Sunday, October 19, 2014

Washington Capitals: That Was The Week That Was -- Week 2

Week 2 for the Washington Capitals looked a lot like Week 1 – extra time, trick shot competitions, and… Corsi!  It made for a good week overall.

Record: 2-0-1

The best that can be said about Week 2 was that it was a solid effort – a come-from-behind charge from twice being down three goals to earn a standings point against the San Jose Sharks, a dominating 6-2 win over previously undefeated the New Jersey Devils, and a gritty 2-1 Gimmick win over the Florida Panthers.  On the other hand, there were the two trick shot competitions.  Not earning regulation/overtime wins is a spillover from last season when the Caps had the fourth lowest percentage of wins coming in regulation time or overtime (73.7).  The Caps have one (oops..make that two) ROW among their three wins to date, but then again, they have not lost a game in regulation time, either, the only team in the East not to have done so over the first two weeks of the season.

Offense: 4.00/game (season: 3.40/game; rank: T-4th)

Nine different players shared in the 12 goals scored for the week, Alex Ovechkin leading the team with three.  The story, though, might have been Marcus Johansson.  He was the other Caps with a multi-goal week, notching two in the three games of Week 2.  The work project for Johansson to begin this season was to shoot more.  He has done just that.  The six shots he recorded for the week made it 11 in five games.  Last season he did not record his 11th shot on goal for the season until his 12th game.

Sixteen players shared in the point scoring for the week, led by the “middle aged” guns.  Alex Ovechkin (3-1-4), Mike Green (1-3-4), and Nicklas Backstrom (1-2-3) led the way, along with Troy Brouwer (1-2-3).  Backstrom went into the last game of the week needing one point in what was his 500th career game to reach the 500-point plateau.  He came up short, but he has (one hopes) many years ahead of him to build a career point-a-game resume.

Defense: 2.67/game (season: 1.80/game; rank: T-6th)

The numbers of note here are: 23, 28, 21.  Those were the shots on goal against the Caps for the week.  It made five straight games in which the Caps allowed fewer than 30 shots on goal.  Factor in that the Caps have played in three 65-minute games, and they are allowing only 23.8 shots per 60 minutes.  Last year the Caps did not have their fifth game with fewer than 30 shots until Game 33.  The last time that the Caps had five consecutive games allowing fewer than 30 shots on goal was December 15-26, 2011, when the Caps limited Winnipeg, Colorado, Nashville, New Jersey, and Buffalo to a total of 126 shots.

The low shot volumes against was a reflection of very good overall possession numbers for the week.  The Caps had a 54.30 percent Corsi-for percentage at 5-on-5 for the week (numbers from 

Goaltending: 2.53 GAA / .889 SV (season: 1.71 GAA / .928 SV / 1 SO)

It was not a particularly efficient week in net for the Caps (.889 save percentage).  The problem was the first period.  In three games Braden Holtby and Justin Peters were a combined 23-for-28 in saves in the opening frame (.821).  After that they were fine (41-for-44; .932 save percentage), but that was a matter of damage control.  The silver lining there is that while Holtby and Peters went a combined 17-for-22 on saves in the first period in the first two games of the week (.773 save percentage), Peters stopped all six shots he faced against Florida to end the week.

Power Play: 3-11 / 27.3 percent (season: 25.0 percent; rank: T-9th)

It was a good week that would have been even better, perhaps, but for lack of opportunity.  That would mean the Florida game to end the week.  The Caps had only two power plays against the Panthers, one of them lasting all of seven seconds.  Thus, it is not surprising that Washington took an oh-fer on the man advantage in that game and did not register a shot on goal.

In the first two games of the week the Capitals dominated on their man advantage.  A 3-for-9 record (33.3 percent) was the result of pounding San Jose and New Jersey with 17 shots in 13:51 of total power play time.  Alex Ovechkin had eight of those 17 shots, so neither the Sharks nor the Devils were taking away his personal space.  What the Caps got, though, was support.  Marcus Johansson scored on his only power play shot of the week; Andre Burakovsky was 1-for2.  

Penalty Killing: 9-11 / 81.8 percent (season:90.0 percent; rank: 5th)

The penalty killers had a bit of a confounding week.  On the one hand, 9-for-11 is not an especially impressive mark.  Then again, allowing two goals on only 13 shots in 19:53 of shorthanded ice time is.  The two goals were scored from almost precisely the same spot at the same end of the ice in the same circumstances.  Against San Jose a Matt Nieto shot from the right point got through traffic, and goalie Braden Holtby made the initial save.  However, he could not cover the loose puck, and the Caps could not clear it.  Defenseman Matt Irwin pounced on the loose puck on the weak side to Holtby’s right and scored before anyone could defend him.  Against Florida it was Dylan Olson firing from above the right wing faceoff circle.  This time it was Justin Peters making the initial save but failing to cover the loose puck.  It made its way to the right of Peters where Brad Boyes pinched in on the weak side to bury it.

On both occasions a Caps defenseman – John Carlson against San Jose, Brooks Orpik against Florida – were occupied trying to keep an opponent at the top of the crease to the goalie’s left from getting a whack at the puck, leaving that weak side area down low open to a player pinching in. 

