Sunday, November 09, 2014

Washington Capitals: That Was The Week That Was -- Week 5

Week 5 was chock full of ups and down, of milestones reached, of line juggling, of high points and low.  It was a lot to pack into a week’s worth of games.  Let’s try to unpack some of it.

Record: 2-1-1

It was a return to a winning week for the Caps after two weeks in which they failed to get more than 50 percent of the available standings points.  It might have been modest progress, but the 2-1-1 week did enable the Caps to jump from sixth in the Metropolitan Division at the start of the week to fourth by week’s end, and from 13th in the Eastern Conference to tenth.  Folks might remember Elliotte Friedman writing that teams more than four points out of a playoff spot on November 1st rarely reach the post season in the “loser point” era of the NHL (i.e., the Gimmick point).  The Caps ended last week (November 1st) two points out of a playoff spot; they ended this week one point out of the top eight.

Offense: 3.75/game (season: 3.14/game; rank: 4th)

“In this league, if you get to three, you should win the hockey game. That’s what good teams do.”  That’s what head coach Barry Trotz said after the Caps lost the Arizona Coyotes after a 6-5 loss last Sunday to open Week 5.  The Caps got to three in each of the week’s four games, so by that standard it was a good week (two wins in doing so is another matter).  It was a balanced week.  Ten different Caps shared in the 15 goals scored; 15 different skaters recorded points.  Joel Ward led the goal-scorers with three.  Nicklas Backstrom, Troy Brouwer, and Marcus Johansson each had a pair.  Alex Ovechkin had six assists to reach the 400 assist mark in his career.  One of them, in the 4-3 overtime loss to Calgary, gave Ovechkin the franchise record for career points, surpassing the 825 recorded by Peter Bondra.

Defense: 3.75/game (season: 2.86/game; rank: 18th)

The Caps were a bit leakier than usual in allowing shots in Week 5.  Twice in four games they allowed 30 or more shots, including a season high 40 shots in the 3-2 win in Chicago over the Blackhawks.  Still, the Caps remain second in the league in shots allowed per game (26.4), behind only the Minnesota Wild (23.0).  The game against Chicago by itself put the Caps in minus Corsi territory for the week (minus-10; Corsi-for percentage: 48.64 percent).  The possession week was an odd one in another respect, specifically with respect to one player: Marcus Johansson.  For the week, Johansson was Corsi plus-9 at 5-on-5.  The way he got there was the thing, though.  Plus-13 against Arizona, even against Calgary, minus-14 against Chicago, and plus-10 against Carolina.  An example of the perils of looking at possession numbers on an individual game basis.

Goaltending: 3.65 GAA / .875 SV (season: 2.73 GAA / .894 SV / 1 SO)

Each goalie got two games of work in Week 5, the product of back-to-back weekends with back-to-back games.  Justin Peters started and ended the week, earning a loss and a win, respectively.  Overall it was a rough week as far as his raw numbers were concerned.  A .842 save percentage, a 4.41 goals against average, and he allowed at least one goal in five of six regulation periods.  He allowed five goals on 20 third period shots (.750 save percentage). 

Braden Holtby’s week was just plain strange.  He allowed four goals on 23 shots in the 4-3 overtime loss to Calgary on Tuesday, his ninth straight appearance facing fewer than 30 shots (including only seven shots when he was relieved against San Jose on October 14th).  He was 3-3-2, 2.66, .891 over those games.  Then he faced 40 shots against Chicago, stopping 38 of them in a 3-2 win.  It was the 10th time in 115 appearances in which Holtby faced 40 or more shots.  He is 6-4-0, 2.82, .936 in those games.  He is 58-30-10, 2.58, but with just a .915 save percentage in career games in which he does not face 40 shots.

