Sunday, April 10, 2016

Washington Capitals: That Was The Week That Was -- Week 26

Week 26 was the last full week of action of the regular season for the Washington Capitals, and a full one it was.  It was both a “winning” week and a “losing” week. It was one with frustrating performances and historic performances.  It was some of the best and worst the Caps offered this season.  It was hockey, and when the smoke cleared they had the best record in the league and knew who their first round playoff opponent would be.

Record: 1-0-2

Week 26 could have been so much more, record-wise.  The Caps carried a lead into the third period against the New York Islanders and had a two-goal lead on the Isles with less than 12 minutes left in regulation time on home ice, as close to a lock on a win as you could imagine, the Caps having a perfect 36-0-0 record when leading after two periods to that point this season.  The Islanders then scored two goals in less than two minutes to tie the game, then grabbed the extra standings point in overtime to give the Caps a disappointing start to the week.

Then the Caps spotted the Pittsburgh Penguins a three-goal lead 29 minutes into the middle game of the week before clawing their way back to tie the contest in the third period.  All the work went for naught when Sidney Crosby scored on a breakaway in overtime for the Caps second straight extra-time loss and third straight defeat overall, the first time all season the Caps lost three in a row. 

Washington salvaged the week with perhaps their best performance of the 2016 portion of the season, spotting the St. Louis Blues an early goal, then roaring back behind five unanswered goals and a bucket of milestones met to salvage what was, from a standings points perspective, a winning week.

Offense:  3.67/game (season: 3.06 /game; rank: 2nd)

The Caps had a big week in the offensive end because the Captain had a big week.  Alex Ovechkin started the week with 45 goals and was trying to fend off the challenge of Chicago’s Patrick Kane for the league goal-scoring lead.  By the time the week ended, Ovechkin had five of the team’s 11 goals, hit the 50-goal mark for the seventh time in his career (third-most all time), recorded his 15th career hat trick (most in the NHL since he came into the league), and passed Hall of Famer Bryan Trottier for 33rd place on the league’s all-time goal scoring list.

Five other Caps shared in the other six goals, Marcus Johansson the only other Capital with more than one for the week, both of them in the loss to Pittsburgh.  There were 13 different Caps sharing in the points for the week.  Johansson (2-3-5) and John Carlson (1-4-5) tying Ovechkin for the team lead with five points apiece.  Carlson had quietly put together a rather impressive season in the offensive end of the ice, despite missing 25 games to injury.  His eight goals in 56 games (0.14 per game) is his second-best goals per game output of his career (0.15 goals per game last season), and his 0.70 points per game is a career high.  His plus-minus of plus-16 might have been played into a career high had he not missed so many games (plus-21 in 82 games in 2011-2012).

Meanwhile, Johansson finished the week with 46 points, one off his career high (47 in 2013-2014), and his points-per-game (0.63) is his highest in a full NHL season (he had 0.65 per game in the abbreviated 2012-2013 season).

Defense: 3.00/game (season: 2.33 /game; rank: 2nd)

“Defense” was a mixed bag for the Caps in Week 26.  On a shots-on-goal basis, it was a good week, the Caps holding three opponents to an average of just 27.3 shots on goal per game, a bit more impressive for the fact that two of the games went to extra time.  But the circumstances in which goals were scored largely reflected breakdowns at inopportune times.  The Caps yielded far too many odd man rushes to far to the Penguins in the middle game of the week, ultimately losing the game on the ultimate odd-man rush, a breakaway when two Caps were caught along the right wing wall at their own blue line, a bad thing when there are only three men on the ice.  In the Islander game the visitors got back into the game when a Capital was late getting back to defend Kyle Okposo, who took a rebound off the end wall and stuffed it in to start the Islander comeback.  It was not so much a systemic problem on defense as it was poor moments borne of poor judgement or effort.

The “moment” hypothesis, as opposed to a systemic problem, is reflected in the shot attempts at 5-on-5.  The Caps had a solid week in that respect, finishing all three games above 50 percent and going 54.2 percent Corsi-for at 5-on-5 for the week.  They won six of the nine regulation periods of the week in that respect and were especially efficient early in games, posting a 58.3 percent Corsi-for in the first periods of games and a 54.7 percent Corsi-for in the second periods for the week (numbers from

Goaltending: 2.90 /.890 (season: 2.23 / .921 / 3 shutouts)

The weight of the all-time wins record that goalie Braden Holtby was pursuing seemed to be a heavy burden this week.  Holtby got all the minutes in Week 26 and had his struggles.  It would not have been so bad but for the two goals on six shots faced in two overtime games that for all intents and purposes denied Holtby the all-time wins record he was pursuing.  Even in the third periods of games, in which he stopped 30 of 32 shots for the week for a .938 save percentage, all was not unicorns and accordions.  The two goals he allowed were the two goals the Islanders scored in the third period to tie the game before the Isles won in overtime.  One of those goals was one of those “why don’t the hockey gods love us” moments when a puck that rebounded off the end wall eluded Holtby’s stick and ended up on the blade of Kyle Okposo’s stick to get the Islanders back in the game in the third period.

Not that his first two periods of play were all that shimmering.  He stopped 21 of 23 shots in the first periods of games (.913 save percentage) and 18 of 21 in the second periods of games for the week (.857).  But he did save the best for last.  He allowed a goal by St. Louis’ Vladimir Tarasenko 75 seconds into the game, then slammed the door on the Blues, stopping the last 17 shots he faced to earn the win that tied him with Martin Brodeur for the all-time record in wins by a goaltender in one season (48).

