Sunday, February 10, 2013

That Was The Week That Was -- Week 3

How you end the week might be good thing or a bad thing for the mood of the fans, but there is a whole week of hockey to look at in the week that was for the Washington Capitals.  The week ended on a high note, but does that need to be tempered with a dose of reality?  Well, let’s take a look at the week that was.

Record: 1-2-0

This was the third straight below-.500 week for the Capitals.  It started with a pair of rematches of recent games, a pair of opportunities to gain a measure of revenge and redemption for losses to the Toronto Maple Leafs (a 3-2 loss in Toronto on January 31st) and the Pittsburgh Penguins (a 6-3 loss on February 3rd).  The Caps came up short in both, falling to the Maple Leafs by a 3-2 margin and to the Penguins by a 5-2 score.  The losses to start the week extended a Caps losing streak to three games, their second such streak of at least three games in their first three weeks (they opened the season 0-3-1).  However, it all came together in the last game of the week, a 5-0 win over the Florida Panthers, in which they dominated on the scoreboard an on the stat sheet in a way they have not in any other game so far.

Offense: 3.00/game (season: 2.50/rank: 20th)

The Caps showed life on offense this week, primarily a product of the five goals scored on the Panthers to end the week.  One problem that the Caps continue to struggle with on offense is scoring at even strength.  Before getting four goals on 23 even strength shots against Florida, the Caps were only 1-for-42 combined in the first two games of the week, losses both.  As it was, going 5-for-65 (7.7 percent) was still a rather weak week.  Shooting, in fact, has not been the Caps’ forte so far.  The Caps have three players in the top 30 in shooting percentage – Mike Ribeiro (tied for eighth), Joel Ward (tied for 13th) and Troy Brouwer (tied for 29th).  They are a combined 14-for-57 (24.6 percent).  The rest of the team is 16-for-277 (5.8 percent).

Defense: 2.67/game (season: 3.42/rank: 27th)

Shutouts are good for the soul.  They are also good for the defensive scoring results.  After allowing eight goals in the first two games of the week, the Caps shutout of the Panthers cut the goals allowed from four a game to 2.67.  The second period remained a thorn – no, a railroad spike – in the side of the Caps.  Six of the eight goals allowed this week came in the middle period.  Even though the Caps did not allow a second period goal against the Panthers in the week’s final game, the Caps still find themselves having allowed the second highest total of second period goals, 19 to Buffalo’s 21.  The Caps still have the worst goal differential in the middle frame at minus-11.  If there was a silver lining in the week, it was that John Carlson was not on ice for a goal against in the 5-0 win over Florida.  It marked the first time in 12 games that Carlson was not on ice for at least one goal against.

Goaltending: GAA: 2.69/SV: .895

Believe it or not, the 2.69 GAA and the .895 save percentage represents the best week thus far for the Caps in goal.  That – the Florida game notwithstanding – should not be confused with the Caps having had “good” goaltending.  It was not as if Michal Neuvirth and Braden Holtby faced a barrage of shots, either.  Opponents recorded 76 shots on goal for the week (25.3/game).  It was that second period that did Neuvirth and Holtby in for the first two games of the week.  Six goals on 26 shots faced in the second period – a .769 save percentage – will result in what happened, two losses.  The silver lining?  The pair were 16-for-16 in third period saves for the week.  Silver lining II?  Braden Holtby had the swagger and confidence in defending his neighborhood that he has when things are going well in the 5-0 shutout over Florida.  When he doesn’t he looks as if he overplays himself out of position, leaving himself defenseless for second shots.  Not so against the Panthers.  It could be something to build on.

Power Play: 4-7 / 57.1 percent (season: 22.7 percent / rank: 9th)

The Caps are quietly putting together quite a record on the man advantage.  They scored power play goals in all three games this week, making it four games in a row.  In fact, Washington has failed to record a power play goal only three times in 12 games and has not gone consecutive games without getting at least one.  Not only was the power play effective with four goals for the week, but it was efficient.  The Caps scored four goals on a total of nine shots. And, even though there were few shots needed to record the four goals, they came from the players who need to take them.  Troy Brouwer was 1-for-3, his goal coming on a deflection of a John Carlson attempt.  Alex Ovechkin was 1-for-2, Mike Ribeiro 1-for-1.  Mike Green and John Carlson recorded two the remaining shots, and Marcus Johansson scored on his only power play shot. 

