Sunday, December 08, 2013

Washington Capitals: That Was The Week That Was -- Week 10

Week 10 was a light week for the Washington Capitals, but it did not lack for action or drama.

Record: 1-1-0

It was the first two-game week since Week 2, and it ended better than did that one.  The Caps were flat against Carolina, a product of what might have been a disturbing attitude The loss to Carolina dropped the Caps further behind the Metropolitan Division-leading Pittsburgh Penguins, but the win over the Nashville Predators to end the week preserved the Caps’ position in second place in the Metro.  That lead is precarious, a one-point margin over the New York Rangers and Carolina Hurricanes, but the Caps have games in hand against both clubs.  The Caps can extend that margin on Sunday when they visit the Rangers in New York.

Offense: 3.00/game (season: 2.83 / rank: 9th)

In a short week, it might be expected that the scoring totals would be light.  What the Caps had, for good or for bad, was balance.  Six different players scored one goal apiece – Mike Green, Alex Ovechkin (both on power plays), Troy Brouwer, Eric Fehr, Karl Alzner, and Nate Schmidt.  The goals for Alzner and Schmidt were especially noteworthy.  For Alzner it was his first goal at Verizon Center in 148 games as a Capital.  For Schmidt it was his first NHL goal.  The 32 shots on goal against Nashville was the first time in four games that the Caps finished with more than 30 shots on goal.

Defense: 3.00/game (season: 2.83 / rank: T-22nd)

From the “broken record” file… shots on goal remain an issue.  The Caps finished the week allowing 68 shots in two games, which meant that their average shots per game actually went down (to 35.0 allowed per game), but only Toronto has allowed more shots per game (37.0) than the Caps.

The good news was that the Caps had a solid possession week.  They finished the week with a Corsi-for percentage in 5-on-5 close situations of 56.8 and a Fensick-for percentage in those situations of 53.9.  That is a bit inflated for the end-game possession numbers in the Carolina game.  The Caps started that game well enough, holding Carolina to 15 total Fenwick events for a long stretch of the second period.  But Carolina had a flurry, scored three goals, and the competitive portion of that game was over.  The Caps got some mop-up possession numbers at the end.  The Nashville game was much better in that the Caps had a persistent edge in Fenwick events, even after jumping out to a 3-0 lead in the first period.  It was not until midway through the third period of that game that the Predators close the gap in that regard, and by that time, it was too late.  The Caps pulled away in Fenwick events at the end, following their last goal in the 5-2 win.

Goaltending: 3.00 GAA / ..912 save percentage (season: 2.71 / .921 / 1 shutout)

Braden Holtby has been nurturing a disturbing trend.  He can be very, very good.  Or, he can be very, very not.  He allowed four goals on 23 shots in 40 minutes of work against Carolina, giving way to Philipp Grubauer, who stopped all nine shots he faced in relief in the Hurricanes’ 4-1 win.  The thing about Holtby, though, is that he seems to take poor performances personally.  In his last ten games following one in which he allowed four or more goals, Braden Holtby is 9-0-1, including his win against Nashville to close the week.  Grubauer’s week provides an interesting footnote.  In three career NHL appearances he has appeared in relief twice. He is a perfect 23-for-23 stopping shots in those games.

Power Play: 2-9 / 22.2 percent (season: 23.2 percent / rank: 4th)

It was a decent week for the power play.  It bordered on the superb for Mike Green, who finally got off the schneid, goal-scoring wise, when he potted his first goal of the season – on a power play – for the Caps’ only goal in their 4-1 loss to Carolina.  It came on his 65th shot on goal of the season.  As for the power play in general, a 22.2 percent week isn’t bad, it isn’t extraordinary.  Two goals on 13 shots in 13:52 of man-advantage ice time is a workman-like week.  Green figures in the ice time as well.  He assumed a more active role on the power play, getting 7:54 of the 13:52 of ice time, compared to the 6:08 that John Carlson received on the man advantage.

