Sunday, April 14, 2013

Washington Capitals -- That Was The Week That Was: Week 12

Week 12 is in the books, and it is the second straight perfect win-loss week for the Caps.  Four straight “green” weeks of winning records.  What seemed like an Everest to climb a month ago is now a case of being within site of the summit. But with just two weeks left, there are dangerous steps yet to take.  Let us first look at the week that was.

Record: 3-0-0

The Caps started the week on a nice 4-0-0 run, and when it ended they added three more wins to the streak.  It marked the sixth straight season in which the Caps recorded a winning streak of at least seven games.  It was the ninth consecutive non-losing week for the Caps over which they are 20-9-1.  Those 41 points in 30 games is a 112-point pace.  Having played 30 games at that pace, the Caps might not be among the consensus contenders for the Cup, but neither are they undeserving of a playoff spot.

Offense: 4.00 (season: 3.00 / rank: 6th)

Alex Ovechkin gets the ink for taking the league goal-scoring lead away from Tampa Bay’s Steven Stamkos this week, but it was Troy Brouwer who led the Caps for the week in goals with three, including a two-goal game against Carolina on Thursday. Brouwer was one of five Caps with at least two goals this week, Ovechkin, Eric Fehr, Mike Green being on that list, too.  Also on that list, though, was defensemen Jack Hillen, his first two goals with the Caps.  Nicklas Backstrom was the points leader for the week, posting four assists in the three games.  Right behind him was defenseman Steve Oleksy, who with three assists this week is now second on the team among defensemen in assists.  His eight helpers trail only John Carlson (14).

Defense: 2.67 (season: 2.81 / rank: 20th)

Strange week for the Caps in the defensive end.  In the first two games of the week, against Montreal and Carolina, the Caps gave up goals in the first period, then dug in, allowing only a third period goal to Montreal after they took a 3-1 lead.  This despite allowing a total of 51 second and third period shots in those two games (almost 13 shots on goal per period).  Playing on that edge came back and almost cost the Caps two standings points in the last game of the week.  The Caps held Tampa Bay to six first period shots in the last game of the week, but again, the shot volumes ramped up significantly in the second and third periods – 32 in all – and the Lightning scored five goals.  Overall the Caps allowed 83 shots over six periods constituting the second and third periods of the three games (13.8 per period).  This is not a trend that is conducive to winning.

Goaltending: 2.62 / .929 (season: 2.77 / .913 / 4 shutouts)

The shot totals faced – 113 in three games (37.7 per game) – accounts for the two directions in which the goaltending numbers went this week.  A 2.62 goals against average is not especially impressive, but it looks a lot better when taken with the .929 save percentage recorded by Michal Neuvirth and Braden Holtby.  Neuvrith impressed in what was his second straight start in the first game of the week, holding a potent Montreal Canadiens team to just two goals on 29 shots.  By comparison, though, Braden Holtby was shelled more than the free peanuts on Saturday night at the sports bar.  Holtby faced 84 shots and stopped 78 of them, a .929 save percentage.   It is part of an oddly consistent run for Holtby.  Since a lackluster couple of games to close the month of March, he has a, yes, .929 save percentage over his last five games, all of them wins.

Power Play: 3-10 / 30.0 percent (season: 25.5 percent / rank 1st)

I was a good week and a bit of a misleading one in two respects.  First, the ten power play opportunities seems a bit light, but the Caps did manage four against Carolina and five against Tampa Bay, the games in which they scored all their power play goals.  And that is part of a trend.  Getting three power play opportunities seems an important threshold.  In 34 games in which the Caps were awarded at least three power plays, they scored power play goals in 25 of them.  Overall in such games they are 34-for-131 (26.0 percent).  In the eight games in which the Caps have two or fewer power play opportunities they scored power play goals in three of them and are 3-for-14 (21.4 percent).

Penalty Killing: 5-6 / 83.3 percent (season: 76.1 percent / rank: 29th)

The Caps had a decent week, made more so by the fact that they faced only six shorthanded situations.  That, and the fact that two of the teams – Carolina and Tampa Bay (the ones against the Caps were a perfect 5-for-5) – ranked 19th and 23rd in road power play efficiency.  The one team that scored a goal – Montreal (1-for-1) – has the seventh best home power play mark.  And the same threshold seems to apply here as on the power play.  In 26 games in which the Caps faced three or more shorthanded opportunities they allowed at least one power play goal in 17 of them and killed penalties to a 75.9 percent efficiency rate (85-for-112).  In 16 games in which they faced less than three shorthanded situations they allowed goals in only seven.  The efficiency rate is not much different (76.7 percent), but once more, the best hope for the Caps in killing penalties seems to be not taking them.

Hits/Blocked Shots: 86/71 (season rank: 19th / 5th)

The thing to note here is that the Caps blocked almost a third of the shot attempts taken by opponents this week (71 of 217; 32.7 percent).  But almost half of those blocked shots came in the first game of the week against Montreal.  In fact, the Caps blocked more shots (34) than the Canadiens managed to direct on goal (29).

