Sunday, January 12, 2014

Washington Capitals: That Was The Week That Was -- Week 15

When wounded, stop the bleeding.  The Washington Capitals did just that in Week 15.  It was not the prettiest, nor was it the most dominating of weeks, but wins are wins.  All of them are worth two points.  And the Caps took all the points available to them in Week 15.

Record: 2-0-0

The Caps were wounded in Week 14 with an 0-2-2 record that dropped them to third in the Metropolitan Division.  By the time they took the ice for the first time in Week 15 they were in fourth place in the Division and out of the playoff-eligible mix.  A 4-3 win on Thursday against the Tampa Bay Lightning elevated them into third place in the Metro, and a 3-2 win the following night against the Toronto Maple Leafs pushed the Caps back into striking distance for second place in The Metro.  When the Philadelphia Flyers lost to the Lightning on Saturday to overtake the Capitals in games played, Washington was back in second place in the division to end the week.

Offense:  3.50/game (season: 2.89 / rank: T-7th)

The shooting this week was a tight grouping. Seven goals were shared by six different players, but only ten skaters shared the points overall.  Eric Fehr was the only Capital with two goals, both of them against Tampa Bay, the second one a last-minute game winner.  It was part of an interesting week, not only for Fehr, but for his new linemates.  Head Coach Adam Oates juggled the lines, splitting up Nicklas Backstrom and Alex Ovechkin, putting Ovechkin on a line with Fehr and Mikhail Grabovski.  That line accounted for three goals for the week (Ovechkin getting the other), and Graboovski and Ovechkin were on ice together for a power play goal.

The flip side of that move – matching Nicklas Backstrom with Brooks Laich and Troy Brouwer on the wings – did not go as swimmingly.  Backstrom had two points for the week, an assist on a power play goal and an unassisted goal of his own.  Neither Brouwer nor Laich recorded a point.

A note about Mike Green’s week.  Green recorded three assists in the two games to extend his points streak to three games.  His two assists against Tampa Bay on Thursday was his second two-helper game of the year and first since Opening Night in Chicago.

Defense: 2.50/game (season: 2.93 / rank: 21st)

It was an interesting week at the other end of the rink.  Two games, twice the Caps took leads, twice they gave them up before closing Tampa Bay and Toronto out.  For the four even strength goals scored against the Caps for the week, it was the top two forward lines being on ice for all of them.  The Backstrom-Laich-Brouwer line was on for two goals against, the Grabovski-Fehr-Ovechkin was on for one. The other was a mix, Backstrom-Fehr-Ovechkin on for that goal.

The Caps continue to let shots accumulate, 70 in the two games this week and it was against two teams whose combined shots on goal averages add up to 57 shots.  The Tampa Bay game had the most disturbing elements in this regard for the week.  After the Caps took a 3-1 lead to the locker room after one period, they were outshot 6-1 by the Lightning before the Bolts scored to make the score 3-2.  Then, the Lightning outshot the Caps by a 13-7 margin over the next 27:45 before tying the game at the 14:30 mark of the third period.

It was, though, a good possession week for the Caps, lightening the load on the defense.  In two games the Caps were just two Corsi events below 50 percent in Corsi-for percentage at 5-on-5 (49.5 percent) and six events under 50 percent for Fenwick –for percentage (47.9 percent).  In 5-on-5 close score situations, the percentages were much better for the Caps – 53.3 percent Corsi-for and 51.0 percent Fenwick-for. 

Goaltending: 2.50 GAA / .929 save percentage (season: 2.81 / .916 / 1 shutout)

Three goalies, two games.  Someone had to sit.  Given the way Philipp Grubauer has played lately, it was reasonable to think he would get one of the back-to-back games.  He did, getting the call in Tampa against the Lightning on Thursday.  He was solid, allowing his first goal on a breakaway and his last one on a tip-in.  The one in the middle, a shot on the rush by B.J. Crombeen, was one he might have wanted back, but facing 36 shots for the game, he had a decent night.

That left the back-half of the back-to-back.  Braden Holtby, right?  Nope.  Michal Neuvirth got the call, seven weeks to the day since he last appeared in a game (a 3-2 Gimmick loss to Montreal).  He had not recorded a win more than two months.  He was, by his own admission, nervous.    He more than held his own, allowing a goal on a redirect and another when a shot clicked off the stick of a defenseman to change its path. 