Penalty Killing: 4-5 / 80.0 percent (season: 83.3 percent / rank: T-14th)

The key here was opportunities.  The Caps allowed only five power play opportunities for the week and were an Andrej Sekera goal from being perfect in killing them.  That was a difficult power play for the Caps, who allowed the Hurricanes more than a minute of offensive zone time and could not deal with Tuomo Ruutu setting a screen in front of Braden Holtby.  You could see Holtby desperately trying to find a lane to see through, and he ended up guessing wrong, leaning one way to get a view and having the goal sail past him on the other side.  Still, it was not a bad week on the penalty kill, if only for not having to kill too many.

Even Strength Goals For/Against: 4-5 (season: 54-60; 5-on-5 GF/GA ratio: 0.93 / rank: 19th)

After a run of “even” weeks, the Caps slipped here.  They allowed three even strength goals to Carolina – two when the game was competitive -- and two to Nashville.  Those two came after the Caps went out to three-goal leads.  The made the game interesting, but not as much competitive.  The Caps did a decent job of holding down opponents’ even strength shots, allowing 57 in all.  That number is deceptively high.  Carolina had only 23 for the game in the first game of the week (18 in the first two periods), and Nashville had 34 in the game to end the week (11 in the third period).  Still, the comparison is against a low standard.  The Caps need to clamp down further on opponent’s chances at even strength.

Faceoffs: 64-130 / 49.2 percent (season: 48.3 percent / rank: 23rd)

It was a better week than what the Caps experienced recently in the circle.  This is not the same as saying it was a good one.  The problem is that the Caps were underwater in the ends. They were 22-for-45 in the offensive end (48.9 percent) and 20-for-43 in the defensive end (46.5 percent).  Much of that is the product of a poor night against Carolina, 44.0 percent in the offensive end and 45.0 percent in the defensive zone.  Nicklas Backstrom and Martin Erat had interesting mirror image weeks.  Backstrom was 10-for-17 in the offensive end (58.9 percent), but only 5-for-15 in the defensive end (33.3 percent).  Erat was 6-for-10 in the defensive end (60.0 percent), but was shutout on five draws in the offensive end.

Goals For/Against by Period:

It was a”doughnit” week for the Caps in Week 10.  Three first period goals, three in the third.  They were shutout in the second period for the week.  Given the Caps’ success in the second period of games this season (they are still eighth in goals scored in the middle frame), it was a bit odd.  On the other side, the good news is that the Caps allowed only one third period goal, not bad for a team that has allowed the tenth highest total of third period goals this season.

In the end…

The Caps tread water this week.  They are still in second place in the Metropolitan Division, but it is not a strong hold that they have on it.  It was an odd symmetry for the week – one poor game, one good one.  For a week with little on the schedule, that made for a lot to talk about and break down.  What we are left with, though, is wondering which team the Caps are – the one that was flat against the Hurricanes, or the one that jumped on the Predators’ throats early in the second game of the week. 

The difficult is that the same issues remain.  The Caps struggle at even strength, they don’t get enough secondary scoring, too much of the offense still runs to – not through, to – Alex Ovechkin.  It’s nice that he leads the league in goals, but having more than twice as many as the next Capital (and you would not think Joel Ward would finish the year with the second highest goal total) makes for the sort of imbalance that makes it difficult for the Caps to win games in which he does not score a goal.

Like this week.

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 30: Capitals at Rangers, December 8th

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

The Washington Capitals get right back to it on Sunday night, heading to New York City after their 5-2 win against Nashville last night to take on the Rangers at Madison Square Garden.

Both teams will take the ice in the back half of back-to-back games.  The Rangers dropped a 4-3 overtime decision to the New Jersey Devils at Madison Square Garden on Saturday night, so at least the Rangers will have the luxury of spending the night in their own beds.  The Caps jetted off to Manhattan following their game against Nashville.

The Rangers have alternated wins and losses over their last eight games (4-3-1), culminating with their overtime loss to the Devils on Saturday.  Over those eight games the Rangers outscored their opponents, 22-21, and the scoring for the Blueshirts has been rather tightly bunched.  Six Rangers have five or more points in this eight-game stretch, and they are familiar names… Brad Richards (3-4-7), Ryan McDonagh (2-6-8), Rick Nash (4-3-6), Derek Stepan (1-4-5), Chris Kreider (4-1-5), and Mats Zuccarello.