And here is the remarkable thing about Holtby’s record-tying season.  None of the other goaltenders with 45 or more wins in a single season recorded fewer than 20 regulation losses in doing so.  Holtby will go into the season finale on Sunday with just nine losses in regulation this season.

Power Play: 0-for-7 / 0.0 percent (season: 22.2 percent; rank: 4th)

Woof.  If there was a worse week for the Capitals’ power play, we don’t want to think about it.  It was not even the fact that the Caps took their second “oh-fer” in four weeks (0-for-6 in Week 23).  It was the lack of pressure.  Washington managed just four shots in 12:25 of power play ice time (Ovechkin (2), Carlson, Kuznetsov).  Part of it might have been Nicklas Backstrom missing the first game of the week against the Islanders (the Caps had no power play shots on goal in that game), but it was just a week in which the power play didn’t have enough wattage to light the refrigerator with the door open. 

Penalty Killing: 9-for-9 / 100.0 percent (season: 85.0 percent; rank: 4th)

Where the power play failed, the penalty kill sparkled.  Not since Week 3 had the Caps faced as many as nine shorthanded situations in a week and killed them all off.  And the Caps were impressively efficient in killing off all nine power plays.  They permitted only nine shots on goal in 19:25 of shorthanded ice time (0.46 shots per minute).  That included holding the St. Louis Blues without a shot on goal on their power play in six shorthanded minutes.

Faceoffs: 83-for-166 / 50.0 percent (season: 49.7% / rank: 19th)

The Caps split the week right down the middle for Week 26 overall.  They also “split” the week by games, winning one (against St. Louis), losing one (against Pittsburgh), and winning 50 percent in the other (against the Islanders).  By zone it was equally inconclusive, the Caps less successful in the offensive end (45.3 percent) than they were in the defensive end (57.4 percent), while losing the neutral zone total for the week (48.5 percent).

Among those Caps taking at least ten draws for the week, Jay Beagle (57.1 percent) and Mike Richards (63.1 percent) were impressive.  Richards was the only Capital to win all three zones for the week (offensive: 6-8; defensive: 6-10; neutral: 9-15).  Beagle finished the week with the third best faceoff winning percentage in the league among players taking at least 500 draws (58.1 percent, trailing only Ryan Kesler (58.5 percent) and Jonathan Toews (58.6 percent)).

Goals by Period:

It would have been a lot better week if the goal breakdown by regulation period reflected a different distribution among the games.  The Caps had an 11-7 edge in goals scored in regulation.  It is those seven goals against.  Two of them came in the first period, both of them scored by the Penguins, the first two goals of the game in a 4-3 overtime loss.  There were two scored by opponents in the third period, both by the Islanders to tie the game after the Caps took a 3-1 lead, only to lose by a 4-3 score in overtime.  Sometimes it’s not the “what,” or even so much the “how,” but the “when”

In the end…

On one level, you cannot say Week 26 was a good one for the Caps, not with a 1-0-2 record.  But the team had clinched the Presidents Trophy before the week started, they knew they would have the top seed in the postseason and home-ice advantage as long as they were playing.  That left the incentive a number of team and personal milestones, many of which were achieved:
  • The 2015-2016 Caps reached the 120-point mark for the second time in seven seasons and are just the ninth team to reach that mark in NHL history.  They are one of three teams to have done it at least twice.  Montreal has done it four times, while the Detroit Red Wings have done it twice.
  • The Caps finished the week with 56 wins, a franchise record and the ninth team in NHL history to reach that mark.
  • The Caps became the first team in 39 years to go an entire NHL season without losing consecutive games in regulation, the 1976-1977 Montreal Canadiens being the last team to do it on their way to a 60-8-12 record.
  • Braden Holtby won his 48th game of the season, tying Martin Brodeur’s league record, set with the New Jersey Devils in 2006-2007.  Holtby is the only player to win 45 or more games in fewer than 70 season appearances (he did it in his 66th appearance) and is the only one to do it with fewer than 20 regulation losses (he has nine).
  • Alex Ovechkin recorded his seventh 50-goal season, becoming the first player in NHL history to record two separate three-season streaks of 50 or more goals.  In doing so he won the Maurice Richard Trophy as the league’s top goal scorer for the sixth time, the last four in succession.
  • Jason Chimera recorded his 20th goal of the season in the week’s final game, the 5-1 win over the St. Louis Blues.  It tied a career-high in goals scored for Chimera, set with the Caps in 2011-2012.
  • Nicklas Backstrom had three assists against the Blues, his fourth game with three or more assists this season, tying him with teammate Evgeny Kuznetsov and Ottawa’s Erik Karlsson for the league lead.  It was his 31st career game with three or more assists, most in the league since he came into the NHL in 2007-2008.
  • Backstrom finished the week with 50 assists for the season, giving him six seasons of 50 or more assists since he entered the league in 2007-2008, tied with Ryan Getzlaf, Henrik Sedin, and Joe Thornton for most in the league in that span.
It was quite a week.  Bring on the Flyers.

Three Stars:
  • First Star: Alex Ovechkin (5-0-5, plus-5, 20 shots on goal, 31 shot attempts, five hits)
  • Second Star: John Carlson (1-4-5, plus-6, 4 blocked shots, 3 hits, on ice for one goal against)
  • Third Star: T.J. Oshie (1-3-4, plus-3, 8 takeaways, 4 hits, 4 blocked shots)

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