Penalty Killing: 6-for-9 / 66.7 percent (season: 71.7 percent / rank: 28th)

What the power play taketh, the penalty kill giveth away.  As well as the power play did, special teams were only plus-1 for the week in goal differential.  And the penalty kill was just as inefficient as the power play was efficient.  Three goals on 14 shots.  But the problem was limited, as it were, to the middle game of the week.  Pittsburgh scored three goals on seven power play shots in the second period (there is that second period thing again) in the 5-2 win over the Caps on Thursday.  The rest of the week the Caps were a perfect 5-for-5 in penalty kills and allowed only seven shots.  Now the Caps have to find consistency.  Over the last five games they have alternated perfect nights (three times) with nights when they were not so perfect (2-for-7 in the two games combined).

Paying the Price: 56 hits / 32 blocked shots (season rank: 20th / 11th)

The blocked shots are once again worth noticing here.  In the two losses the Caps blocked a total of 13 of 87 shot attempts (14.9 percent).  In their lone win, they blocked 19 of 50 attempts (38.0 percent).  It is far too small a sample to draw a conclusion that blocked shots as a share of attempts are a reliable indicator of a team’s success, but it was indicative of a much more engaged and energetic Caps club in the game to close the week.

Faceoffs: 71-for-161 / 44.1 percent (season: 47.5 percent / rank: 25th)

Offensive zone faceoffs have been an issue with the Caps so far this season. In neither of the first two weeks did the Caps finish above 50 percent in offensive zone draws.  They are three-for-three in that respect after a 26-for-56 week (46.4 percent).  They are only 47.5 percent in the attacking end for the season.  This week they had two awful nights on offensive zone draws – 9-for 23 against Toronto (39.1 percent) and 7-for-19 (36.8 percent) against Pittsburgh, both of them losses.  The Caps were 10-for-14 in the offensive end against Florida and won.  Coincidence?  Perhaps, but that kind of coincidence is what the Caps need more often.

Turnovers: +3

The thing that marked the week here is the lack of turnovers.  The Caps were on the good side for 38 turnovers this week (16 takeaways and 22 giveaways by opponents) and on the bad side for 35 (17/18).  No Capitals was charged with more than one giveaway in any of the three games.  The Caps have had trouble with discipline with regard to penalties, but they give at least the appearance of being more disciplined with the puck.

In the end…

A win to close the week is nice, but the fact is that the Caps are still 0-for-3 in putting together winning weeks.  It cannot be one step up and two (or three) back.  The Caps will go into their first game of Week 4 still in 30th place in the league.  They will go into that game no closer than four points out of the top-eight, and the eighth place team – currently the Carolina Hurricanes – has two games in hand on the Capitals.  Carolina plays on Monday night against the Islanders with an opportunity to extend that lead to six points with a game in hand.

The Caps are now at the point where they need to turn around their pattern set over the first 12 games.  In those games they have a four-game (0-3-1), a three-game, and a two-game losing streak.  They have yet to post wins in consecutive games.  Losing streaks from here on out doom the Caps to finishing on the outside looking in on the playoffs. Alternating wins and losses will not do it either.  The Caps need wins in bunches.  It’s time to take a page from the renowned baseball manager Lou Brown, who once said after his Cleveland Indian charges won a game…

"All right you guys let's listen up. We won a game yesterday. If we win one today, that's two in a row. We win one tomorrow, that's called a winning streak. It has happened before."

A TWO-point night -- Game 12: Capitals 5 - Panthers 0

Washington Capitals fans got a glimpse this evening of what an Adam Oates system might look like when it is working.  OK, more than a glimpse.  The Caps scored early (a goal in the first period), scored late (two goals in the third period), and they scored in between (a pair of goals in the second period) to defeat the Florida Panthers, 5-0.

Sometimes, goals just happen.  With ten bodies in motion contesting every bit of a confined space, a moving puck is bound to have its path to the net altered from time to time, and there is little a goaltender can do about it.  Such was the case on the Caps’ first goal.  It started with good old fashioned forechecking.  Nicklas Backstrom fed the puck down the wall from the left point whereupon Wojtek Wolski and Erik Gudbranson fought over it.  The puck squirted behind the Caps’ net where Jerred Smithson tried to move it along.  But Troy Brouwer contested Smithson’s progress, and Smithson managed only to send a week pass attempt forward.  The puck made it as far as John Carlson’s stick, and Carlson wasted no time letting fly with a shot.  The puck nicked Brouwer on the way through, and goalie Jose Theodore was helpless to stop the redirected puck.

Brouwer and Joel Ward traded goals in the second period for the Cap, Brouwer firing a laser of a shot over Theodore’s glove.  The power play goal got its start when Florida cleared the puck down ice.  In doing so, the Panthers tried to swap out penalty killing units, but they were caught on the change by Braden Holtby, who sent the puck smartly up to Brouwer waiting at the Florida blue line.  Brouwer took it the rest of the way.

