Sunday, January 04, 2015

A TWO-point night -- Game 38: Capitals 4 - Panthers 3

The Washington Capitals remained undefeated in the new year by getting goals from four different players in defeating the Florida Panthers, 4-3, on Sunday afternoon at Verizon Center.  The Caps carved out the win by scoring first, then falling behind before scoring three straight goals and holding on late for the victory.

It started for the Caps after a scoreless first period.  With Dave Bolland off for a hooking penalty as the first period ended, Alex Ovechkin scored his 19th goal of the season on the ensuing power play.  It was rather standard fare for the Caps, the scoring sequence starting as Marcus Johansson skated the puck through the right wing faceoff circle before dropping it down to Nicklas Backstrom at the goal line extended to goalie Roberto Luongo’s left.  Backstrom wasted no time sending the puck through the slot to Ovechkin pinching down on the off wing.  Ovechkin’s one timer beat Luongo before the goalie could push across the crease, and the Caps had a 1-0 lead.

Florida took a lead when they scored goals just 1:25 apart shortly after the Ovechkin tally. Vincent Trocheck and Dylan Olsen scored to give the Panthers a 2-1 lead just 5:22 into the period.  The second half of the second period belonged to the Caps, though.  Brooks Laich tied the game in a case of the third time being the charm.  After Lunogo turned away two Laich attempts in a five second span, Laich got a third opportunity from the top of the left wing circle.  His slap shot through the legs of Panther defenseman Shane O’Brien flew past the left shoulder of Luongo, and the game was tied at the 12:13 mark.

The Caps took the lead for good in the last minute of the second period when Karl Alzner took advantage of some fierce forechecking by Eric Fehr to rifle a shot through a screen in front of Luongo to give the Caps a 3-2 lead at the second intermission.

Washington bought some insurance early in the third period when Andre Burakovsky picked up a puck that bounced off the stick of Ovechkin and slammed a shot past a diving Al Montoya, in for an injured Luongo in the Panther net.

The Caps would need that insurance as Nick Bjugstad got the Panthers within a goal in the final minute, snapping a shot from a severe angle over the left shoulder of goalie Braden Holtby.  It was as close as the Panthers would get, though, as the Caps skated off with a 4-3 win.

Other stuff…

-- Alex Ovechkin has his third multi-point game in a row (1-1-2).  It was the first time he has three multi-point games in succession in season since March 21-24, 2013 (he had three straight multi-point games that included the last game of that 2012-2013 season and the first two games of the 2013-2014 season).

-- Karl Alzner set a career high with his third goal of the season.  He has done it with efficiency, converting three of 30 shots so far this season, the only Capital defenseman with a shooting percentage of 10.0 percent or better.  Alzner finished with eight shot attempts (two shots on goal), which seems like two weeks’ worth for him.

-- The Alzner goal was the product of some gritty forechecking by Eric Fehr.  When Roberto Luongo stopped a dump-in behind his own net for Dylan Olsen, Fehr jumped up quickly to challenge Olsen.  Keeping Olsen from being able to control the puck, Fehr was able to one-hand a pass out from behind the net to Alzner, who was waiting inside the Panther blue line. From there it was a matter of Alzner getting the puck on net through a Brooks Laich/Joel Ward screen in front of Luongo for the score.

-- Nicklas Backstrom was 18-for-26 on faceoffs, Troy Brouwer was 6-for-6, and Jay Beagle was 7-for-11.  That’s pretty much owning the circle.

-- Florida finished with 32 shots on goal, making it four in a row in which the Caps allowed an opponent more than 30 shots on goal, the longest such streak of the season.

-- The Caps killed all five shorthanded situations they faced.  It was the first time they were perfect in killing five or more shorthanded situations since Opening Night against Montreal (5-for-5).

-- The Caps managed to roll lines with some measure of consistency.  Every forward finished with at least ten minutes of ice time; no forward skated more than 19 minutes. 

-- Eric Fehr and Troy Brouwer, two of the heroes of the Winter Classic, both finished without a shot on goal and only two shot attempts (each had an attempt blocked).

