GWG)
3rd Star: Brooks Laich (1-2-3, plus-2, 1 GWG)

It might surprise Caps fans to know that the 4-1-0 start is the best five-game start for the Caps since the 1997-1998 season.  That happened to be the only season in which the Caps reached the Stanley Cup finals.