Power Play: 4-10/40.0 percent (season: 28.9 percent; rank: 2nd)

Starting in Week 1 with going 2-for-9 (22.2 percent) on the power play, the Caps bettered their season power play efficiency rate in three of the following four weeks.  They did so in Week 5 on a 4-for-10 effort.  The power play was both effective (four goals in four games, scoring goals in three games for the week) and efficient (40 percent conversion, 16 shots in 15:21 of power play time).  It was the forwards’ show in goal scoring.  Joel Ward had a pair of power play goals, and Alex Ovechkin and Troy Brouwer had one apiece.  In scoring power play goals in three of the week’s four games, the Caps have now scored power play goals in 10 of 14 games this season.  They are 4-4-2 in those games.  If there was a smudge on the week it was in opportunities. In no game did the Caps have more than three power play opportunities, and they had only one against Chicago.  This continues a trend that started shortly after the start of the season.  In their first four games the Caps had 18 power play opportunities (4.5 per game) and were 2-0-2.  In 10 games since they had 27 opportunities (2.7 per game) with a record of 4-5-1.

Penalty Killing: 8-12/66.7 percent (season: 77.1 percent; rank: 23rd)

While the power play has been showing more or less constant improvement over the first five weeks of the season, there is no “more or less” about the deterioration of the Caps’ penalty kill.  It would be hard to keep their 9-for-9 from Week 1 going for extended periods, but the season efficiency rate has dropped in every week since, to a current 77.1 percent penalty kill rate.  Giving up four goals on 12 shorthanded situations meant that special teams did no more than break even for the week.  As has been the case in many instances overall this season, it was a case of playing better than the results.  The Caps allowed only 11 shots on goal in 18:54 of shorthanded ice time, they kind of shots per minute you would like to see.  Seven saves on those 11 shots is another matter.  It is recent history of poor save percentages when shorthanded.  Here is how bad.  Caps goaltenders were 11-for-11 on shorthanded shots in their first two games.  Since then they are 35-for-45, a save percentage of .783.  Of 44 goalies appearing in at least five games so far, Braden Holtby ranks 22nd in shorthanded save percentage (.868), while Justin Peters ranks 43rd (.722).

Even Strength Goals For/Goals Against: 11-11 / even (season, 5-on-5 goals for/goals against ratio:1.07; rank: T-14th)

It was a decent week in terms of plus-minus, especially if you think finishes (plus-3 in the last two games) are better than starts (minus-3 in the first two games).  But again, there were save percentage issues.  Holtby and Peters stopped 97 of 108 even strength shots for the week (.898 save percentage).  Neither Holtby (.904; 37th) nor Peters (.907; 35th) are acquitting themselves very well in the group of 44 goalies with at least five appearances.

The Caps spread the even strength scoring around fairly well.  Marcus Johansson and Nicklas Backstrom each had a pair of goals at even strength. Seven other players pitched in an even strength goal.  It did not help keep the Caps from slipping a bit in their ratio of goals for to goals against at 5-on-5, though.  And the bottom line here for the week is that the Caps won the two games in which they won the even strength goal battle; they lost the two games in which they did not win that battle.

Faceoffs:  130-for-260 / 50.0 percent (season: 49.5 percent; rank: T-16th)

A 50 percent week on draws was misleading at the game-to-game level.  Twice the Caps finished above 55 percent, twice they finished below 45 percent.  Not that it mattered a great deal; the Caps were 1-1 in games they won the faceoff battle, 1-0-1 in games they did not.  Those results matched the zone results, to a point.  The Caps won the neutral zone in each of the four games (53.0 percent overall), but they alternated games won and games lost in the offensive (48.8 percent overall) and defensive zones (48.4 percent overall) for the week. 

Nicklas Backstrom continues to take the lion’s share of the draws (36.9 percent of all draws for the week), and he had a very good week (53.1 percent overall; over 50 percent in both the offensive and defensive ends).  He is now up to 25th overall in faceoff winning percentage (54.4 percent).

Evgeny Kuznetsov and Andre Burakovsky continue to be works in progress.  Kuznetsov was 11-for-26 for the week (43.3 percent); Burakovsky was 9-for-29 (31.0 percent).

