Sunday, November 02, 2014

Washington Capitals: That Was The Week That Was -- Week 4

The Washington Capitals took an oh-fer in Week 4.  Losers of all three games for the week, the Caps are now in 12th place in the Eastern Conference, 14th in regulation and overtime wins.  It left the Caps right where they were after ten games last season – 10 points after 10 games.

Record: 0-3-0

This was the first three-loss week for the Caps since Week 17 last season when they went 1-3-0.  It is their first winless week in one with more than two games since Week 16 last season.  It was the first time the Caps lost three straight games in regulation time since they lost five straight in Games 47-51 last season.  After a 3-0-2 start in their first five games, after which they found themselves in second place in the Metropolitan Division and third in the Eastern Conference, they have slipped three spots in the division and nine places in the conference.

Offense: 2.33/game (season: 2.90/game; rank: 11th)

Not a good week for the offense.  Not only did the Caps shoot poorly (seven goals on 87 shots; 8.0 percent), they did not get much from the players who have to give them much.  Alex Ovechkin had one assist, breaking a personal worst five game streak without a point.  He was 0-for-15 shooting.  Nicklas Backstrom had one assist. Mike Green had two assists, but he did not have a goal.  Ditto John Carlson.  If anything, the Caps got their secondary scoring.  Marcus Johansson had two goals and an assist to lead the Caps in scoring for the week.  Troy Brouwer had a pair of goals. Evgeny Kuznetsov got his first of the year.  Eric Fehr had a pretty goal against Tampa Bay following up his own shot.  Even Liam O’Brien had his first NHL goal.

Defense: 4.00/game (season: 2.50/game; rank: T-13th)

The Caps finally allowed a team to reach the 30-shot mark in a game, giving up 34 shots to the Vancouver Canucks in the Caps’ 4-2 loss last Sunday.  They followed that up by getting right back with the program, allowing a total of 50 shots in the last two games of the week in losses to Detroit and Tampa Bay.  The 5-on-5 play was, to be charitable, interesting.  Oddly enough, the Caps won the possession wars for the week with a 53.02 Corsi-for percentage at 5-on-5, a 53.67 percent Fenwick-for (winning handily in both against Detroit and Tampa Bay, losing closely against Vancouver).  Unfortunately, they out-performed the shots-for (50.37 percent) and goals for (35.7 percent).  If there is an emerging bright spot here, it is the play of the Mike Green-Nate Schmidt pair on defense.  As a pair, they have been on ice for just one of the last 17 goals scored against the Caps, that coming against Detroit last Wednesday (Green was on for the empty netter scored by Vancouver in the 4-2 loss to the Canucks last Sunday).

Goaltending: 3.74 GAA / .867 SV (season: 2.36 GAA / .904 SV / 1 SO)

Justin Peters allowed three goals on 33 shots in almost 59 minutes against the Vancouver Canucks in the 4-2 loss last Sunday.  That was the high point of the week as far as goaltending was concerned.  Braden Holtby was in net for the last two games of the week, and it did not go well. Holtby allowed eight goals on 50 shots (.840 save percentage) in taking the loss in both games.  What was worse was his even strength save percentage-- .811.  He faced only 15 even strength shots against Detroit (12 saves) and 22 even strength shots against Tampa Bay (18 saves).  Even if not all the goals are attributable to poor play on his part (especially against Tampa Bay), Holtby, who in the past thrived on high workload volumes, is going to have to find a way to find and maintain his focus as the Caps transition themselves into a team that denies shot attempts.

Power Play: 2-10/20.0 percent (season: 25.7 percent; rank: 3rd)

There was a glass half-full/half-empty aspect to the power play in Week 4.  On the plus side, the Caps had a fairly efficient week – two goals on 17 shots (11.8 percent shooting) in 13:08 of power play ice time. On the other hand, getting an 0-for-6 in shooting (and only one shot on goal in each of the last two games of the week) was probably not in the plan for Alex Ovechkin.  Last year’s power play goal-scoring leader has not had a power play goal since Game 3 against San Jose on October 14th.  He has 16 power play shots on goal for the season, not much different on a per game basis than last season (1.60 per game compared to 1.69 last season); it is just his shooting is off (6.25 percent compared to 9.84 percent last season).