-- The Caps killed off another 5-on-3 situation, although this one (unlike the 1:31 situation they faced against Chicago on Thursday) lasted just 47 seconds.  Once again, they held the opponent without a shot on goal for the duration of the 5-on-3.

-- In bowling, converting a 4-7-10 split is quite an accomplishment.  Unfortunately, it does not work that way in hockey, but that is what it looked like when Mike Green, Jack Hillen, and Evgeny Kuznetsov collided at the Panther blue line after Kuznetsov whiffed on a shot attempt.  It set up a two-on-none break that resulted in Florida's first goal.

-- Alex Ovechkin leading his club with nine shot attempts is not uncommon.  Defenseman Aaron Ekblad leading his with 13 shot attempts (five on goal)?  Probably not nearly as common.

In the end…

The Caps passed a test of sorts with this game. With three days off after their biggest regular season game of the season, coming at the end of the holidays, the Caps might have sleepwalked through this contest.  It was not their sharpest effort of the year, but it was a gritty win nonetheless.  Slowly and surely, the Caps have positioned themselves to make a leap in the standings with their play over the last month.  They are just two points behind the Detroit Red Wings for fifth place in the Eastern Conference with a game in hand, and they are just five points behind Tampa Bay for fourth place with two games in hand. 

The Caps will be tested, though, as they embark on a back-to-back set of games in Toronto and in Philadelphia on Wednesday and Thursday, the first of four back-to-backs they will play over the next four weeks.  They seem well prepared for that test, though, with solid play that has carried over for more than a month, doing what they need to do to grind out wins on a regular basis.  Just what they will need as the long nights of winter begin.

Washington Capitals: That Was The Week That Was -- Week 13

For the Washington Capitals, Week 13 carried with it a light work load, but it continued a nice trend.  The Caps enjoyed their fifth straight winning week despite considerable distractions.  By week’s end they were the darlings of national media, but more important climbed one spot in the Eastern Conference standings to seventh place and kept pace with a streaking New York Rangers team that itself was winner of nine of their last ten games.

Record: 1-0-1

The Caps opened the week against a team that, if the playoffs ended today, they would face in the first round of the playoffs, the New York Islanders.  It was an interesting game.  By the time the game reached the four-minute mark of the third period, the Caps were in a 3-0 hole.  Perhaps their attention was conflicted with the Winter Classic just three days away on their minds.  However, the Islanders had blown a three-goal lead in their previous contest and three overall three-goal leads in December.  The Caps would make sure those numbers would become two straight games and four in December when they scored three goals in less than 13 minutes to tie the contest and send it to overtime.  Johnny Boychuk won it in overtime for the Isles on a power play, but the Caps managed to pick up an important standings point in the process.

The second game of the week was the long-anticipated Winter Classic against the Chicago Blackhawks, a more complete look at which you can find here and here.  The win enabled the Caps to climb to .500 against Western Conference teams in standings points (5-5-2) and left them with a 37-26-16 record for the 2014 calendar year.

Offense 3.00/game (season: 2.89 / rank: T-10th)

There being only two games played in Week 13, there was not a lot in terms of sharing of the six goals and the points recorded.  Four Caps accounted for the six goals, Alex Ovechkin and Eric Fehr each recording a pair, with Nicklas Backstrom and Troy Brouwer getting the others.  Seven players recorded points.  What was noteworthy there was Jack Hillen recording points in consecutive games for the first time this season and for the first time since he had a three-game points streak, April 13-18, 2013.  Mike Green recorded three assists in the two games, continuing a recent points-scoring trend.  Green is 1-7-8, plus-3, over his last seven games.

Back to the goal scorers, Eric Fehr scoring in both games of Week 13 made it three games in a row with at least one goal.  It is the first time he recorded goals in three straight games since he had goals in three consecutive games, March 14-18, 2010.  He is one off his career high of four games, February 7-15, 2009.  Starting with a game-winning goal against Carolina on December 4th, Fehr has eight goals in his last 13 games.

