Sunday, December 21, 2014

Washington Capitals: That Was The Week That Was -- Week 11

Week 11 made it three winning weeks in a row for the Washington Capitals.  The 2-0-1 record for the week gave the Capitals a 6-0-2 record over their last eight games, the 14 standings points in eight games being their best eight-game stretch since they won eight straight games from April 2 -16, 2013.  It was a very good week.

Record: 2-0-1

Not only did the Caps gain standings points in each of the three games for the week, they did it entirely on the road.  They are now 5-0-1 in their last six road games dating back to a 6-2 loss in Toronto on November 29th, and their ten road wins for the season are tied for the top spot in the Eastern Conference (with the New York Islanders).  Their 10-5-2 road record is the best in the Conference in standings points earned.

“Uh, cuz?”

Well, if it isn’t Cheerless…it’s been a while.  You have something to say?

“Yeah…the Caps are six games over .500 for the first time this season, in Game 32.  Last year they reached six games over .500 in Game 33 (18-12-3) by winning their fourth game in five contests.  It’s not as if we haven’t seen this before.”

Offense:  3.33/game (season: 2.94/game; rank: 8th)

It was a good week in the offensive end, especially given that two of the three teams the Caps played were division rivals looking to jump up in the standings at the Caps’ expense.  Eight players shared in the ten goals scored for the week, two apiece from Nicklas Backstrom and Troy Brouwer.  There were 13 players sharing in the points overall, Backstrom going 1-2-3 against the Devils in the last game of the week to give him four points and the team lead in Week 11. What was noteworthy were the multi-point games.  Eric Fehr, Jason Chimera, Karl Alzner, and Michael Latta all recorded their first multi-point games of the season in the 5-4 overtime win over Columbus.  For Latta it was his first career multi-point game. Jay Beagle recorded his first multi-point game of the season (two assists) in the 4-0 win over New Jersey to end the week.

“Hey, are you forgetting something, cuz?”

We were getting to that, Cheerless.  What the Caps could not do this week was solve Roberto Lunogo at even strength.  In the Caps’ 2-1 Gimmick loss to the Florida Panthers to start the week, Washington managed only a power play goal (Brouwer) before heading to the trick shot competition.  And a historic on it was.  Twenty rounds, a league record.  The Caps doubled their shootout goal total for the season (from five to ten).  And still, they came up one short, having gone through the entire roster and around again (Nicklas Backstrom and Alex Ovechkin had two bites of the apple, Ovechkin getting the only goal on four shots).  If there were highlights (and there were), they would include Brooks Orpik scoring on his first career shootout attempt in 733 career games.  John Carlson scored on his first shot attempt in 346 career games.  Joel Ward scored his first career shootout goal.  It was a historic night.

Defense: 1.67/game (season: 2.56/game; rank: 13th)

Caps fans would have to like the week the defense had overall.  Washington allowed only 128 shot attempts for the week, and the progression from start to finish was: 51-41-36.  Only twice in nine regulation periods did the Caps allow more than ten shots on goal.  Granted, the three opponents the Caps faced are bottom-third teams in scoring offense, but this still had to be the way you would draw it up.  This might have been the best part; the Caps showed they could play a grinding game and come out well.  In all three games the Caps and their opponents combined for Corsi events per 60 minutes at 5-on-5 below 100.0 (numbers from  For the season, there are only two teams averaging fewer than 100 combined events at 5-on-5: New Jersey (98.1) and Detroit (98.0).

Goaltending: 1.62 GAA / .934 SV / 1 shutout (season: 2.49 / .908 / 2 SO)

Once more, Braden Holtby got every minute of goaltending time for the week, the three starts he took bringing his consecutive starts streak to nine and his consecutive appearances streak to 15 (he played 20 minutes in relief of Justin Peters in a 6-2 loss to Toronto on November 29th).  Holtby was especially effective in the first period (.947 save percentage) and second period (.941) of games, although he was nicked for two goals on 15 shots against Columbus, the only period for the week in which he allowed as many as two goals.  Both of those goals came on power plays, and…

“cough, cough”

What is it, Cheerless?

“Those two power play goals, cuz.  It was the first time in seven games that he allowed more than one power play goal, but it was the third time in 11 games that he did so after not allowing more than one in his first 15 appearances.”

Still, Holtby continues to climb in the goaltender rankings. He is now 15th in goals against average (2.29) and 19th in save percentage (.917).  Among goaltenders appearing in at least 15 games, Holtby is now 14th in save percentage at even strength. 

“Yeah, and he is 22nd in that same group of goaltenders in save percentage when facing an opponent’s power play.”

You’re on a roll this morning, aren’t you, Cheerless?

“It’s a gift.”

Beat the after-Christmas rush, and return it now.