Penalty Killing: 3-11/72.7 percent (season: 80.6 percent; rank: 17th)

When the Caps denied the Tampa Bay Lightning a goal on two power play opportunities on Saturday, it broke a five game streak in which the Caps allowed at least one power play goal.  It was not an especially efficient week.  The Caps allowed 15 shots on goal in 12:39 of power play ice time.  It was not all that effective, either.  Washington allowed three goals on nine shots in the first two games of the week before shackling the Lightning in the last game of the week.  This was a place where Holtby stood out in a good way in goal.  He stopped 10 of 11 power play shots, lifting him into 13th place in shorthanded save percentage among 41 goalies playing in at least four games.

Even Strength Goals For/Goals Against: 5-9 / minus-4 (season, 5-on-5 goals for/goals against ratio:1.11; rank: T-13th)

It was not a good week for the Caps in this regard.  They were lit up in shots on goal by Vancouver to start the week (outshot at even strength, 30-19), but they came on at the end of the week (49-37 to the good).  Opponents just feasted on the Caps in terms of efficiency, though, shooting to a 13.4 percent mark at even strength for the week, while the Caps were only at 7.4 percent.  How odd was it?  Marcus Johansson scored as many even strength goals in Week 4 as he did in all of last season (2).

Faceoffs:  77-for-155 / 49.6 percent (season: 49.3 percent; rank: 19th)

The Caps were one draw under 50 percent for the week, but they did manage a good week in the defensive end (57.5 percent).  What set the week apart was the incidences more than the percentages by zone.  The Caps took 57 draws in the offensive zone (47.4 percent), only 40 percent (57.5 percent).  It was the defensive zone draw that got away that proved critical in the Caps’ loss to Tampa Bay on Saturday.  Steven Stamkos won a draw cleanly from Nicklas Backstrom, and Jason Garrison coverted into the game-winning goal in the Caps’ 4-3 loss to the Lightning.  That draw put Backstrom one under for the week in the defensive end, while he was above 50 percent in other two zones in taking 53 draws (winning 28), more than twice as many as any other Capital.  The second highest number of draws (24) was taken by Andre Burakovsky, who had a good week (58.3 percent).

Goals by Period:

No secret what the problem was here.  After holding opponents even over the first two periods, the Caps had their lunch eaten in front of them to the tune of a 5-0 margin.  They allowed the game winning goals in the losses to Detroit and Tampa Bay in the third period, and with having allowed a third period empty net goal against Vancouver, the Caps allowed third period goals in each of the three games for the week.

In the end…

Playing well in terms of possession only goes so far.  When the team gets no standings points for the week when winning the possession wars (a theme spilling over from Week 3), it is frustrating.  The best that can be said is that if the Caps continue to “play” as they have, the wins will come.  They have to get better than a .750 save percentage from Braden Holtby in the third period of games, though.  And, they have to get their primary scoring to rise to the level of their secondary scoring.  You know, the usual things a team needs in its performance numbers to win.

Three Stars:
  • First Star: Marcus Johansson (2-1-3, minus-3, four shots on goal, Corsi minus-3)
  • Second Star: Andre Burakovsky (0-2-2, minus-1, 58.3 percent on draws)
  • Third Star: Justin Peters (0-1-0, 30 saves on 33 shots, 28-for-30 at even strength)

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 11: Coyotes at Capitals, November 2nd

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

The Washington Capitals get right back on the horse, so to speak, after their 4-3 loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning on Saturday night when they return to Verizon Center to host the Arizona Coyotes on Sunday night.

The Capitals are reeling after losing their third straight game last night, their fourth loss in their last five contests.  The skid wipes out their 3-0-2 start, leaving them with a .500 record entering this contest (4-4-2).  The Caps have struggled scoring goals of late, and this has been a problem in two unexpected places.  Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom have one goal between them over their last six games.  Then there is the defense.  Mike Green has three goals and is among the league leaders in scoring among defensemen.  The rest of the defense has a total of one goal (John Carlson).

If the Caps are to snap out of their scoring funk, the Coyotes would be the team against which they could do it.  Now representing the entire state of Arizona instead of just the city of Phoenix, the Coyotes have struggled at both ends of the ice.  They have not scored more than three goals in a game in their last seven contests, since beating Edmonton, 7-4, in Game 3 of the season back on October 15th.  Their scoring defense has been wildly inconsistent, allowing two or fewer goals four times but allowing six of more goals three times in ten games.

