Sunday, November 16, 2014

Washington Capitals: That Was The Week That Was -- Week 6

Ugh.  That was the word that that epitomized Week 6 for the Washington Capitals.  After letting the Columbus Blue Jackets – a team on an eight-game losing streak – hang around far too long before dispatching them in the first game of the week, the Caps’ guns went silent in their last two games of the week in losses to fall to .500 in standings points for the season.

Record: 1-2-0

Fluid.  That’s your word for the Caps’ 1-2-0 record.  It could have been different in a lot of ways.  Against the Blue Jackets, the team with the eight-game losing streak, the Caps stomped on them for three goals in the first period, then sat back and let Columbus to crawl back within a goal before tacking on an insurance goal late.  That could have been one that got away.  Against New Jersey, the Caps and Devils looked as if they would head to overtime in a scoreless tie in a thoroughly boring game.  That is, until The Demon in a Mask paid a visit to goalie Braden Holtby, who giftwrapped the winning goal…not for his own team.  That one could have gone either way.  There was no such suspense in the Caps’ last game of the week, a 4-1 loss to the St. Louis Blues in which they were thoroughly dominated because they were never really engaged in the game.  It made for a 1-2-0 week, the Caps’ second losing week in their last three.

Offense:  1.60/game (season: 2.88; rank: 7th)

The good part of the week is that the Caps opened it with a bang – a three goal explosion in the first period against the Columbus Blue Jackets.  The bad part?  After scoring three goals on 12 shots in 16:04, the Caps scored two goals on 75 shots in the last 163:56 the rest of the week.  And the second of those goals was something of a gift, a misplay of a Joel Ward shot from the top of the faceoff circle by the Blues’ Brian Elliott.  Part of the problem in the last two games was upside down shooting.  The Caps got 24 shots from the defense, 31 from forwards.  That seems a bit heavy from the blue line as a share of total shots.  Another thing was that the Alex Ovechkin-Nicklas Backstrom pair had eight shots on goal in the last two games.  Their even-strength linemates – Jay Beagle against the Devils and Tom Wilson against the Blues – had one shot apiece.  While the top line had their troubles, the rest of the forward lines hardly distinguished themselves.  It was a team-wide slump.

Defense: 2.33/game (season: 2.76/game; rank: 17th)

If you give up two and a third goals a game over a season, chances are you are a top-ten scoring defense (it would be tenth as we write this).  In that sense, the week went pretty well.  It was how the Caps got there that was the problem.  After holding the Blue Jackets to five shots in the first period of their game to open the week, the Caps allowed ten or more shots in six of the next eight periods, an unusual occurrence for a team that even at week’s end had allowed the fourth-fewest shots on goal in the league.  The Caps spread it around, too.  There were 17 different skaters who were on ice for at least one goal (Michael Latta and Evgeny Kuznetsov escaping that fate), six of them on ice for three of the seven goals scored for the week.   This is not the sort of teamwork folks have in mind.

Goaltending: 2.36 GAA / .920 SV (season: 2.66 / .899 / 1 SO)

Let’s do this again.  If you have a 2.36 GAA you are having a pretty decent season in goal; it would rank 15th in the league as we write this.  Ditto for the save percentage.  A .920 save percentage would be tied for 14th.  So what gives with the 1-2-0 record.  Again, it was not the “what” as much as the “how.”  It was in this area that the week turned, and it did so on two plays, similar and from each goalie.  With the Caps and Devils skating to what seemed an inevitable overtime period in a scoreless game, Braden Holtby stopped a puck behind his own net, turned, and sent the puck on its way, right onto the stick of the Devils Mike Cammalleri.  One shot later, before Holtby could return to the front of his net, and the Devils had their game-winning goal.  Against St. Louis, with the Caps trailing the Blues by a 2-1 margin coming out of the second intermission, Justin Peters stopped the puck behind his own net, turned, and tried to move the puck along.  He managed to whiff on the attempt, and Patrik Berglund, who pressured Peters into the gaffe, slid the puck to David Backes for the insurance goal that deflated the Caps in a game that might have ended a bit differently had Peters made good on his pass attempt.  The different between 1-2-0 and 2-1-0 or even 2-0-1 can turn on two plays.   For the Caps, it did.