Power Play: 1-for-8 / 12.5 percent (season: 25.3 percent; rank: 2nd) 

It was a quiet week for the Caps on the man advantage.  The 12.5 percent conversion rate is the lowest for the club since Week 6 (11.1 percent on 1-for-9) and the second lowest of the season.  It was an efficient power play in one respect, recording 16 shots on goal in 14:49 of power play time.  Alex Ovechkin recorded six of those shots in 13:06 of power play time, but he failed to connect on any of them.  As it was eight players shared the 16 shots on goal, Troy Brouwer the only one to light the lamp on the first of two power play shots on goal for the week.

The Caps scored their power play goal against Florida on just two opportunities, the 15th time this season that the Caps had two or fewer power play opportunities (they are 29th in total opportunities: 91).  The Caps had three opportunities in each of the last two games of the week, the first time this season that the Caps had three or more opportunities in consecutive games without scoring a power play goal.

Penalty Killing: 7-for-9 / 77.8 percent (season: 77.1 percent; rank: 27th)

This was the third week in the last four in which the Caps allowed two or more power play goals.  They did this despite limiting their three opponents to just 11 shots on goal in 14:51 of power play ice time.  One might use the “bad dream” defense here, that the Caps suffered both goal in a 3:09 span of the second period of their 5-4 overtime win over the Columbus Blue Jackets (it was a bad dream in an otherwise happy ending of a game).

Still, this is not a particularly good trend for the Caps.  Since going a perfect 5-for-5 in penalty killing in Week 7, Washington is just 23-for-34 in the four weeks since (67.6 percent).  The fact that the Caps have a shorthanded save percentage of .825 overall might be a cause for some concern.  So might the fact that the Caps are about to play four more Eastern Conference teams, three of which are in the top half of the league power play rankings. 

Even Strength Goals For/Goals Against: 9-3 / plus-6 (season, 5-on-5 goals for/goals against ratio: 1.03; rank: 15th)

The Caps won the even strength goal battle in two games in Week 11, and they won both games.  In those two games they had a whopping 20.9 percent shooting percentage (9-for-43) while holding Columbus and New Jersey to 2-for-37 shooting (5.4 percent).  It was not even that bad against Florida in the game to open the week, the Caps outshot by a 26-21 margin at evens but being outscored by just a 1-0 margin.  In a sense, it was the club’s effectiveness in limiting the Panthers at evens that allowed the Caps to get to extra time and keep the standings points streak going.

Faceoffs: 80-for-170 / 47.1 percent (season: 50.7 percent; rank: 12th)

It was not the best of weeks for the Caps in the circle.  They lost two of three games, and they lost all three zones in Week 11 (offensive: 47.1 percent; defensive: 48.1 percent; neutral: 46.3 percent).  Nicklas Backstrom had an uncharacteristically weak week, so to speak, in the offensive and defensive zones, going 6-for-16 in each (37.5 percent).  On the other hand, Eric Fehr was 14-for-24 in the ends for the week (58.3 percent) on his way to a 53.5 percent week overall. 

With the revolving door at second wing center (Evgeny Kuznetsov is playing there in place of Andre Burakovsky, who is skating for the Hershey Bears for the time being), Troy Brouwer has been getting a lot of chances in the circle (fourth on the team in faceoffs taken).  He was 12-for-19 for the week (63.2 percent), best of all Caps taking more than one faceoff.

Goals by Period:

The Caps won each period overall, and they had a 5-2-2 “record” by regulation period for the week.  That hiccup in the second period against Columbus – the two power play goals allowed – made the week look a bit worse than it was.  The Caps did well enough on a period-by-period basis to climb into a tie for sixth overall in first period goals scored and seventh in second period goals scored.  The best part of this, however, might be the four third period goals scored (one an empty netter).  This has been an issue for the Caps this season, but those four third period goals increased their season output by more than 17 percent (from 23 to 27 goals) and lifted them into 18th place in the league.

In the end…

It is hard to argue with success.  No doubt there are things one might pick at as “problems” (penalty killing) or unsustainable (even strength shooting percentage), but looking at things holistically the Caps are competing on a consistent basis.  They are not allowing the occasional misstep (the second period against Columbus) or the bit of bad luck (Ovechkin’s near goals against New Jersey) put them in a rut.  One might not expect the team to sustain an 8-0-2 run over every ten games they play, but three weeks of success, all of it coming at the expense of Eastern Conference teams, is something on which to build as the calendar year winds down.  Anything to add, Cheerless?

"nope...we're good."

Three Stars:
  • First Star: Nicklas Backstrom (2-2-4, plus-2, 20:21/game ice time)
  • Second Star: Mike Green (1-2-3, plus-2, setup game-tying and game-winning goals against Columbus)
  • Third Star: Braden Holtby (2-0-1, 1.62, .934, 1 shutout)

A TWO-point night -- Game 32: Capitals 4 - Devils 0

Washington Capitals fans would be hard-pressed to think of a more complete win than the 4-0 defeat the Caps pinned on the New Jersey Devils last night at Prudential Arena in Newark.  The score itself was a bit misleading; it could have been much worse for the home team (and we will get to that). At the other end, the Caps held the Devils to 21 shots on goal, the fewest allowed to an opponent since the Caps allowed only 21 shots to the Calgary Flames in a 3-1 win in Game 7 of the season.