Arizona is a team that has struggled to put together any consistent offense.  The exception is Mikkel Boedker, who has five of the Coyotes’ 22 total goals.  But even here, there are problems.  Boedker recorded goals in each of his first three games this season, topping off his hot start with a hat trick in the 7-4 win over Edmonton on October 15th.  He does not have a point since then.  He has only four shots on goal in his last three contests.  In five career games against Washington, Boedker is 1-0-1, minus-1.

On defense, Oliver Ekman-Larsson is in something of a slump, at least insofar as it applies to defensemen.  He has been on ice for 21 of the 36 goals allowed by the Coyotes so far this season.  Only Columbus’ Jack Johnson has been on ice for more goals among defensemen (24 in 11 games).  His minus-11 is worst among 661 skaters in the league.  In only three games this season has OEL not been on ice for a goal scored against the Coyotes.  Twice he has been on ice for at least four goals against, including being torched for six goals against in the Coyotes’ 7-3 loss to Tampa Bay last Tuesday.

Then there is the goaltending.  Arizona isn’t getting it, at least enough to make the Coyotes competitive.  Both Mike Smith (.873) and Devan Dubnyk (.889) are under .900 for a save percentage.  Smith has been nothing short of ghastly at even strength.  In eight games his even strength save percentage is .877.  That ranks 40th of 41 goaltenders having appeared in four or more games.  Smith took the loss in the Coyotes’ 3-0 loss to the Carolina Hurricanes on Saturday night (the Hurricanes’ first win of the season), so it would seem likely that the Caps will see Dubnyk in goal.  He has one career appearance against the Caps, a loss in which he allowed four goals on 22 shots in a 4-1 decision on October 24, 2013 when he was tending goal for the Edmonton Oilers.

Here is how the numbers compare for the two clubs through last night’s games:

1.  Arizona has scored only 12 5-on-5 goals so far this season, 28th in the league.  They have gone six straight periods without an even strength goal.

2.  The Coyotes started the season very well on the penalty kill, going a perfect 10-for-10 in their first three games.  However, starting with an 0-for-4 performance on the penalty kill in their 6-1 loss to St. Louis on October 18th, Arizona is 15-for-22 (68.2 percent).  If there is a silver lining, it is that the Coyotes have faced the third fewest number of shorthanded situations this season (32).

3.  If Arizona is going to win, it would seem likely that power play scoring will be involved.  The Coyotes are 5-for-16 with the man advantage in their three wins (31.3 percent) with at least one power play goal in each win, 4-for-21 otherwise (19.0 percent).  

4.  We made a point that Oliver Ekman-Larsson was having his struggles with plus-minus.  Well, there is also Connor Murphy.  He is only 21 and in his first full season with the club, but the 2011 20th overall draft pick is minus-8 in roughly half the ice time OEL has had (13:38 a game versus 25:32 for Ekman-Larsson).

5.  Like the Caps, the Coyotes are playing better than their record.  Not a lot, but some.  Arizona ranks 19th in Corsi-for percentage at 5-on-5 (49.47 percent) and 15th in Fenwick-for percentage (50.45 percent).  

1.  Last season the Caps were kings of the long change, finishing fourth in goals scored in the second period of games.  They are picking up where they left off, tied for fifth in second period scores so far.

2.  The Caps are one of eight teams that have not yet allowed ten goals (cumulative) in any period – eight in the first, nine in the second, and eight in the third periods of games.

3.  The Caps are one of six teams that have yet to sustain a loss by three or more goals.  They have won two games by those margins.

4.  The Caps had better score first.  They are one of only three teams that are winless when allowing the first goal (0-3-1).  Carolina and Buffalo are the others.

5.  The Caps have been over 50 percent in Corsi-for percentage at 5-on-5 in seven of the ten games they have played thus far.  Five times they have been over 55 percent and twice over 60 percent.  They also happen to be 2-1-0 in the three games they were below 50 percent and had a cumulative 9-4 margin in goals at 5-on-5.

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

Arizona: Martin Erat

You remember Marty, right?  He of the two goals in 66 regular season and playoff games with the Caps.  He has five in 26 games with the Coyotes since being traded west last March.  He is second on the club in goals (3), but after a 2-2-4 start in his first four games, he is 1-0-1 in his last five.  He is one of five Coyotes forwards who have been on ice for at least ten goals against, in his case all of them at even strength, most among Coyote forwards.  In 11 career games against the Caps he is 1-7-8, even.