Goals by Period:

What stands out for the Caps, and not in a good way, is the third period…again.  Outscored by a 6-2 margin in the third period in four games this week, the Caps have allowed 11 third period goals in their last seven games.  They allowed third period goals in six of those games and had a record of 1-5-1 in them, the only win coming against Carolina in the last game of Week 5.  The save percentage thing rears its head here, too.  Holtby and Peters stopped 32 of 38 shots in the third periods of four games this week, a save percentage of .842.  Peters was the victim (or culprit, depending on your point of view) here, stopping only 15 of 20 shots (.750).

In the end…

The Caps stopped the bleeding after suffering two straight weeks without a winning record (by standings points).  The odd part of it was that they played, as they have for much of the season, contrary to what the possession statistics should predict.  When playing well in a possession sense, they have not been (and were not this week) rewarded.  When losing the possession battle, especially against Chicago, they won on the scoreboard.  The underlying numbers might have been decent overall, skewed as they were by the Chicago game, but they were undermined to an extent by goaltending.  Whether that was a product of poor goaltending on its own terms or inadequate support in front, the fact remains that the save percentages for both Holtby and Peters are going to have to improve, or the fancy fancystats will not matter very much.

Three Stars:
  • First Star: Alex Ovechkin (1-6-7, even; set franchise record for points, recorded 400th assist, recorded 18th game in career history with four or more points (vs. Arizona))
  • Second Star: Nicklas Backstrom (2-4-6, game-winning goal against Carolina, recorded 137th and 138th career multi-point games)
  • Third Star: John Carlson (1-3-4, plus-3, is now tied for fifth among NHL defensemen in scoring)

A TWO-point night -- Game 14: Capitals 4 - Hurricanes 3 (OT)

Check out what we wrote about the Caps’ 4-3 overtime win over at Japers’ Rink in our QuickCap and our Recap.

The Washington Capitals made it two in a row the hard way with their 4-3 overtime win over the Carolina Hurricanes on Saturday night.  Both teams were playing the back-half of a back-to-back set of games, the Caps coming off a 3-2 win in Chicago over the Blackhawks while the Hurricanes were arriving in Washington after dispatching the Columbus Blue Jackets, 3-2, in overtime.

The Caps drew first blood in the eighth minute of the first period on the first of what would be three odd goals.  With Carolina defenseman Justin Faulk in the penalty box, Nicklas Backstrom set up the Caps power play from the right wing wall. He sent the puck deep to Marcus Johansson on the goal line extended to goaie Anton Khudobin’s left.  Johansson stepped out to try to stuff the puck under Khudobin, but the goalie denied the shot.  The puck slid out to Troy Brouwer in the slot, and his shot popped into the air.  Carolina’s Patrick Dwyer tried to bat the puck over the net but instead directed the biscuit into the net, Brouwer credited with the goal.

The Caps added to their total with just over four minutes left in the first period on another odd goal.  Carolina struggled getting the puck out of their own end, John Carlson keeping it in for the Caps at the blue line.  Carlson sent a drive high and wide to Khudobin’s left.  The puck hit the end boards and settled for Jay Beagle below the Hurricane’s goal line.  Beagle jumped on the loose puck and whipped it out in front where it struck the back of Khudobin’s left leg and into the net to make it 2-0.

The Caps could not hold that lead into the first intermission, though.  Riley Nash scored a power play goal with just 49 seconds left in the period to make it 2-1 after 20 minutes.  The Caps added to their advantage late in the second period on yet another fluky goal.  The Caps worked the puck down the right wing wall from their own end deep into the Carolina zone.  With Jason Chimera trying to chase it down, Carolina defenseman Brett Bellemore got inside position and sent it back up the wall in an effort to clear the defensive zone.  Eric Fehr cut off the attempt, then cut inside Eric Staal for a clear path to the Hurricane’s net.  Fehr pulled Khudobin out of his crouch with a deke to the far side, then tried to slip it in the near side past Khudobin’s left pad.  The shot might have gone wide, but it didn’t matter, since Bellemore, trying to scurry back into position to cut Fehr off, redirected the puck past Khudobin with his stick, and the Caps were back in front by a pair of goals, 3-1.