For the Caps the scoring started after a scoreless first period when the Caps worked the puck around the perimeter.  Nicklas Backstrom skated the puck up the left wing wall before sliding it to Jack Hillen at the top of the offensive zone.  Hillen moved the puck over to Mike Green, who stepped up and let fly with a slap shot that sailed over the right shoulder of a screened Cory Schneider in goal just over three minutes into the period. 

Backstrom got on the board late in the period on a play that started with a collision.  As John Carlson was backhanding a pass to Jay Beagle entering the Devils’ zone, Alex Ovechkin and Adam Henrique collided to Beagle’s right, thus keeping Henrique from trying to cut Beagle off.  Beagle continued toward the New Jersey net, dropping the puck for Backstrom in the left wing faceoff circle.  Backstrom wristed the puck off the pipe to Schneider’s left and into the net to give the Caps a 2-0 lead at the second intermission.

Alex Ovechkin put the game away in the eighth minute of the third period with one of the prettier plays of the season.  Picking up the puck at his own blue line, Ovechkin got up a head of steam through the neutral zone, backing off the Devil defense.  It was a 1-on-2 with Travis Zajac and Jon Merrill back for the Devils.  Ovechkin threaded the puck around Merrill and out of the reach of Zajac, breaking behind both defenders as he angled across the slot.  He snapped a backhand past the blocker of Schneider from the edge of the paint to give the Caps a 3-0 lead.

Backstrom completed the scoring, sending a backhand from the right wing wall into an empty net to give the Caps a 4-0 win.

Other stuff…

-- Like we said, it could have been worse for the Devils.  Conversely, it could have been a much bigger night for Alex Ovechkin.  Twice he hit the pipe on shot attempts, and he came up short on a penalty shot attempt after being hauled down by Marek Zidlicky on a breakaway.

-- It was the third three-point game for Nicklas Backstrom this season and his second in a week (he had three assists in the Caps’ 4-2 win over Tampa Bay on December 13th).

-- The teams split a total of 42 shots on goal and combined for only 73 shot attempts for the game.  By way of comparison, the Caps had 67 shot attempts on their own in their 5-4 overtime win over Columbus on Thursday.

-- Braden Holtby recorded his 13th shutout of his career.  Odd thing about his shutouts on the road, of which there have been seven.  This was his fourth shutout having faced 21 or fewer shots.  All of them have been on the road (twice in Montreal and in Winnipeg).  It was his second career shutout against New Jersey, the other coming in a 3-0 win over New Jersey last February 8th).

-- It just keeps rolling for John Carlson.  He skated 23:31 last night and was a plus-2, making him plus-14 over his last 11 games.

-- New Jersey pulled their goaltender with 3:11 left in regulation, which made for an odd line combination for the Capitals in response.  When the Caps came out for a faceoff at the 17:08 mark of the period, it was Backstrom centering Jay Beagle and Jason Chimera.  It was at the end of that shift that Backstrom scored his empty-net goal.

-- Ovechkin had ten of the Caps’ 37 total shot attempts (five shots on goal).  That might not seem as odd as Karl Alzner finishing with the second highest shots on goal total for the Caps (3).

-- At the other end… Eric Fehr, Brooks Laich, Joel Ward, Tom Wilson, Michael Latta, and Jay Beagle combined for one shot on goal (Beagle) and three shot attempts (Fehr had a missed shot, Wilson had one blocked).

-- The 21 shots on goal for the Caps tied a season low.  They recorded 21 shots on goal in Game 2 of the season, a 4-0 win over the Boston Bruins.

-- This was the fourth time in five games that the Caps had three or more power play opportunities.  They are just 2-for-18 (11.1 percent) in those games, including 0-for-3 in this one.

-- In four games the Caps have 14 goals on 113 shots against the Devils, and that includes a 30-save shutout by Schneider in the second of the four meetings.  Take that away, and it is 14 goals on 83 shots, a hefty 16.9 percent shooting percentage.

In the end…

The beat goes on for a club that might be playing not only its best hockey of the season (6-0-2 in their last eight games), but the best hockey in the Eastern Conference at the moment (yes, Columbus is 8-0-1 in December, but the Caps are the team that beat them).  Unfortunately, there is little time to take it all in.  The Caps have four more Eastern Conference opponents to close the calendar year, and the competition level will ramp up as the games go by.  Ottawa, the Caps’ next opponent, is only four points behind Washington, and then the Caps face the Rangers, Penguins, and Islanders before ringing in the new year against the Blackhawks in the Winter Classic.  If this is the way the schedule unfolds, the Caps are playing at a level that makes it just a bit less daunting.