Ovechkin appears to be awakening after a dormant period.  From November 29th through December 18th he recorded only two goals, both in a 5-3 win over Tampa Bay on December 9th.  However, with the goals in each game of Week 13, Ovechkin has four goals in his last six games and is tied for sixth in the league with 18 goals.  Oh yeah, and for the record, he is plus-8 for the season, plus-13 in his last 19 games.

Defense: 3.00/game (season: 2.51 / rank: 11th)

The Islanders and the Blackhawks represent two of the best offensive teams in the league, seventh and fifth, respectively, in scoring offense at week’s end.  Holding both teams at or below their average output in regulation counts as a decent week from a defensive standpoint.  Allowing more than 30 shots to the two opponents made it three straight games in which the Caps allowed an opponent more than 30 shots on goal, the first time that has happened this season. 

If you are Brooks Laich, you might be having bad dreams about this week.  He was on ice for all six goals scored against (oddly enough, he finished the week “even,” the product of being on ice for three goals (he was on ice for all three power play goals against).  John Carlson was on ice for four goals against for the week. 

It was not a particularly good week in the underlying numbers, but then again, it was a two-game week, making it hard to divine a trend.  Nevertheless, the Caps had a Corsi-for percentage at 5-on-5 of just 48.6 and a Fenwick-for percentage of just 46.7.  What they enjoyed was a plus-7 differential in scoring chances (all numbers from

Goaltending: 2.93 GAA / .919 SV (season: 2.45 / .913 / 3 SO)

The last time Braden Holtby did not appear in a game was November 15th, when backup Justin Peters dropped a 4-1 decision to the St. Louis Blues.  Since then, Holtby has appeared in 20 consecutive games and has played every minute save for the first and third periods in a 6-2 loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs on November 29th.  Over those 20 appearances Holtby is 12-4-4, 2.20, .926, with two shutouts.

Those 20 appearances included both games of Week 13 in which Holtby stopped 64 of 68 shots (.941 save percentage).  Facing more than 30 shots in both games in Week 13 made it ten games this season in which Holtby faced at least 30 shots.  In those games he is 7-1-2, 2.08, .940, with one shutout.  Yes, he appears to thrive on work, both in terms of appearances and shot volumes, but at some point the Caps are going to have to give him a break.  That would seem likely in Week 14, when the Caps play four games, including a back-to-back in mid-week at Toronto and at Philadelphia.

Power Play: 1-for-8 / 12.5 percent (season: 23.0 percent / rank: 4th)

The Caps are in a rut on their power play.  After Week 9 they had a season conversion rate of 28.2 percent and had just finished their eighth week at 20 percent or better.  Since then, however, the Caps are 6-for-42 (14.3 percent) and have dropped to 23.0 percent for the season.  In Week 13 they got the shots they wanted from the guys they wanted to get them.  Alex Ovechkin and Mike Green had three shots apiece of the 10 overall in the two games.  It was Troy Brouwer, though, who scored on his only power play shot of the week who converted, the game-winning goal against Chicago on Thursday.

Even if timely, getting a game-winning goal on a power play, it was not a particularly effective week.  It was not especially efficient, either.  The Caps recorded ten shots on goal from six players in 10:20 of total power play time. 

Penalty Kill: 10-for-13 / 76.9 percent (season: 78.0 percent / rank: 25th)

For the first time since Weeks 4 and 5, the Caps allowed double digit power play opportunities in consecutive weeks.  It is part of a disconcerting trend.  In their last four games ending with Thursday’s win over Chicago, the Caps allowed opponents a total of 24 power play opportunities, three times allowing six or more in a game.  Over that span the Caps are 19-for-24 on the penalty kill (79.2 percent) and twice allowed two power play goals in game. 