Power Play:  1-9 / 11.1 percent (season: 25.9 percent ;rank: 3rd)

It was a bad week all around for the Caps on the man advantage.  First there were the chances.  The Caps had nine power play opportunities for the week.  In and of itself, that’s not bad, but the Caps went from five against Columbus to four against New Jersey to none against St. Louis.  The odd part of that was that the Blues went into the game tied for the fourth-most power plays faced at home (34).  They came out of that game with the same 34, the Caps getting none and leaving town as they entered it, with the fewest power play opportunities awarded on the road, 14 in seven games.

Then there was the efficiency.  The Caps managed 20 shots on goal in 15:14 of power play time, the 1.3 shots per minute of power play time being something to shoot for, so to speak.  But the Caps managed just that one goal on 20 shots, not something you want to see.  The Caps even got the shots from the players they wanted, but not necessarily in the way they wanted them.  Alex Ovechkin was 1-for-5 against Columbus, but was held without a power play shot against New Jersey, who blocked six of his attempts.  Marcus Johansson, continuing his early season shotzapalooza, had four power play shots against Columbus, one against New Jersey.  Six different Caps shared the rest of the power play shots for the week.  They just could not find the back of the net.

Penalty Killing: 9-for-9 / 100.0 percent (season: 80.7 percent; rank: 16th)

If there was a bright spot to the week, penalty killing was it.  It would be hard to draw it up better than this as far as results are concerned.  First, the Caps killed off all nine shorthanded situations they faced, the first time since Week 1 that the Caps had a perfect week.  Then there was the efficiency.  In 18 minutes of shorthanded ice time, the Caps allowed opponents only a total of nine shots on goal.  When one considers that the Caps faced, at the time, the seventh-ranked (Columbus), 13th-ranked (New Jersey), and third-ranked (St. Louis) power plays, it was a very good week for the penalty killers.

Even Strength Goals For/Goals Against: 4-7 / minus-3 (season, 5-on-5 goals for/goals against ratio: 0.97; rank: T-20th)

One of the things that characterized the Caps good start to the season was their 5-on-5 play.  They finished Week 1 ranked 4th in the league in goals scored-to-goals allowed ratio at 5-on-5.  They followed that up with weekly rankings of seventh and third.  Then the wheels started coming off, dropping to a tie for 13th after Week 4 and a tie for 14th after Week 5.  Now, they are tied for 20th after a minus-3 week.  The Caps have dropped to tenth in Corsi-for percentage at 5-on-5, 51.57 percent (from  The Caps were minus-16 for the week in Corsi at 5-on-5, on the wrong side of the divide in all three games.  The Ovechkin-Backstrom pair were victimized for three of the seven goals against while being on ice for only one goal for.  It was not a good week in this area for the Capitals.

Faceoffs: 98-for-190 / 51.6 percent (season: 49.9 percent; rank: 15th)

It was a good week in the circle overall, if a bit uneven.  Overall the Caps were above 50 percent (51.6 percent), but it would have been much better if the Blues had not lit up the Capitals for a 58.5 percent winning percentage in the last game of the week, part of a generally lethargic performance by the Caps.  On an individual level, it was a case of the veterans and the kids, the former doing well and the latter not as much.  Nicklas Backstrom continued his fine work, going 59.7 percent for the week, including winning 11 of 13 defensive zone draws.  Eric Fehr won his week as well, finishing at 51.4 percent.  At the other end, the two kids – Evgeny Kuznetsov and Andre Burakovsky – are still a work in progress, the former winning 44.4 percent of his draws for the week and the latter winning only 29.4 percent of the 17 draws he took.