Faceoffs: 95-196 / 48.5 percent (season: 50.6 percent / rank: 12th)

Overall it was a non-descript week, the Caps being a few faceoff wins short of 50 percent.  But there was a warning sign.  Washington was just 24-for-65 against Montreal, only 5-for-18 in the offensive zone.  And, there was the matter of taking 25 defensive zone draws against those 18 in the offensive end in teat game.  One would like the Caps tilting the ice a bit more in the other direction.

Turnovers: minus-13

The Caps were once more in double digits on the minus side of the turnover ledger.  It was the product of being minus-15 on giveaways in the last two games of the week, against Carolina and Tampa Bay.  This would seem to go hand-in-glove with what were the substantial shot volumes against the Caps in those games (84 in the two games).

In the end…

A seven game winning streak is much better than the alternative, but the Caps had their adventurous moments against Southeast Division also-rans Carolina and Tampa Bay.  And sometimes, as we pointed out in last night’s post-game, “this is what a team looks like when a winning streak might be coming to an end.”

The Caps are going to move up in weight class this week.  They get Toronto, Ottawa, and Montreal, the latter two games being on the road in the last road trip of the regular season.  At the moment those teams are ranked fifth, sixth, and second in the Eastern Conference, respectively.  Allowing an average of almost 38 shots a game this week could have much worse results than allowing that many this past week.  And if they suffer a letdown in the last 20 minutes as they did against Tampa Bay on Saturday, these opponents might just come all the way back from a deficit.  This race is not over yet, not with two weeks and six games left.

Washington Capitals -- Seventh Heaven

When the Washington Capitals defeated the Tampa Bay Lightning last night, it marked their seventh straight win.  It also meant that for the sixth straight season the Caps have enjoyed a winning streak of at least seven games.  Here they are...

Truth be told, we would just as soon the Caps trade them in for another number: "16"... as in 16 wins in the post-season.

A TWO-point night -- Game 42: Capitals 6 - Lightning 5 (OT)

So, you played 20 minutes, out-shot your opponent, 20-6, scored three goals in a span of 5:37, and took a 3-0 lead into the locker room at the first intermission against the Tampa Bay Lightning, a team that was 1-11-2 when trailing at the end of the first period.

Sounds like you’re in for a pleasant night, or so you would think, if you were a Washington Capitals fan watching the home team run out to that 3-0 lead after 20 minutes.  It would be even more pleasant when the Caps extended that lead to 4-0 less than three minutes into the second period.  The Lightning chipped away methodically, though, and they caught the Caps with less than three minutes in regulation, tying the game at 5-5.  But the Caps sent their fans home happy, if a little worse for wear, as Mike Green scored 2:59 into overtime, beating the Lightning, 6-5.

The Caps started their three-goal flurry in the first period with a special delivery from Brouwertown.  Troy Brouwer took a feed from Mike Ribeiro at the edge of the right-wing circle and fired a shot across his body and past goalie Ben Bishop on the long side to give the Caps a 1-0 lead.

Five minutes later, the Caps added to their lead when Tampa got caught in their own end.  It started when Matt Hendricks got tangled up with Lightning defenseman Victor Hedman along the wall.  B.J. Crombeen exercised poor judgment and went after Hendricks, and with Hedman down and Vincent Lecavalier caught deep after he went to the net for a pass that never came, the Lightning had only two men back – only one of them a defenseman – to defend a four-man Capitals rush. And a textbook rush it was.  Jay Beagle carried the puck down the right side, Aaron Volpatti charging down the middle to occupy Dana Tyrell.  That left space into which defenseman Jack Hillen could jump, and he did just that, taking a pass from Beagle and rifling the puck past Garon before Eric Brewer could get across.

Then, with just 38 seconds left in the period the Caps struck again.  It was a product of quick transition as Nicklas Backstrom got things started by picking up a loose puck in the Washington end and starting out down the left wing.  Backstrom tried to complete a long cross-ice pass to Alex Ovechkin, but it was nicked along the way by Alex Killorn.  The effect was to change the vector of the puck so that it was sliding free into the Tampa Bay zone.  Alex Ovechkin sped around beat Victor Hedman to the puck, skated around him, and backhanded the puck past Garon just before the period ended, the Caps now up by a 3-0 score.

The second period started the way the first frame ended, with a Capitals goal.  Jason Chimera and Mathieu Perreault executed a perfect give-and-go on a 2-on-1 break, Chimera giving, then going, then getting a return pass from Perreault for his second goal of the season.

At that point Caps fans were counting their two points and looking forward to their half-price pizza.  Tampa Bay had other ideas.  Richard Panik scored for the Lightning just 1:14 after the Chimera goal tomake it 4-1.  Eric Fehr scored just 1:31 later when he converted a nice turnaround pass from Mathieu Perreault from the top of the crease to make it 5-1.  But as the second period was coming to a close, Martin St. Louis got one back for Tampa Bay, one-timing a pass from Steven Stamkos past goalie Braden Holtby.

