Sunday, December 20, 2015

Washington Capitals Recap: A TWO-Point Night: Capitals 7 - Rangers 3

The Washington Capitals traveled to the scene of many disappointments in recent years – Madison Square Garden in New York City – and served notice that this isn’t your father’s Capitals.  It isn’t even your older brother’s.  The Caps fell behind by a 3-1 score after 20 minutes, then systematically and clinically dissected the Rangers for six unanswered goals, during which they chased the demonic Henrik Lundquvist from the Rangers’ net, and won going away, 7-3.

The first 20 minutes of this contest will not make any Capitals highlight videos.  Justin Williams did get the Caps off on the right foot when he redirected a Taylor Chorney drive past Lundqvist at the 12:03 mark after getting decked at the side of the net by Kevin Hayes.  

Then the Caps started kicking their own behind with their other foot.  The Rangers scored three times in a space of 4:21 – goals by J.T. Miller, Chris Kreider, and Dan Boyle – to take a 3-1 lead into the locker room at the first intermission.

Then the Caps unleashed the fury.  In the sixth minute of the period Justin Williams worked the puck down the left wing wall, then sent a pass into the middle for Dmitry Orlov skating down the middle.  Orlov walked down the middle and with Chris Kreider playing nominal defense, draping his stick across Orlov’s arm, Orlov slid the puck through the top of the crease.  Evgeny Kuznetsov unwrapped the present and backhanded a shot past goalie Henrik Lundqvist to make it 3-2.

Less than two minutes later, T.J. Oshie tied the game.  It was another case of indifferent (or incapable) Ranger defense.  Nicklas Backstrom fired a cross-ice dump in from the center red stripe that bounced hard out of the corner to Lundqvist’s left.  Oshie beat Marc Staal to the puck, cut to the middle, and before Dylan McIlrath could get his stick in Oshie’s path backhanded the puck past Lundqvist.

Four minutes later the Caps took the lead they would not relinquish.  With Chris Summers in the penalty box, the Caps worked the puck around the perimeter smartly on the ensuing power play.  Then, in an instant, they broke down the Rangers defense down low.  John Carlson fed Nicklas Backstrom in the right wing circle.  Backstrom took a step deeper and fed Marcus Johansson at the goal line.  Johansson snapped a pass through the crease to Alex Ovechkin at the left wing faceoff dot, and Ovechkin did the rest, firing a shot over Lundqvist’s glove high on the far side to make it 4-3.

The Caps were not done with the second period or with Lundqvist.  With the period winding down and the Caps on another power play, the Caps worked the triangle play to perfection – Backstrom from the right wing down to Johansson at the goal line and out to Williams in the slot for a one-timer that close the second period scoring and Lundqvist’s night.

The third period began with Magnus Hellberg coming in to make his NHL debut, but he fared no better than Lundqvist.  The Caps scored on their first two shots on goal, the first a shorthanded goal by Jason Chimera when he took a loose puck chipped out of the defensive zone by Tom Wilson and beat Hellberg on a breakaway.  The second came two minutes later when Evgeny Kuznetsov took advantage of some loose play by Summer behind the Ranger net to pilfer the puck and feed Marcus Johansson all alone in front for the seventh and final goal of the evening. 

Other stuff…

-- The Caps scored seven goals.  It was the first time they did that at Madison Square Garden since beating the Rangers, 7-4, on November 11, 1992.  Their plus-4 goal differential ties the best ever for the Caps on Ranger ice.  They did it twice before – April 1, 1987 in a 5-1 win and March 16, 1988 in an 8-4 win.

-- The Caps had two power play goals, giving them five in seven power play chances over their last two games.

-- Kuznetsov and Williams scored their tenth goals of the season, respectively, in this game.  That gives the Caps five skaters with ten or more goals, most in the league.

-- Nicklas Backstrom recorded three assists, the 28th time he hit that mark in his career.  Since he came into the league in 2007-2008, only Sidney Crosby has recorded three or more assists in more games (29).

-- Going back to the third period of the game against the Tampa Bay Lightning, the Caps have scored 11 goals on their last 35 shots (31.4 percent).

-- Give Braden Holtby some credit.  He was left largely to his own wits in the first period as the Caps team defense resembled less a hockey team and more a group that was strolling on 5th Avenue doing some window shopping.  After suffering three goals on 16 shots in the first period, not to mention nine scoring chances, he turned away all 21 he faced thereafter.