Even Strength Goals For/Goals Against: 9-6 / plus-3 (season 5-on-5 GF/GA ratio: 1.71; rank: 7th)

If the Caps needed to change one thing in terms of results this season, it was to turn around their 5-on-5 performance from last season.  At 5-on-5 in 2013-2014 the Caps scored 139 goals at 5-on-5 and allowed 155, a ratio of 0.90:1.  In Week 2, the Caps were 9-6 to the good, a ratio of 1.50:1 and making them 12 up and seven down for the season (1.71:1).  That was the product of outshooting opponents by a 75-56 margin for the week at even strength.  Of those 75 shots, 22 of them came off the sticks of Joel Ward, Jason Chimera, and Eric Fehr.  That line was often the Caps’ best last season, and they are picking up where they left off.

Faceoffs: 105-for-197 / 53.3 percent (season: 48.9 percent; rank: 18th)

It was a good week overall but perhaps a bit misleading.  The Caps won more than 53 percent of total draws taken, but that was skewed by a 41-for-63 (65.1 performance) against Florida to end the week.  The Caps were underwater against San Jose (49.2 percent) and New Jersey (46.4 percent.  What the Caps were able to do consistently was to win in the offensive zone.  They were over 50 percent in all three games – 55.0 percent against San Jose, 55.2 percent against New Jersey, and 56.0 percent against Florida.  It was not as impressive in the defensive end, a 66.7 percent mark against Florida offset by going 43.8 percent against the Sharks and 40.0 percent against the Devils.

It was the rookies who struggled in the circle for the week.  Evgeny Kuznetsov was 13-for-28 ((46.4 percent), while Andre Burakovsky was 10-for-23 (43.5 percent).   At the other end, Nicklas Backstrom was 57.7 percent on a 30-for-52 effort, while Troy Brower was 13-for-20 and 65.0 percent.

Goals by Period:

Cold starts and hot finishes.  The Caps allowed five of the eight goals allowed in Week 2 in the first period of their three games.  They scored five of their own in the third period of those games.  It was in the second period that the week might have been defined, though.  Falling behind in the San Jose game by a 3-0 score in the first period and being held to a 2-2 tie by the Devils after 40 minutes in their contest in the middle game of the week, the Caps outscored the Sharks, 3-1, and the Devils, 1-0, in the second periods of those games. 

In the end…

It is hard to argue with results, and a 2-0-1 week is never going to be a bad thing.  There were bumps along the way – the first period against San Jose, the manner in which the power play goals were allowed among them – but the Caps are tied in standings points with the New York Islanders and Ottawa Senators for second place in the Eastern Conference, just two points behind the Montreal Canadiens with a game in hand.  

It is a good start to the season for the Caps, quite an improvement on the 1-4-0 five-game start of last season that put the Caps squarely in a hole that they seemed to spend the rest of the season trying to climb out of.  It is just the thing they needed as they head west to take on Edmonton, Calgary, and Vancouver in Week 3.

A TWO-point night -- Game 5: Capitals 2 - Panthers 1 (OT/Gimmick)

The Washington Capitals did three times in The Gimmick what they could do only once in the hockey portion of their contest against the Florida Panthers.  Score goals, that is.  The Caps rode trick shots by Evgeny Kuznetsov, Nicklas Backstrom, and Alex Ovechkin, plus goalie Justin Peters’ 20-save effort to a 2-1 decision over the Panthers.

For a more detailed review of the night’s events, head on over to Japers’ Rink for our recap.

Other stuff…

-- Hey, guess what.  The Caps won a game in which they scored fewer than three goals.  That broke an 0-26-7 string of 33 games in which they failed to do so.  Their last win when scoring fewer than three goals in a game came on April 4, 2013, when they beat the New York Islanders in a Gimmick, 2-1.  The Caps’ last such win in regulation came on March 11, 2012, when they beat the Toronto Maple Leafs, 2-0.  We're still waiting for one of those.

-- Another night, another trick shot competition.  This one makes three in five games this season and 24 in 87 games over the past two seasons.  The Caps are 12-12 in those contests.

-- The win makes the Caps 10-0-1 in their last 11 contests against the Panthers, outscoring Florida by a 42-21 margin.  The Caps have not lost at home to the Panthers since December 9, 2010, when they were shutout by a 3-0 score.  The Caps have won nine straight against Florida at Verizon Center.

-- Last season the Caps held teams under 30 shots a game only 21 times in 82 contests.  Their longest streak of such games was three in late January.  They have five straight games allowing fewer than 30 shots to start this season.  The last time the Caps pieced together a streak of five games allowing fewer than 30 shots was in late December 2011 when the put the clamps on Winnipeg, Colorado, Nashville, New Jersey, and Buffalo, going 2-2-1 in the process.

-- The Eric Fehr/Jason Chimera/Joel Ward line had a goal and two assists, eight shots on goal, 11 shot attempts, five hits, two blocked shots, and won 11 of 19 draws. 

-- Matt Niskanen had more than two more even strength ice time (23:02) than the next Capitals (Brooks Orpik – 21:39). 

In the end…

A record of 3-0-2 might not sound like much, but you bank points where and when you can, especially with a trip out west next week on the schedule.  This might have been the dastardly “trap game,” the one where the good guys suffer an unexpected loss against a weaker opponent after a good stretch of play against stiff competition.  The Caps last year might have fallen victim to that scenario, but this team has a look of being sounder in their own end.  Defense is as often a matter of will as it is of skill, and if the Caps bring that sort of will power to the rink every night, they can avoid these “traps” and the bleeding away of standings points they might need next spring.