The third period would be all Tampa Bay.  Richard Panik scored at 4:23, followed by St. Louis again at 8:17.  Teddy Purcell slid a puck on a backhand through Holtby with just 2:35 left to tie the game at 5-5 and send the game to overtime.

In overtime, Vincent Lecavalier took a slashing penalty on Marcus Johansson to prevent a scoring chance 1:53 into the extra session.  That gave the Caps a 4-on-3 advantage and that much more space with which to work with the man advantage.  And it was left up to Mike Green quarterbacking the power play from the top of the diamond in front of goalie Mathieu Garon.  Green surveyed his options, looking for Eric Fehr on his left, then send the puck down to Mike Ribeiro at the goal line.  Ribeiro fed it back to Green, and seeing no other option, Green called his own number, firing a slap shot between Tom Pyatt and Victor Hedman and past Garon for the game-winner.

Other stuff…

-- The goal by Mike Green – his tenth of the season – drew him to within one of Montreal’s P.K. Subban, who leads all defensemen in goals with 11.

-- The goal and an assist for Alex Ovechkin lifted him into the league lead in goal scoring, passing Steven Stamkos with his 27th goal, and into a tie for fifth place with Patrick Kane in points with 46.  His nine shots on goal was one off his season high of ten set back on March 30th in a 4-3 Gimmick win over Buffalo.

-- The two-assist effort by Mathieu Perreault was his first multi-point game since going 1-1-2 in a 5-3 win over Buffalo on March 17th.  His two assists represented his second multi-assist game of the season, the other coming when he had three on Valentine’s Day in a 4-3 win over these same Lightning.

-- With two assists, Mike Ribeiro is now 1-5-6 in six games since the trading deadline.  He also happens to be a minus-3 in those games, though, including a minus-2 tonight.

-- Richard Panik had his best game of his brief 19-game career to date for Tampa.  He had his first multi-goal game, his first multi-point game, tied a career high in shots on goal (four), and was a career high plus-4 in 15:32 of ice time. 

-- The two power play goals extended the Caps’ lead in power play efficiency.  They are now at 25.5 percent after going 2-for-5.  Here is your interesting power play fact.  The Caps are now 19-for-55 on the power play against the Southeast Division (34.6 percent) in 17 games.  In 25 games against the rest of the East, the Caps are 18-for-90 on the power play (20.0 percent).

-- John Erskine was a heat-seeking missile tonight…eight hits in 20:38 of ice time.

-- We noted in the prognosto that Eric Fehr might be emerging from a points drought.  His 1-1-2 night was his first multi-point game since going 1-2-3 in the Caps 4-3 overtime win over Boston on March 5th.  He is 2-1-3 over his last three games.

-- Steve Oleksy has a pair of assists, the first time he turned that trick since his second game of the year with the Caps, a 7-1 win over Florida on March 7th.  He now has nine assists in 22 games, which is a 34-assist pace over 82 games.  That number would have put him in the top-15 among defensemen last season.

-- Mike Green had the game-winner and had seven shots on goals, but he was also on ice for three goals against.  Karl Alzner was in the same boat as his partner, on ice for three goals against.

-- The Caps outshot the Lightning by a 20-5 margin in getting out to their 3-0 lead in the first period.  They were outshot, 33-20 from that point on.

-- It could have been a lot worse for the Lightning in that first period.  They spent 6:51 of the first 14:54 of the game killing penalties.  They were lucky to get out of that with only one goal scored against them, that coming on the fourth power play of the period for the Caps.

-- Jay Beagle had 1:01 of power play ice time tonight.  If that doesn’t sound like a lot, it is a big chunk of his total of 4:58 of power play ice time this season.

-- The win gives the Caps seven in a row, the first time they reached that mark since opening the 2011-2012 season with a seven-game streak.  It marks the sixth straight season in which the Caps have had a winning streak of seven or more games.  In addition to the two mentioned, they had a nine-game winning streak from February 26-March 15 in the 2010-2011 season, a 14-game streak from January 13-February 7 in the 2009-2010 season, a seven-game streak from December 23-January 6 in the 2008-2009 season, and a seven-game streak to close the 2007-2008 season.

In the end… There are two things to take away from this game, one good and one bad.  Obviously, the good thing is getting the two points when it looked as if the Caps would leave at least one of those points on the table with poor play in the third period.  The bad thing is that when a team is on a streak, good or bad, one can see the end of it before it happens.  The Caps almost lost a game to a team with nothing to play for but pride.  That is not an insignificant commodity, but the Caps do have a lot more to play for and should have shown a lot more urgency in their game in the third period than they displayed. 

In that respect, this is what a team looks like when a winning streak might be coming to an end.  They are going to have to play better and for the full 60 minutes when they face Toronto on Tuesday in what will be the start of a rough end of the season schedule.  The Leafs are 5-1-1 in their last seven games and will be a stiffer test than the Lightning, even if they will be coming to Washington the night after hosting the New Jersey Devils on Monday.  It’s time to put on the big boy pants and raise their game another notch.  This is not over yet.