Mats Zuccarello… With four goals and six assists over these last eight games, Zuccarello is the Rangers’ leading scorer.  Those ten points exceed his entire total for last season in 15 games played and is almost as many as he compiled over the past two seasons in 25 games played (5-6-11).  In three career games against the Caps he has one assist.

Of more immediate concern to the Rangers is a player who does not generally figure much in the offense.  Marc Staal took a hit from New Jersey’s Reid Boucher last night in the third period of the Rangers’ overtime loss to the Devils.  The incident left Staal feeling, in the words of head coach Alain Vigneault, “[not] quite right.”  It is not clear whether Staal sustained a concussion in the hit; he missed 36 games to one in the 2011-2012 season.

The Rangers have been fortunate to date concerning injuries on the blue line, Staal’s immediate future notwithstanding.  Only seven defensemen have dressed for New York so far this season (compare that to 12 for the Caps), and if Staal is out, it could open the way for Michael Del Zotto, a healthy scratch last night (one of seven this season), to return to the lineup.  Del Zotto, who seems to be to Ranger fans what Jeff Schultz was to Caps fans (that is, a lightning rod for criticism), has struggled this season.  He does not provide a lot of offense (2-3-5 in 22 games), and he is not an especially good possession player (under 50 percent at 5-on-5 in both Corsi-for and Fenwick-for percentages; source:  In 15 games against the Caps he is 0-5-5, plus-4.

Here is how the two teams compare overall…


1.  The Rangers are the only club in the NHL that has not yet participated in the Gimmick.

2.  Rangers special teams have been quite efficient in their recent 4-3-1 run of alternating decisions.  The power play is 6-for-28 (21.4 percent), while the penalty kill is 17-for-19 (89.5 percent).  It is also worth noting the plus-9 that the Rangers have enjoyed in special team opportunities over that eight-game stretch.

3. For a team that doesn’t score much and doesn’t give up much, the Rangers do not have a lot of one-goal decisions on their ledger this season.  Only four teams have fewer one-goal games than the 12 played by the Rangers so far (5-6-1).

4.  If the Caps have had issues at 5-on-5 this season, the Rangers have had issues in bold letters.  Only Philadelphia and Buffalo have scored fewer goals at 5-on-5 than New York.  Despite having a more respectable 18th place ranking in 5-on-5 goals allowed, the Rangers are 26th in their ratio of goals scored to goals allowed at 5-on-5.

5.  What the Rangers are is a competent possession team.  They rank 11th overall in Fenwick-for percentage in 5-on-5 close situations.  When finishing a game at or better than 50 percent in such situations, the Rangers are 10-6-0 (3-5-0, however, at home).

1.  This the fifth set of back-to-backs played by the Caps so far this season.  In the four previous sets, what the Caps did in the first game, they did in the second.  They beat both Philadelphia and Florida on November 1-2, they lost to both Phoenix (in a Gimmick) and Colorado on November 9-10, they lost to Montreal and Toronto (in another Gimmick) on November 22-23, and they beat Montreal and the Islanders on November 29-30.

2.  When the Caps scored on a power play against Nashville, it marked the first time in almost a month that they scored power play goals in consecutive games.  Their previous two-fer was November 7th and 9th against Minnesota and Phoenix, respectively.

3.  The Caps have done well of late managing the other team’s power plays.  In three of their last four games the Caps allowed the opposition two or fewer power play chances and have allowed only 16 chances in their last six games.

4.  It is hard to come back in games in the NHL when you fall behind, but there is only one team in the league that has more wins than the Caps (4) when trailing after one period.  Don’t put too much stock in it; the team is Buffalo.  Five of their six wins came after trailing after one period.

5.  Washington is a “real-time” warrior.  If you go to the “real time” statistics at, you will find that the Caps are a top-five club in blocked shots, missed shots, and takeaways.