Goals by Period:

Start well, finish poorly.  That was the week for the Caps.  The Caps outscored Columbus, 3-1, in the first period of their game to open the week, then let the Blue Jackets inch back into the game before getting a late insurance goal.  In the losses, the Caps allowed the game-winning goal with 10:22 left in the third period against New Jersey and with 7:24 in the second period against St. Louis.  Getting only single goals in each of the second and third periods of games for the week had the usual and the unusual attached to them.  In the case of their lone second period goal for the week, it was unusual for the rare occurrence.  With 20 second period goals this season the Caps are tied for eighth in the league.  As for the third period goal, this is a continuing shortcoming.  The Caps have only ten third period goals in 17 games.  Only Florida (8) and Winnipeg (6) have fewer.

In the end…

Through Week 2 the Caps were 3-0-2.  In four weeks since then, they are 4-7-1.  There is probably one good win in that bunch, that coming in Chicago back on November 7th.  Losses to Edmonton and Arizona more or less negate that.  While the Caps have lost to some very good teams, like Tampa Bay and St. Louis, otherwise the Caps have been struggling against teams like themselves, those who are going to be competing for that limited number of playoff spots next spring.  Week 6 was one of those struggling weeks when they held on to beat a Columbus team stuck in a rut, gave away a game to New Jersey, and never got their legs going against St. Louis.  Week 6 might not have been a week as good as the 1-2-0 record would suggest.  The Caps have an opportunity in the week coming up with three games against teams that are all under .500.  It’s past time to turn things around and establish some momentum.

Three Stars:
  • First Star: Braden Holtby (1-1-0, 1.52, .944)
  • Second Star: Marcus Johansson (2-0-2, 12 SOG)
  • Third Star: Alex Ovechkin (2-0-2, GWG, 13 SOG)

…it was a dim week for stars.

A NO-point night -- Game 17: Blues 4 - Capitals 1

The Washington Capitals got off on the wrong foot on their three-game road trip with a 4-1 loss to the St. Louis Blues at Scottrade Center in St. Louis.  It was a game in which the Caps were not so much dominated as they were running in a lower gear than the one in which the Blues were playing.

The Blues took advantage of the Caps’ heavy legs at the start, Washington having played the previous night in a 1-0 loss to the New Jersey Devils.  St. Louis out-shot the Caps, 7-1, and out-attempted them, 12-4, in the first eight minutes. The pressure paid off for the home team when they took advantage of a passive to the point of (literally) prone Caps defense.  It started with a player heading off the ice.  From just inside his own blue line, defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk shot the puck up the left wing wall and headed to the bench.  The puck skittered past Jori Lehtera, who was tangled up with Mike Green in front of the players bench, to Jaden Schwartz crossing the Caps’ blue line.  As he skated in he backed Nate Schmidt off, Schmidt eventually leaving his feet and trying from his stomach to sweep the puck off Schwartz’ stick.  It did prevent Schwartz from getting a free shot at Caps goalie Justin Peters, but Schmidt’s momentum carried him out of the play.  Schwartz dropped the puck for Lehtera, who snuck into the middle as Green was trying to come to Schmidt’s rescue, and his shot beat Peters on the glove side to give St. Louis a lead at the 9:11 mark.

That would do it for the first period, which could have ended much worse than it did for the Caps but for some respectable goaltending from Peters.  The Caps, who have made a habit of letting teams hang around in recent games, were just that team as the sides skated into the middle of the second period.  Joel Ward then got the Caps even with a soft goal on goalie Brian Elliott’s part.  Taking a cross-ice feed from Mike Green in the neutral zone, Ward skated the puck down the left wing wall into the Blues’ end.  From the top of the faceoff circle he fired a wrist shot that Elliott tried to trap against his blocker.  He thought he had the puck squeezed tightly, but it dropped behind him and rolled over the line to tie the game 6:38 into the period.

After that it was just a slow leak for the Caps.  St. Louis regained the lead in the 13th minute of the second period when Schwartz finished off a play that started with a clean offensive zone faceoff win by Lehtera against Eric Fehr.  The Blues worked the puck around the perimeter, and when Peters’ save of a Shattenkirk drive from the point was left lying in front, Schwartz fought off Karl Alzner and batted the puck in.

