The Washington Capitals entered Week 10 playing well with
little reward for it in the standings, looking up at four teams in the
Metropolitan Division, despite a 16-7-3 record.
When Week 10 ended, the Caps found themselves with another good week in
the win-loss department (but not quite as good as it looked…we’ll get to that) and
this time, a little in the way of advancement in the standings, jumping over
the Philadelphia Flyers into fourth place in the division and within the two
games in hand they hold over the Pittsburgh Penguins for the top spot in the
The Caps did finish the week with a 19-8-3 record, but it
might surprise Caps fans to know that Week 10 was just the second time this
season that they had a winning week for a second consecutive week, the first
time since Weeks 1 and 2. They opened
the week with three straight wins, extending a winning streak to a season-long
six games, their longest streak since stringing together nine straight wins
last season in Games 28-36, December 12-30.
But here’s the thing.
The three wins with which the Caps opened the week came against teams
that finished the week non-qualifiers for the postseason. The loss to the Montreal Canadiens to end the
week came at the hands of a team they might face in the postseason. Through ten weeks and 30 games, the Caps have
done a good job beating up on the weaker teams in the league, going 14-3-1
against teams that would not qualify for the playoffs. However, their 5-5-2 record against teams
that are currently playoff qualifiers should give no one a sense of comfort
that this team is destined for a deep playoff run. On a more ominous note, three of the five
losses in regulation came by at least three goals (two of them at home), while
three of the wins were of the one-goal variety, two of them in overtime. Then again, there are more than 50 games
remaining to establish themselves as a team to be feared in the postseason.
(season: 2.67 /game; rank: 14th)
While the Caps did not enjoy as prolific a week on offense
that they did in Week 9, they did have another balanced week. Seven players shared the 11 total goals
scored, and 14 skaters recorded points.
Justin Williams led the way in goals scored with three. To that number he added an assist, giving him
points in all four games for the week and extending what is a good scoring run
of late. Williams is 5-2-7 in his last
seven contests. Matt Niskanen led the
club in points for Week 10, going 2-3-5, one of his goals being the game-winner
in the 4-2 win over the New York Islanders, and one of his assists coming on
the goal that sent the game against the Carolina Hurricanes to overtime, where
the Caps won in the trick shot competition.
One of the things that the Caps didn’t do on offense in Week
10 was score first. Only in their 3-0 shutout win over the Vancouver Canucks to
open the week did the Caps score the game’s first goal. The Caps came into the week having opened the
scoring in 19 of 26 games and made it 20 of 27 in the win over Vancouver
(sending their record to 15-3-2 when scoring first). Giving up the first goal in the last three
games of the week dropped them into a tied for second-fewest instances of
allowing the first goal (10, with Montreal), one more than the Columbus Blue
Defense: 1.75/game (season: 2.13 /game; rank: 3rd)
The Capitals have become known as a team with a quick-strike
offense in recent years, but what should not be lost this season is that the
team is among the best in franchise history in limiting their opponents’
offense. The seven goals allowed by the
Caps in Week 10 dropped their scoring defense to 2.13 goals against per game,
third-best in the league and a number that is far and away the best they have
had since the 2004-2005 lockout (in 2010-2011 and 2015-2016, they averaged 2.33
goals against per game).
Part of that is limiting opponent opportunities.
In Week 10 the Caps limited opponents to 30
or fewer shots in all four games, only the Carolina Hurricanes reaching the
30-shot mark, and that coming in overtime (the Caps held them to 25 shots in
It is part of a year-long
trend for the Caps as one of the best clubs in stifling opponents’ chances in
They have held opponents
to 28.1 shots on goal per game, sixth-fewest in the league this season and the
second-fewest the team has allowed in the post 2004-2005 lockout period
The stinginess shows
up in their 5-on-5 play, too.
shot attempts per 60 minutes is the fifth-fewest in the league through Week 10
and the second fewest in the post 2004-2005 lockout period (2007-2008: 47.91;
numbers from Corsica.hockey
Goaltending: 1.73 /
.932 / 1 SO (season: 2.02 / .927 / 3 SO)
It is a remarkable week when one goal sticks out, but in a
week where goaltending was very good and, at times, excellent, this one goal
It was one of those things were a lot of little things went
wrong from the drop of the puck on a faceoff – losing a battle in the corner,
letting the puck carrier get position and an open skating path, no one
supporting the play as it unfolded behind the Caps’ net – but the big thing was
a garden variety wraparound with the goalie hugging the post hitting the heel
of the goalie’s stick and caroming into the net. It was not a typical goal scored on Braden
Holtby, and when you look at his week (2-1-0, 1.35, .945, one shutout, even
with that goal), it makes the goal look stranger in context. If there was a better part of Holtby’s week,
it was that he did not allow a third-period goal on 25 shots faced over three
games. And, with the .945 save
percentage for the week, Holtby climbed into the top-ten in save percentage among
36 goalies facing at least 400 shots (.925).