Washington: John Carlson

After setting a career high with 10 goals last season and taking over some of the duties held by Mike Green, John Carlson seemed poised to take the next step up this season.  He has one goal in his first ten games.  He has not lacked for shooting, four times recording at least four shots in a game (he leads Caps defensemen with 26 shots on goal).  His shooting percentage (3.8) is about a third lower than his career shooting average going into this season (5.3).  It suggests that a correction might be in order, especially since his is one of the lower lights in this statistic on a club that ranks sixth overall in shooting percentage (9.76).  Carlson is 2-1-3, plus-3 in four career games against the Coyotes.

In the end…

OK, enough of the playing well and losing nonsense.  The Coyotes are a team the Caps should beat soundly.  They stink at 5-on-5, they are struggling on the penalty kill of late, they can’t seem to score against air.  These are things that should play right into the Caps’ hands, especially since the Coyotes are coming into DC late after a loss in Carolina on Saturday night.  The Caps have fallen victim to the scoring in bunches problem lately – three goals in 12:28 in the loss to Tampa Bay on Saturday, three goals in 15 minutes of the third period against Detroit on Wednesday, three goals in 1:47 against Vancouver last Sunday.  Avoid that, and this one should not be close.

Capitals 5 – Coyotes 2

A NO-point night -- Game 10: Lightning 4 - Capitals 3

The Washington Capitals out-shot the Tampa Bay Lightning on Saturday night, 38-28 (32-22 at 5-on-5).  They out-attempted them, 57-46 (46-39 at 5-on-5).  They out-Fenwicked them, 48-38 (40-30 at 5-on-5). 

They lost, 4-3.

This whole winning the possession wars and losing the games can get old really quick.  For the eighth time in ten games the Caps outshot their opponent, and they are just 3-3-2 in those games as the Caps fell to 4-4-2 for the season.

The Caps fell behind the eight-ball early in this one as Ryan Callahan redirected a Brian Boyle shot to give Tampa Bay the game’s first goal at the 6:06 mark.  Marcus Johansson tied it just before the 13-minute mark of the period on a play that started when Alex Ovechkin chipped a loose puck past defenseman Jason Garrison at the Capitals’ blue line.  Ovechkin raced past Garrison, picked up the puck, and sped in on goalie Ben Bishop.  Eric Brewer stuck his stick out and tripped Ovechkin to the ice from behind, but did not do enough to prevent Ovechkin from getting a shot on goal as he was sliding on the ice.  Bishop made the save, but the puck came out to Bishop’s right and onto the stick of Johansson following the play.  Johansson snapped the puck in before Bishop could recover and before the net came off its pegs as Garrison and Ovechkin slid into it.

The Caps took their only lead of the night early in the second on a one-man effort by Eric Fehr.  The play started when Jason Chimera skated the puck over the Lightning blue line along the right wing wall, then sent the puck deep around the boards.  The puck came out the other side where Fehr stopped it along the left wing boards.  He backhanded it down the wall to Chimera, who fed the puck back to Fehr as he cut to the net.  Fehr’s first shot went wide to Bishop’s right, but the puck caromed off the end wall and back out in front to Fehr on the other side of Bishop.  From a severe angle, made more so by Fehr being a right-handed shot, Fehr snapped the puck behind Bishop, off the far post, and in to make it 2-1.

The Caps could not hold the lead, though, as the Lightning put together a pair of goals less than three minutes apart to take a 3-2 lead mid-way through the period.  The Caps tied it back up in the last minute on a power play.  The Caps tried to work the puck to Troy Brouwer in the middle, Nicklas Backstrom threading a pass from the right wing wall.  That attempt was foiled, but the Lightning managed only to clear the puck to the blue line where Mike Green kept it in.  Green slid the puck down to Backstrom, who relayed it to Marcus Johansson at the goal line extended to Ben Bishop’s left.  Johansson saucered a pass to Brouwer in the slot, and he made good on this attempt, firing the puck under Bishop’s blocker to tie the game at three apiece with 59 seconds left in the second period.

Tampa Bay broke the tie one last time on their first shot of the third period, a goal by Jason Garrison off a clean faceoff win by Steven Stamkos 2:27 into the period.  The red lights were dark after that as Bishop turned away all 12 shots he faced from the Caps to secure the 4-3 win.