The Caps were still in it, though, after 40 minutes with the score remaining 2-1.  Then, for the second straight game, a Caps goalie giftwrapped a goal from behind their own net.  This time, Peters stopped the puck behind his own net and looked to send it back out to his right.  He heard footsteps, though, those being of Patrik Berglund charging in from Peters’ left.  It was enough for Peters to fan on his passing attempt.  Berglund circled around the back of the cage, slid the puck out to David Backes, and Backes snapped it into the back of the net before Peters could scramble back.

That pretty much ended the competitive portion of the evening as St. Louis clamped down and clogged things up for the Caps.  Berglund got one of his own off a pass from Backes with less than four minutes left for the final 4-1 margin, and the Caps had their second loss in as many nights.

Other stuff…

-- One goal in their last 125:21 for the Caps.  It happens, but the Caps do not seem to be getting anything in terms of second chance shots.  And that brings us to…

-- Power plays.  The Caps came into this game having been awarded the fewest power plays on the road in the league, 14 in six games.  Now, it is 14 in seven games.  They have had two or fewer in each of their last four games on the road.  What made the outcome so strange was that St. Louis came into this game tied for the fourth-most number of power plays allowed at home (34).  And, without an opportunity tonight against the Blues, the Caps suffered their second straight game without a power play goal, the first time this season they went consecutive games without one.

-- Alex Ovechkin had one shot on goal in the first 47:22 of the game. It would have been one thing if the Caps were spreading the shot volumes around (Ovechkin finished with three in the game), and to an extent they did – seven players had two or more shots.  But they had only 25 shots for the game, 11 of those in the third period.  Part of that is not having any power play opportunities, but the Caps spent too much of this game not exerting much pressure in the St. Louis end of the ice.

-- Has the clock struck midnight?  Has the coach turned back into a pumpkin?  Has Marcus Johansson turned back into, well… Marcus Johansson?  He recorded no shots on goal in this game and has not had a shot on goal in the Caps’ last 99:52 of clock time (29:43 of personal ice time).  He was part of a second line that had two shots on goal for the night, Andre Burakovsky and Troy Brouwer recording one apiece.

-- The third line was almost a mirror image of the second line.  Eric Fehr had no shots on goal, while Jason Chimera and Joel Ward had one apiece.  The difference was, of course, Ward scoring on his lone shot.

-- The fourth line of Evgeny Kuznetsov, Jay Beagle, and Michael Latta had a combined total of one shot on goal (Kuznetsov).  See a theme here?  Fifteen of the Caps’ 25 shots came from defensemen.  Hard to generate much offense if the shots are coming from outside, and there are no second-chance opportunities.

-- The Caps were consistently short on faceoffs – 42 percent in the offensive zone, 42 percent in the defensive zone, and 41 percent in the neutral zone.  Burakovsky was the only Capital over 50 percent (4-for-7).

-- Tom Wilson… six hits, seven minutes in penalties, a Blues player in each hand.  If his offensive game ever even approximates his physical game, what’s this kid going to be like in five years? 

-- This makes four straight games (in six appearances) that Justin Peters allowed three or more goals.  He is 1-3-0, 3.98, .871.  He doesn’t have to be a stone wall back there, but he has to be able to provide credible relief when called upon.  Right now, he is just leaky enough to be one of the (but certainly not the only) problems this team has.

-- After averaging 3.29 goals a game over a 14 game span starting with their 4-0 shutout of the Boston Bruins on October 11th, the Caps have scored only one goal in their last two games.

In the end…

With this loss the Caps dropped 7-7-3, fifth in the Metropolitan Division and 11th in the Eastern Conference.  By the time the Caps played 17 games last season they were 9-7-1, second in the Metro Division and sixth in the Eastern Conference.  The Caps might be giving their maximum effort, but in the last two games especially they looked very passive in their approach, letting the Devils and Blues dictate pace and dominate position.  Maybe that is a lack of urgency, maybe it is having played four back-to-back sets of games already (the loss to the Blues was the back end of their fourth such set).  Whatever, the Caps need to stop the bleeding and establish some momentum.  They have three days to lick their wounds and figure out how to tighten up in both ends of the rink before the slow leak turns into something they can’t stop.