-- There were 11 different Capitals with points, five with multi-point games.  The latter was not a season high.  Washington had seven multi-point scorers in their 7-4 win over Edmonton on October 23rd.

-- If Tom Wilson is shaving the rough edges off his game in the wake of the match penalty/rescinded match penalty against Ottawa last week, it doesn’t show.  He took three minor penalties – an unsportsmanlike conduct and a double minor for roughing – and had four hits to tie for the team lead in this game.

-- Marcus Johansson had his first three-point game of the season and his first since October 3, 2013, in a 5-4 win over the Calgary Flames.

-- On the other side of the ice, the play of Henrik Lundqvist has to be a concern to the Rangers and their capacity to overtake the Caps.  In his last 13 appearances he is 5-6-1 (one no-decision), 3.53, .899.  The Rangers can’t compete if that level of performance continues.

In the end…

No, the Caps are not going to come back from 3-0 and 3-1 deficits in consecutive games to win with any regularity, but it sure is nice to see them able to do it.  Sure, falling behind by multiple goals early in games and the possession numbers overall are problems that need to be corrected, but if there is a takeaway from these last two games, it is that the Caps have found a way to maintain their composure in the face of difficulty.  The fact that they have so many weapons at the offensive end of the ice and a goaltender at the other end who can shake off those still infrequent stretches of leaky play is a comfort to Caps fans, even when things look bleak.  And when they comeback like they did against a team that has caused them so much misery the past few seasons, it makes for a warm glow this holiday season.

Washington Capitals: That Was The Week That Was -- Week 10

“It’s the most wonderful week of the year.”  With apologies to the late Andy Williams, Week 10 was a wonderful week for the Washington Capitals.  Three games, three wins, a win over a bitter rival, a big comeback win, milestones, crashes, fights, intrigue.  Week 10 had something for everyone.  A Holiday Blockbuster of a week.

Record: 3-0-0

Ten was a “10.”  Week 10 was the Caps’ third perfect week of the season in terms of wins and losses, Weeks 2 (3-0-0) and 7 (4-0-0) being the others.  The week ended with the Caps on a four-game winning streak, the third time this season they cobbled together winning streaks of four or more games.  With wins over the Ottawa Senators and Tampa Bay Lightning, the Caps extended their home winning streak to seven games.  They have not lost on home ice since dropping a 3-2 decision to the Dallas Stars on November 19th (7-0-0).  The Caps also closed the week with the best record in the Eastern Conference, and by a wide margin.  They have a five-point lead on the second place Montreal Canadiens and hold three games in hand over the Habs.

Offense:  3.67/game (season: 3.03 /game; rank: 3rd)

Week 10 was a solid week overall in the offensive end of the rink.  It there was a movie title for it, it might be “First Line Ascendant.”  The top line of Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, and T.J. Oshie was a combined 2-2-4 in Week 9, but in Week 10 they had a good time, mostly at the expense of the Tampa Bay Lightning to close the week.  Ovechkin (2-2-4), Backstrom (1-3-4), and Oshie (4-3-7) combined for seven of the week’s 11 goals and recorded 15 points among them.  Ovechkin and Oshie did all their damage in that game against the Lightning, the first time two Capitals recorded four or more points in a game since Ovechkin and Backstrom did it (Backstrom getting five points) against the same Tampa Bay Lightning team in a 6-5 Gimmick win on December 10, 2013.  Coincidentally, in both of those games against the Lightning the Caps fell behind by 3-0 scores and pulled their goalie (both times Braden Holtby in favor of Philipp Grubauer) before coming back for the win on home ice.

Backstrom was solid all week, but did most of his damage (1-2-3) against the Pittsburgh Penguins to start the week.  It was the 50th time in his career that Backstrom recorded three or more points in a game and the fourth time he accomplished the feat against the Penguins.  It was his assist against the Lightning to close the scoring on the week that was most significant, though.  It was Backstrom’s 600th point in the NHL.  He became the fourth player in franchise history to reach the 600-point mark, joining Ovechkin (924), Peter Bondra (825), and Mike Gartner (789).  He is one of 37active players with 600 or more points.

Defense: 1.67/game (season: 2.16 /game; rank:1st)

Washington started Week 10 by allowing the Penguins to record 45 shots on goal, a season high in shots allowed, the first time any opponent topped 40 shots on goal against the Caps.  They closed the week in much better fashion, though, holding the Senators and the Lighting to a combined total of 46 shots on goal.  The 19 shots on goal allowed by the Caps was the third time this season that they held an opponent to fewer than 20 shots on goal.  They now have a 3-0-0 record when doing so, the only one of seven teams having allowed fewer than 20 shots three or more times to have an undefeated record.