Other stuff…

-- The long national nightmare is over.  Alex Ovechkin scored a point, assisting on Marcus Johansson’s goal.  It was not the sort of assist that makes highlight films, a pass onto a teammate’s tape, but rather Ovechkin bulling his way through a trip, falling to the ice, getting off a shot while sliding on the ice, and watching his teammate pound the rebound into the back of the net just before he found himself there as well.

-- Eric Fehr sat out last Wednesday against Detroit, and it had an effect, at least for one game.  Six shots on goal, two other attempts, a goal, a hit, and a blocked shot.  The six shots on goal were the most he had in a game in almost four years, putting seven on net in a 3-2 Caps win over the Ottawa Senators on December 19, 2010.  You might remember that game as the one that broke an eight-game losing streak by the Caps so lovingly captured on video by the HBO folks in their series on the run-up to the 2011 Winter Classic.

-- The Caps flirted with disaster on one play and had it come out good enough.  Washington was caught by the Lightning on a 2-on-1 break with only Mike Green back.  Green, whose technique on defending such situations is, shall we say, unique at times, went to his knees, slid backward on his stomach, turned over, and tried to sweep the puck off Tyler Johnson’s stick.  He missed, which left an open passing lane to the other side of the slot to Nikita Kucherov.  The pass came and… what’s that?  Alex Ovechkin… backchecking?  His technique seemed to be taken from the Mike Green Manual, starting with a dive from the top of the faceoff circle.  His momentum carried him toward the goal line, and with his stick outstretched as far as possible, he deflected the pass out of harm’s way and to the end wall.

-- Not that the play was over.  The puck ended up on the stick of Ondrej Palat in front of Holtby.  Palat had two whacks at the puck, Holtby blocking the first with his left pad, then grabbing the puck out of the air on Palat’s second attempt. 

-- Speaking of Holtby, he seems to be having issues with the new-look, low shots-allowed Caps.  In seven appearances in which he played all 60 minutes (or more), he has yet to face 30 shots.  In fact, he is facing just 24.9 shots per 60 minutes.  Unfortunately, his save percentage is only .899 after this game, and it is .868 in his last four games over which he faced only 91 shots (23.3 per 60 minutes).

-- Mike Green and Nate Schmidt, stoppers.  Neither were on ice for a goal against the Lightning.  As a pair, they have been on ice for just one of the last 17 goals scored against the Caps, that coming against Detroit last Wednesday (Green was on for the empty netter scored by Vancouver in the 4-2 loss to the Canucks last Sunday).

-- Karl Alzner took it in the teeth as far as his underlying numbers are concerned.  He was a minus-8 Corsi at 5-on-5 And before we get too caught up in Burra-fever, Andre Burakovsky was a team-worst minus-5 on the Fenwick meter.

-- Troy Brouwer gets the coupon for the all-you-can-eat buffet.  A goal, four shots, a shot blocked, a missed shot, three hits, two takeaways, and he won two of three faceoffs in 17:25 of ice time.

-- The Caps ended their streak of games in which they allowed power play goals at five games.  They faced only two shorthanded situations, which helped.  Odd stat – the Caps are 2-2-1 when facing three or fewer shorthanded situations, 2-2-1 when facing four or more.

-- At the other end, the Caps scored a power play goal in their second straight game and in their seventh game out of ten played so far.  They are 3-3-1 in games win which they scored a power play goal.

-- The Caps held Steven Stankos without a goal, the sixth straight game against the Caps he has failed to light the lamp.  The last goal he scored against the Caps was February 18, 2012 in a 2-1 Lightning win.

In the end…

All of a sudden the Caps can’t score.  Washington has gone six straight games without scoring more than three goals, since beating New Jersey, 6-2, in Game 4 back on October 16th.  Since then they are 2-4-0 with a total of 13 goals scored, four of those on the power play.  It probably has not escaped anyone’s notice that the six-game streak coincides with Alex Ovechkin’s streak without a goal.  He is doing a lot of the little things right, but he isn’t being rewarded for it.  The same might be said of a number of Capitals.  Jason Chimera is without a goal in his last five games.  Andre Burakovsky is six games without a goal.  Nicklas Backstrrom has one goal in his last six contests.  The Caps have only one goal from a defenseman not named “Mike Green” (John Carlson has that one). 

One would like to say that this will pass, and the guys will get back into a groove.  Well, it would be nice if it happened sooner rather than later.  Playing the right way and having little to show for it has the look of a game in which the team applies early pressure but doesn’t score.  Often that comes back to haunt that team late.  Let’s hope we’re not invoking that analogy come March or April.