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

New York: Henrik Lundqvist

Let’s face it.  Job One in this game is “Solve Lundqvist.”  The Rangers’ netminder has 180 consecutive minutes of shutout hockey against the Caps going back to when he allowed the game-winning goal to Mike Ribeiro in overtime of Game 5 of the Eastern Conference quarterfinals last spring.  That is 84 consecutive shots turned away over three games – the series tying and series clinching wins in the playoffs last spring, and a 2-0 shutout of the Caps on October 16th.  It is entirely possible that Lundqvist will not get this start, since he got the call in the Rangers’ 4-3 overtime loss to New Jersey last night.  If he gets the night off, that means that the Caps will face Cam Talbot for the first time.  He might be ripe for the taking.  After eight straight appearances in which he allowed two or fewer goals, he was lit up for four on 29 shots in a 5-2 loss to Winnipeg in his last appearance, last Monday.

Washington: Braden Holtby

One would think is unlikely (not impossible) that Philipp Grubauer would get the call against the Rangers, so that means Braden Holtby appears likely to get the back-to-back call.  Fortunately, he had a comparatively easy time of it against Nashville, the Caps winning by a 5-2 margin on Saturday night.  The concern here is that in four instances of playing both end of back-to-backs so far in his career, Holtby is 2-1-1, 3.30, .902 in the second game, not an especially sterling level of performance.  He has one such instance of playing back-to-backs this season, winning both games, both of them in extra time.  He posted a 3-2 shootout win over Montreal and a 3-2 overtime win over the New York Islanders on November 29-30.  He is 2-3-1 against the Rangers in regular season games in his career with a 1.95 goals against average and a .943 save percentage.


1.  Find shooting lanes.  You can take the Tortorella out of New York, but you can’t take the Tortorella out of the Rangers…not entirely.  In their lone meeting this season so far, the Rangers blocked as many Caps shot attempts as the Caps recorded on goal (22).  The Caps need to make the goaltender work harder.

2.  You can’t spell “rebound” without “bound.”  Talbot looked a bit leaky in his game against Winnipeg last Monday.  If he is getting the call, the Caps need to have boundless enthusiasm for getting to the net to whack at any loose change he might leave lying about.

3.  Balance.  See what happens when it’s not just “The Ovie Show?”  The Caps had shooting and scoring balance from the forward lines and defense against Nashville.  Having credible threats on more than just one line and maybe more than one (if that) defenseman puts more pressure on an opponent.

In the end…

It is not a statement game, but it does have repercussions.  The Rangers have had the Caps number lately – two playoff series wins, and they haven’t beaten the Rangers in a game settled in the hockey portion of the competition since April 7, 2012.  And, the winner of this game will be in second place in the Metropolitan Division (unless the Caps lose in extra time).  The odd part of this game is that the Rangers, who play in arguably one of the most difficult arenas in the league for opponents, have the worst home record in the Metropolitan Division (5-6-1).  They are 1-4-1 in their last six home contests and have scored only 11 goals in doing it.  This game actually sets up pretty well for the Caps.

Capitals 3 – Rangers 2

Washington Capitals: A TWO point night -- Game 29: Capitals 5 - Predators 2

If you’re a fan of the Washington Capitals, that’s the way it’s supposed to happen.

The Caps scored early, scored late, and scored in-between.  At the other end they held the Nashville Predators to two inconsequential goals and won, 5-2, at Verizon Center on Saturday night.

Troy Brouwer got things started for the Caps in the seventh minute by first corralling a loose puck at the top of the offensive zone and keeping the offensive pressure on for the Caps, then circling around the net to the top of the crease where he backhanded a rebound of an Eric Fehr drive past the right pad of goalie Marek Mazanec.

Later in the period, Alex Ovechkin notched his league-leading 22nd goal on a power play.  Nicklas Backstrom won a faceoff to Mazanec’s right, pulling the puck back to Ovechkin at the top of the left wing circle.  Ovechkin wasted no time, winding and firing a slap shot that handcuffed Mazanec and popped over his left pad to make it 2-0, Caps.

Just over three minutes after the Ovechkin goal, Nicklas Backstrom won a faceoff back to Karl Alzner at the left point.  Alzner sent the puck across to Mike Green at the right point, but Green having no clear shooting lane, he sent the puck back to Alzner.  From the middle of the ice, Alzner let fly with a shot through a screen that Mazanec saw too late.  All he could do was wave at it with his glove as it flew by, and the Caps were up, 3-0.