At a possession number level, the week was uneven at best, poor at worst. Overall, opponents out-attempted the Caps by a 144-108 margin at 5-on-5, a 42.9 percent Corsi-for at evens.  On a game-by-game basis, the Caps wrapped two disappointing results (36.6 percent against Pittsburgh, 41.3 percent against Tampa Bay) around a 52.6 percent Corsi-for effort against the Senators.  This is an area in which the Caps are continuing to struggle and is, frankly, a cause for concern.  The last time the Caps had consecutive games with more shot attempts than opponents was November 12-13 against Philadelphia and Calgary.  Since then, Washington’s Corsi-for at 5-on-5 is 46.6 percent and has been under 50 percent in 11 of 15 games.

If you are going to take one play on defense away for the week, make it this one…

Goaltending: 1.67 /.945 (season: 2.03 / .926 / 1 shutout)

In a perverse way, getting pulled from a game and still managing to post a 2.02 goals against average and a .940 save percentage is a measure of just how good a season (not to mention a Week 10) Braden Holtby has had so far this season.  Holtby stopped 44 of 45 shots against the Penguins to start the week, then stopped 26 of 27 against the Senators in the second game of the week.  Against the Lightning, he allowed three goals on 12 shots before being relieved by Philipp Grubauer.  It could be said that the five goals Holtby did allow for the week were either superior plays, a nod from the hockey gods, or poor play in front of him.  The goal he allowed to Evgeni Malkin in the Pittsburgh game was a redirect from between the hash marks that hit the pipe and caromed in (thank you, hockey gods).  Bobby Ryan’s goal for Ottawa was a matter of being at the right place at the right time, the puck off a shot from Kyle Turris striking him on the rebound and caroming into the net. 

Even against the Lightning the goals had an odd character about them.  Alex Killorn scored a goal that was part patience, waiting for Holtby to commit, and part turbulence in front of the net as Holtby got tangled up with Braydon Coburn.  The Andrej Sustr goal was one Holtby might want back as he seemed a bit off his line and Sustr found the net on the far side, but again off a post and in.  The third goal, by Steven Stamkos might have been a case of too much respect being given as the Caps defense backed off, and Matt Niskanen was too late getting his stick in the way of Stamkos’ lethal wrist shot.

That left the rest of the week – the last 30:56 of the Tampa Bay game – to Philipp Grubauer, who might have made the single play to save the week’s perfect record.  With Tampa Bay holding a 3-1 lead early in the third period, they were buzzing about the Caps’ net.  The puck finally came to Vladislav Namestnikov, who had what looked like an open net from the top of the crease.  Grubauer got his right pad out and turned Namestnikov’s attempt away.  On the ensuing rush, T.J. Oshie scored to make it 3-2 in what would end up being a 5-3 win.  If Namestnikov scored on that play, this is an entirely different look at the week in review.

Power Play: 4-for-10 / 40.0 percent (season: 25.0 percent; rank: 2nd)

After a pair of weeks in which the power play struggled (2-for-19/10.5 percent), the Caps broke out in Week 10.  That was largely thanks to the Tampa Bay Lightning, against which the Caps were 3-for-4 on the man advantage, the second time in two games at Verizon Center that the Caps went 3-for-4. 

It was an efficient week for the Caps, who shot 4-for-19 (21.1 percent), the 19 shots on goal coming in 12:47 of power play ice time (1.48 shots per minute).  Alex Ovechkin had two of the four power play goals, both of them against the Lightning.  It was his first two-power play goal game of the year (his first any two-goal game of the year), and his first multi power play goal game since he had a pair against the Montreal Canadiens in a 5-4 Gimmick win last April 2nd. 

The other two power play goals came from players who had been having trouble converting with the man advantage.  T.J. Oshie recorded a power play goal against the Penguins, his first power play goal in seven games and only his second man advantage goal in 25 games.  Marcus Johansson scored a power play goal against the Lightning in the last game of the week – the game-winning goal as it turned out – his first man advantage goal in seven games and just his second in 29 games since he scored one on Opening Night.