The Caps could not hold that lead, either.  The Hurricanes slowly tilted the ice in the Caps’ direction in the third period, finally breaking through with goals by Eric Staal and Elias Lindolm a little more than five minutes apart mid-way through the period to tie the game.  The Caps held on to carry the game into overtime where they almost finished it in the first minute.  John Carlson’s shot from the top of the offensive zone was stopped by Khudobin, but not cleanly.  Nicklas Backstrom had a chance with the loose puck at his feet, but when he turned and fired, the puck was sent wide past the open net. 

Backstrom got another chance in the last minute, and he did not waste it.  Mike Green started the play when he slid the puck out to Alex Ovechkin in the neutral zone.  Ovechkin curled and headed up ice.  As he crossed the Carolina blue line he fired a slap shot that Khudobin saved with his right pad.  The puck kicked out to the top of the left wing circle and onto the stick of Backstrom who rifled it past a diving Khudobin for the game-winning goal with 14 seconds left in the extra session and a 4-3 Caps win.

Other stuff…

-- It was Nicklas Backstrom’s first game winning goal in more than a year, the last one coming on November 1, 2013 against the Philadelphia Flyers.  That one was far less dramatic, coming as it did as the first goal in a 7-0 win.  It was Backstrom’s first overtime winner since he scored the game-winner in double overtime against Boston in Game 2 of the 2012 Eastern Conference quarterfinals playoff series.  His last regular season overtime winner came more than three years ago when he scored two minutes into overtime for a 5-4 win over the Anaheim Ducks after he scored with just 42 seconds left in regulation to tie that game.  Caps fans might remember that as the “fat f**k” game in which Alex Ovechkin was benched for the last shift and the Caps behind by a goal. 

-- Alex Ovechkin’s assist on Backstrom’s game-winner was his 400th in the NHL.  He is one of 44 active players with 400 or more assists, but he is 11th on that list in assists per game, just ahead of Martin St. Louis.

-- Two more third period goals allowed made it 11 in the Caps’ seven games.  They allowed third period goals in six of those game, winning only one (tonight’s).  They were out-shot, 14-8, in the third period while outshooting Carolina 26-10 otherwise (including 4-1 in overtime).

-- Mike Green and Nate Schmidt once more had a clean sheet in goals against/on-ice.  Only six of 164 defensemen playing in ten or more games have been on ice for fewer goals than Schmidt (5).

-- The Caps dominated the 5-on-5 numbers (52.94 percent Corsi-for percentage at 5-on-5), and part of that was winning faceoffs – 33-for-59 (55.9 percent) at even strength.

-- Alex Ovechkin getting ten shot attempts is not news.  Marcus Johansson getting nine?  Yeah, that’s news.

-- Brooks Orpik had six blocked shots to lead both teams.  He is now fifth in the league among defensemen in that statistic.  He is also second in the league in hits among defensemen for good measure after leading both teams with four tonight.

-- This was the first Capitals win over Carolina on home ice since they beat the Hurricanes, 3-1, on April 11, 2013.  Tonight’s win broke a three-game home losing streak against Carolina.

-- On a team with Eric Stall, Alexander Semin, and Jeff Skinner, the leader in shot attempts for Carolina was… Justin Faulk?  Yep.  He had nine of Carolina’s 56 shot attempts.  He, Staal, and Semin accounted for 22 of the Hurricanes’ total.  Semin’s search for his first goal of the season continues, though.

-- Justin Peters has two wins in five appearances for the Caps this season, both wins coming in extra time, the other one a 2-1 trick shot win against Florida on October 18th.

In the end…

This isn’t how one would have drawn it up.  A period of utter dominance, a period of controlling the tempo, then a period of giving their hard earned gains away before escaping in overtime.  But two points is two points.  And the guys who were quiet all night came through in the end, which might be just the way one would want to draw it up.