It would have been a letter-perfect first period for the Caps, but Nashville got one back in the last minute of the period.  Roman Josi split a pair of Capital defenders at the blue line and wristed a shot that seemed to surprise goalie Braden Holtby, whose glove was not quick enough to corral the shot that found the top corner on the far side.  The puck might have changed direction ever so slightly by nicking the shaft of Mike Green’s stick on the way in.

After a scoreless second period, The Caps came out early in the third period and scored on Nate Schmidt’s first NHL goal.  The play started when Martin Erat dug the puck out of a pile in the right wing faceoff circle and skated it into the corner.  He turned and threaded a pass through the circle and a clot of bodies to Schmidt on the opposite point.  Schmidt fired a slap shot that beat Mazanec cleanly on the blocker side, and he had his first NHL goal to make it 4-1.

Nashville scored on the next shift, a wrist shot by Eric Nystrom finishing a 2-on-1 rush.  That would be as close as the Predators would get, tbough.  Eric Fehr closed the scoring in the 15th minute of the period.  Mikhail Grabovski skated the puck into the Nashville zone and dropped the puck for Fehr at the left point.  Fehr stepped in and from the top of the faceoff circle ripped a wrist shot past Mazanec to make it 5-2.

Other stuff…

-- For Alzner and his goal it was a first…on several levels.  It was his first goal of the season.  It was his first goal in 63 games.  It was his first career goal at Verizon Center in 148 games.

-- Four even strength goals was not a season best for the Caps, but it was close.  The Caps had five against the Flyers on November 1st in a 7-0 win.

-- For those of you who keep track of such things, this was the Fenwickiest game of the season for the Caps in 5-on-5 close situations.  The notable part of the Caps’ 68.6 percent to the good effort was that they held the Predators to just six Fenwick events in these situations.  Maybe because the game wasn’t close after the 13:09 mark of the first period when the Caps took a 2-0 lead.  It was indicative of something the Caps haven’t had much of this season – strong early starts.

-- And now, your odd Eric Fehr stat of the evening.  Fehr had two points last night, a goal and an assist.  And when Eric Fehr gets two points, the Caps win.  This was the 18th consecutive game in which Fehr recorded at least two points and the Caps won.  The last time the Caps lost a game when Fehr recorded two or more points was on February 11, 2009, when he had a goal and an assist in a 5-4 loss to the New York Rangers.

-- Troy Brouwer broke an 11-game streak without a goal with his first period tally.  It was his second even-strength goal of the season, the last one coming on October 19th against Columbus.

-- With his goal tonight, Alex Ovechkin has 56 goals in his last 82 games.  In his 65-goal season in 2007-2008 he did not record his 22nd goal until Game 31.  He got his 22nd goal in his 27th game of this season.

-- In his last ten games following one in which he allowed four or more goals, Braden Holtby is 9-0-1.

-- The five goals allowed by Marek Mazanec was the most he allowed in a single game in his young career (14 appearances).

-- The third line of Martin Erat centering Joel Ward and Jason Chimera certainly was an active one.  The trio combined for 16 shot attempts and ten of the 33 total shots on goal for the Caps.  Erat and Ward, both former Predators, had assists on Nate Schmidt’s goal.

In the end…

That’s the way it’s supposed to happen.  It doesn’t of course, but there haven’t been a lot of games like this for the Caps this season.  It was the fifth time this season the Caps scored five or more goals, but it was only the third time they did so and won by more than one goal.  The Caps got primary scoring with an Ovechkin goal and two assists from Nicklas Backstrom.  They got secondary scoring from Troy Brouwer (a goal) and Mikhail Grabovski (two assists), and they got unexpected punch from the blue line, Nate Schmidt and Karl Alzner getting goals.  At the other end Braden Holtby had a couple of hiccups, goals he might want back and frankly might not have allowed in a closer game, but was otherwise solid.  It saved the week for the Caps, ensuring a .500 result.  Now, let’s see if they can make it an even better weekend as they head to New York for the back half of this back-to-back set.