Penalty Killing: 7-for-8 / 87.5 percent (season: 83.9 percent; rank: 6th)

The Caps have been alternating good and less good penalty killing weeks all season.  Week 10 was a good week, killing off seven of eight shorthanded situations.  Overall it was a rather efficient week, too.  The Caps held opponents to one goal on 14 shots (7.1 percent shooting), those 14 shots coming in 15:26 of shorthanded ice time (0.91 shots per minute).

It should not have been an unexpected result, though.  The only team to record a power play goal against the Caps this season – Ottawa – is ranked 11th in the league in power play efficiency.  The teams that the Caps shutout – Pittsburgh and Tampa Bay – are ranked 28th and 25th, respectively, in power play efficiency.

There is something here that reflects the development of a young player.  Tom Wilson was on ice for 3:18 of the total of 15:26 in shorthanded ice time this week.  It might have been more but for his having been excused from the competition against Ottawa for committing a match penalty against Curtis Lazar.  Wilson finished the week ranked fourth among Caps forwards in average shorthanded ice time per game (1:09/game).

Even Strength 5-on-5 Goals for/Goals Against: 6-4 / plus-2 (season, 5-on-5 goals for/goals against ratio: 1.34; rank: 2nd)

A 6-4 edge in 5-on-5 goal scoring might not sound like a lot, but a 1.50 ratio of goals scored to goals allowed is rather impressive, even if it is just a one-week/three-game sample.  It is part of a larger story for the Caps this season.  They rank second in the league in their ratio of goals scored to goals allowed at 5-on-5 (1.34), and it is their best such mark since they finished the 2009-2010 seaosn with a 1.54 goals for/goals against ratio.  They are on a pace to obliterate their best season in 5-on-5 goals allowed in the most recent playoff era of the club.  Since the 2007-2008 season the fewest number of 5-on-5 goals allowed was 130 in 2010-2011.  They are on a pace to finish this season with 116 5-on-5 goals allowed.

Faceoffs: 84-for-175 / 48.0 percent (season: 50.1% / rank: 15th)

The Caps had their issues in the faceoff circle again in Week 10, finishing at or under 50 percent in each of the three games and under 50 percent for the week.  It was not quite as bad as it seemed, the final result dominated by a 41.1 faceoff winning percentage in the neutral zone for the week.  The Caps dominated in the offensive zone, winning 55.6 percent of their draws on a 25-for-45 result.  They were one under .500 in the defensive zone (36-for-74).

On an individual basis, Jay Beagle continued to be a reliable performer.  He was 22-for-41 for the week (53.7 percent).  Among players taking at least 250 draws this season, Beagle finished the week in fourth place in the league (58.4 percent).

Michael Latta was the only other Capital to take at least ten draws in Week 10 and finish over 50 percent (9-for-15/60.0 percent).  Nicklas Backstrom (49.2 percent), Evgeny Kuznetsov (37.8),a nd T.J. Oshie (45.5 percent) were Caps taking at least ten draws and finishing under 50 eprcent.

Goals by Period:

On a period-by-period basis, the Caps fought opponents to a near draw over the first two periods of games (five for, four against), then dominated in the third period by a 6-1 margin.  Four of those goals came against the Lightning in the last game of the week.  It was the first time the Caps scored four third period goals since putting up four in the third against the New Jersey Devils in a 5-1 win on February 23, 2013.

The Caps, who are the best scoring defense team in the league, continue to be stingy on a 60-minute basis. They are the only team in the league through Week 10 to have allowed fewer than 25 goals in each of the three regulation periods.

In the end…

What a week it was.  Three wins, Jason Chimera played in his 900th NHL game; Nicklas Backstrom recorded his 600th point; Alex Ovechkin had his first multi-goal game of the year; the Caps scored four goals in a third period for the first time in 226 games; Michael Latta had his second multi-point game of his career; Tom Wilson caused havoc, got a match penalty, faced suspension, then got his match penalty rescinded; Braden Holtby got pulled from a game and still ended the week leading all NHL goalies in wins (20), goals against average (1.92), and save percentage (.931, minimum: 750 minutes).  They beat the Penguins, held on against the Senators, and came back against the Lightning.  It was a big week with a lot going on.  But in the end it was a 3-0-0 week, and that was the best part of all. 

Three Stars:
  • First Star: T.J. Oshie (4-3-7, plus-2, 66.7 percent shooting
  • Second Star: Nicklas Backstrom (1-3-4, plus-2, 600th career point)
  • Third Star: Braden Holtby (2-0-0, 2.02, .940)