As for Ward, he tied Brouwer for the team lead in goals on a play that started once more with some good forechecking.  Eric Fehr took on Gudbanson (who would end up on ice for four goals against in this game) in the corner to Theodore’s right.  Gudbranson wheeled and tried to move the puck up the boards to Kris Versteeg, but Mathieu Perreault was being a pest about it.  Perreault would actually tie up both Versteeg and Drew Shore along the boards, and the puck popped free.  Fehr was there to try to move it along, and it was Ward who ended up on the receiving end in the confusion.  Ward nudged the puck toward the middle and flicked a shot past Theodore before either he or the defense could react.

The Caps reached back to the good old days for their fourth goal.  Mike Ribeiro tied up Stephen Weiss just long enough on a faceoff to Theodore’s left to allow Jason Chimera to jump in and push the puck back to Alex Ovechkin at the edge of the right wing faceoff circle.  Ovechkin snapped the puck past Theodore just two seconds after the drop of the puck on the faceoff to give the Caps a 4-0 lead.

Mathieu Perreault ended the scoring when Theodore could not control a rebound of a Jeff Schultz shot.  It was the end product of excellent pressure applied by the Caps, keeping the Panthers from clearing the puck out of danger, and Eric Fehr in particular, who paid a price in front of the Florida net, taking abuse from Tyler Strachan while he was setting a screen in front of Theodore on Schultz’ drive.

The only suspense left was to see if Braden Holtby would finish with his fourth career shutout and first of the season.  He turned away five shots after the Perreault goal to earn the shutout and end the Caps’ three-game losing streak.

Other stuff…

-- Four players earned their first points of the season in this game: Mathieu Perreault, Eric Fehr, Jeff Schultz, and Braden Holtby.  Perreault added his first goal for good measure.

-- Joel Ward earned the game’s third star, perhaps for his goal in the second period.  But maybe it was for his behind the back pass to Jeff Schultz that started the play on which Perreault scored.

-- The five-goal night represented the first time in 12 games that the Caps scored more than three goals.  The last time the Caps started a season going more than 11 games without scoring more than three goals in a game was in the 2005-2006 season when they went their first 13 games without reaching four goals.

-- From the “You Have to Start Somewhere” file… tonight was the first time in 12 games that John Carlson was not on ice for a goal against. In fact, he had an assist, was plus-1, had two hits, two takeaways, and three blocked shots.  It was probably his most complete game so far this season.

-- With his goal tonight Alex Ovechkin is 2-3-5 in his last four games and has four goals in his last eight games.

-- The Caps were 10-for-14 on offensive zone faceoffs, reversing the recent trend. 

-- Ten of the 19 players taking the ice (including goalie Braden Holtby) registered at least one point.  Spreading the wealth makes for a happy group.

-- It is hardly unusual that Alex Ovechkin would lead the team in shots on goal.  But Jeff Schultz having the second most shots?  It is the first time that Schultz had as many as three shots in a regular season game since January 9, 2010.  He even tied for the team lead tonight in total shot attempts with Ovechkin (he had four attempts blocked).

-- The Caps faced two shorthanded situations, tying their low for the season (they had two in a 3-2 win over Buffalo).  However, both might have been the result of undisciplined moments, Jason Chimera interfering with Tomas Fleischmann in front of the Panther bench 50 feet away from the play and Eric Fehr cuffing Erik Gudbanson in front of the Florida net as they were fighting for position.

-- When Braden Holtby is on, he plays with a certain swagger and control of his neighborhood. He doesn’t flail, and he doesn’t overplay shots that take him out of position.  He was on tonight.  There was much more economy in his effort than he has displayed in games to date.

-- The Caps had a lead at the first intermission and won.  That is the first time that sentence could be uttered this season (the were 0-2-0 with 20-minute leads coming into this game).

-- The Capitals scored first in this game and won.  Yup…first time this season.  They lost the other four games in which they scored first.

In the end, it was a complete 20-player win (we think Michal Neuvirth did a fine job manning the bench in a backup goalie role).  The scorers scored, the checkers checked, the grinders grinded…uh, grounded…ground…whatever.  There was precious little in the way of good scoring chances for the Panthers, and what there were suffered unhappy endings thanks to Holtby.  When the Caps got a lead, they did not take their foot off the gas, yet still played responsibly.

Sure, Florida is not exactly the strongest of opponents, but the Caps need two points wherever they can get them.  They stopped the bleeding, looked good doing it, and inched just a bit closer to a playoff spot.