Meanwhile, the missing man – Braden Holtby – has had one appearance since December 21st, a span of eight games in all.  There is another back-to-back coming up this week.  The question is whether that means Holtby gets another crack at the net.

Power Play: 2-7 / 28.6 percent (season: 25.5 percent / rank: 1st)

It was an uneven week for what is now the league’s best power play.  And, it was against form, to boot.  The Caps knocked down two of three chances against the Tampa Bay Lightning, a very much improved defensive team.  A tip-in by Mikhail Grabovski and a wrap-around stuff by Marcus Johansson were the successes among five shots taken in 4:46 of power play time.  Against Toronto, however, a team that gives up shots like a bartender at happy hour, the Caps managed only seven shots in eight full minutes of four unsuccessful power plays.  It was the first time that the Caps drew a blank on four or more power plays in a game since going 0-for-4 against Montreal on November 29th.

Penalty Killing: 3-4 / 75.0 percent (season: 80.4 percent /rank: 19th)

On a percentage basis, it was not the best of weeks.  But there is only that one power play goal against on the Caps’ ledger.  That one was one of those things.  Phil Kessel had the puck along the boards for the Toronto Maple Leafs, and as he inched down the wall, James van Riemsdyk was jostling with John Carlson in front of Michal Neuvirth.  Carlson took a peek to get a bead on where van Riemsdyk was, but then he wandered ever so slightly away, perhaps thinking Kessel was going to try a cross ice pass through the slot.  Kessel shot the puck instead, and with Carlson unable provide resistance, van Riemsdyk deflected the Kessel shot past Neuvirth’s left arm and inside the left post.

The key was opportunities.  Four shorthanded situations faced for the week is a season low for the Caps for a week’s worth of action.  Even though there will be those times when there is a “good penalty” to take, to prevent what looks like a sure score, the most effective penalty kill is the one you don’t have to face.  You will always be 100 percent on those situations.

Even Strength Goals For/Against: 5-4 (season 5-on-5 GF/GA ratio: 0.93 / rank: T-17th)

It was a good week at even strength for the Caps, on balance.  Of the five goals scored at even strength in Week 15, two of them tied games, three others gave the Caps a lead, including both game-winning goals.  On the other hand, three of the four even strength goals allowed by the Caps gave opponents a lead.  It was a close week.

It might have been a better week in this regard had the Caps recorded more shots on goal and allowed fewer.  Washington was 5-for-42 shooting at even strength for the week (11.9 percent shooting percentage), while opponents were 4-for-58 (6.9 percent).  That’s almost three shots per period more for opponents at even strength.  That puts goaltending under considerable pressure to perform.

Faceoffs: 62-127 / 48.8 percent (season: 49.7 percent / rank: 16th)

It was more or less an even week in the circle for the Caps.  There was one noteworthy aspect to it, that being Nicklas Backstrom’s performance against Tampa Bay on Thursday.  He was 1-for-9 in the defensive zone and was particularly taken advantage of by Valteri Filppula, who won all five draws against Backstrom in the Caps’ end (must be a Sweden/Finland thing).

Apart from Backstrom’s frustrations against Tampa Bay it was a pretty good week for the Caps in the defensive end of the ice, where they went 28-for-53 (52.8 percent), 27-for-44 apart from Backstrom’s bobble (61.4 percent).  That was thanks, in large part, to Mikhail Grabovski, who was 10-for-12 in the defensive end for the week.

Goals For/Against by Period:

Three goals in the first period against Tampa Bay put the Lightning in a hole out of which they could not quite climb all the way.  It was a rare week in which the Caps outscored teams in the first period, all of the goals in the opening frame coming against the Lightning.  Other than that, the fact that the Caps allowed two goals in the third period might not be considered too bad, but for one thing.  One goal was of the game-tying variety against Tampa Bay, the other gave Toronto a lead against the Caps.  No “score effect” there.

In the end…

The Caps stopped the bleeding.  They did not do it in an especially dominating sort of way; they had to score last in both of the week’s games to scratch out a pair of one-goal wins.  Scratching them out might be an apt description.  They went into the Tampa Times Forum and beat a team that had a 14-4-2 home record before the Caps arrived in town.  The, against the Toronto Maple Leafs, the Caps took a punch in the nose, punched back and punched back some more with abandon, and used the energy to squeeze out another win.  All in all, it was not a pretty week, but it was a winning week, and that is the whole object of the exercise.

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