One of those games was against the New York Islanders in which the Caps gave up two goals in seven shorthanded situations.  What no doubt influenced that result was having to skate shorthanded in overtime, when the Caps were playing 3-on-4.  New York managed five shots on goal in 2:53 of power play time (Evgeny Kuznetsov was serving a four-minute double minor penalty) to escape with the win.  From that perspective, having allowed only 19 shots on goal in 18:31 of shorthanded ice time was not an altogether poor outcome.  The problem was the 18:31 in shorthanded ice time.  Spending 15 percent of their ice time for the week killing penalties is not a sustainable formula for success for the Caps.

It was the penalty kill that might have saved the week, however.  In their 3-2 win over Chicago on Thursday, the Caps killed off a 5-on-3 power play lasting 1:31 without allowing a shot on goal. 

Even Strength Goals for/Goals Against: 5-2 / plus-3 (season, 5-on-5 goals for/goals against ratio: 1.09 / rank: 12th)

Don’t look now, but even strength scoring is becoming something of a strength for the Caps.  Week 13 was the fifth consecutive week in which the Caps finished on the plus side of the even strength ledger.  Over those five weeks the Caps have outscored opponents by a 36-18 margin at evens, a goals for/goals against ratio of 2.00:1 over a 14-game span.  It is not likely a coincidence that the Caps are 9-2-3 over those 14 games.

The Caps’ ability to sustain strong 5-on-5 play seems likely to be a larger factor in their success than fixing a wonky power play.  Last season the Caps finished 23rd in 5-on-5 goals-for/goals-against and missed the playoffs.  They were over 1.00 in their for/against ratio in each of their six consecutive playoff seasons:
  • 2007-2008: 1.06
  • 2008-2009: 1.10
  • 2009-2010: 1.57
  • 2010-2011: 1.07
  • 2011-2012: 1.01
  • 2012-2013: 1.07
This number bears watching as the season unfolds.

Faceoffs: 64-for-139 / 46.0 percent (season: 50.5 percent / rank: 13th)

It was not an especially good week in the circle for the Caps.  They were underwater in both games and in both the offensive and defensive zones for the week.  Five Caps took more than ten draws for the week, and only Troy Brouwer was over 50 percent (8-for-13; 61.5 percent).  The Caps had trouble in the ends, going 41.5 percent in both the offensive (17-for-41) and defensive (22-for-53) zones.  The Caps did manage to win one important draw that allowed them to salvage a point against the Islanders.  It was Nicklas Backstrom beating Casey Cizikas on the draw that allowed Alex Ovechkin to score the game-tying goal late in regulation against the Islanders.

Goals by Period:

The Caps generally started well (two goals against the Blackhawks in the first period) and finished well (three against the Islanders and the game-winner against Chicago).  It was in the middle that the Caps were lacking, scoring no goals for the week on 18 total shots.  Even with the Caps being outscored, 2-0, in the second period of games this week, they continue to have a positive goal differential in each regulation period for the season.  As for the overtime record (3-4), the odd fact is in the losses.  In three of the four losses in overtime this season the Caps were shorthanded when victimized, including this week’s loss to the Islanders.  It is the second time this season that the Caps lost to the Islanders on an overtime power play goal, the third coming against the Columbus Blue Jackets.

In the end…

Slow and sure wins the race.  Not that a 9-1-3 record over their last 13 games is “slow,” but the Caps have done a very good job grinding out points over the last month, securing 21 of a possible 26 points over those 13 games.  In Week 13 they converted opportunities late – a game-tying goal with 2:41 left in regulation to earn a point against the Islanders and a game-winning goal with 12.9 seconds left to make it a three-point week.  On the one hand, it might be playing a bit uncomfortably on the margin.  On the other, it is the sort of experience in close games that the Caps will find valuable down the stretch and, hopefully, in the post-season to follow.

Three Stars:
  • First Star: Alex Ovechkin (2-2-4, plus-3, ten SOG, 25 shot attempts)
  • Second Star: Eric Fehr (2-0-2, even, became all-time leader in goals scored in Winter Classic games)
  • Third Star: Troy Brouwer (1-0-1, GWG in Winter Classic, 61.5 percent wins in faceoffs)