Philipp Grubauer got the other start, that coming in the
third game of the week, against the Carolina Hurricanes. Although it was not among his best
performances of the season; it was only the second time in seven appearances he
allowed more than two goals. However, it
was good enough to get the Caps to overtime against the Hurricanes, and he did
shut out Carolina on five shots in the extra time, then stopped two shooters in
the freestyle competition to secure his fifth win. Grubauer finished the week with 198 shots
faced this season. With two more, the
Caps would have been the only team in the league with two goalies facing at
least 200 shots with save percentages of .925 or better (Holtby: .925;
Power Play: 5-for-13 / 38.5 percent (season: 19.6 percent;
Week 10 found the Caps continuing their march up the league
rankings on the power play. After Week
5, the Caps were stuck at 12.5 percent for the season and ranked 24th. With the 5-for-13 week in Week 10, they are
14-for-57 over the last five weeks (24.6 percent) and have climbed into 12th
place overall with a 19.6 percent conversion rate.
Week 10 saw the Caps finished with highs in goals for a week
(five) and conversion rate (38.5 percent) for the season. That’s what one gets for scoring power play
goals in each of the week’s games, extending their streak to five straight
games with a power play goal and seven of their last eight contests.
Four different Caps shared in the five power play goals:
Alex Ovechkin (2), Matt Niskanen, Justin Williams, and Nicklas Backstrom. The shots on goal were not extraordinarily
efficient (18 shots in 20:36 of power play ice time), but they were spread
around. Eight Caps accounted for the 18
shots on goal, seven of those players recording at least two each, and Alex
Ovechkin and John Carlson getting three apiece.
Penalty Killing: 14-for-15 / 93.3 percent (season: 84.0
percent; rank: 7th)
That 93.3 percent kill rate on power plays faced is a good
number. Facing 15 shorthanded situations
is not a good number. It is the fourth
time in the last five weeks that the Caps faced more than ten shorthanded
situations, and while the efficiency is there (86.4 percent penalty kill over
the last five weeks), there is the matter of eight goals allowed. That only the Carolina Hurricanes, a team
that finished the week eighth in power play efficiency, was the only team to
score a power play goal against the Caps says something about the Caps
effectiveness, but then again, Vancouver and the Islanders are bottom-five
power play teams, too.
The problem remains volume.
The Caps are only tied with the Florida Panthers for 15th
most shorthanded situations faced through ten weeks (100 apiece), but 59 of
them have come in the last five weeks (3.69 per game versus 2.93 per game in
the first five weeks). If there was one
thing that stands out on the penalty kill this week it is the Caps’
efficiency. They held the four opponents
to a total of 14 shots in 27:21 of shorthanded ice time (0.51 shots per
minute), held Vancouver and Montreal to one power play shot apiece, and almost
unbelievably held the Canucks without a power play shot on goal on their first
four power plays and for the first 9:23 of power play ice time for Vancouver
before recording their only shot on goal.
If “will over skill” is a thing, here is where it is in full flower.
Faceoffs: 117-for-246 / 47.6 percent (season: 50.6% / rank: 11th)
It was not a poor week in the faceoff circle as much as it
was uniformly unimpressive. The Caps hit
the 50 percent mark once in four games and only topped that mark in the neutral
zone for the week. In the offensive zone
(47.0 percent) and the defensive zone (44.2 percent), things were comparatively
grim. Among those Caps taking at least
ten draws for the week, only Nicklas Backstrom (54.9 percent) and Jay Beagle
(60.3 percent) finished over 50 percent).
Lars Eller (30.3 percent) and Evgeny Kuznetsov (35.6 percent) had rather
forgettable weeks in this phase of the game.
Then there is the matter of faceoffs taken after penalties,
and here there was an odd pattern. The
Caps won three of four faceoffs immediately following an opponent penalty in
the first two games of the week, but they went just 1-for-5 in draws immediately
after an opponent taking a penalty against Carolina and Montreal. If losing a draw costs a team on the power
play 20-30 seconds, the Caps left some time on the table in the last two games
of the week, one an extra time win, the other a loss.
Goals by Period:
Week 10 was a week in which the Caps finished games strong
on offense, with five goals scored in the second and third periods of games,
respectively. Conversely, there was the
first period of games, in which the Caps finished the week a minus-2 in goal
differential. The three first period
goals allowed was unusual for their volume and frequency (one allowed in each
of the last three games of the week).
The Caps came into the week leading the league in fewest first period
goals allowed (10), and they left it leading the league in that number (13),
but the fact that the Caps did so is what made a 30 percent increase in that
number in one week so unusual.
In the end…
The Caps finished up their third four-game week of the season
in Week 10, the second time they finished in the winning column (they were
4-0-0 in Week 4). Still, only two teams
in the league – the Colorado Avalanche and Columbus Blue Jackets – have played
in fewer games than the 30 the Caps completed through Week 10. That means the Caps have games in hand, but
those will have to wait. The immediate
task facing the Caps is a two-game week in Week 11 featuring games against
divisional rival Philadelphia and a club against which the Caps might find
themselves fighting for a wild-card spot, the Tampa Bay Lightning.
It will not be as easy a week as the one the Caps just
completed, at least in quality of competition.
The Caps made hay against comparatively weaker teams in Week 10, but
they still show evidence of struggling against teams at their competition
level. Part of the problem is not
getting much offensive push against better teams. Through 30 games, the Caps have played 12
contests against currently playoff-eligible clubs. In nine of those games the Caps had fewer
than 30 shots on goal. In 18 games
against teams below the postseason cut-off, the Caps recorded 30 or more shots
10 times. The Caps seem to have the
defensive part of the game managed well.
They need to pose a more persistent threat on offense against better
teams than they have displayed so far, and they get a chance to do that in Week
- First Star: Justin Williams (3-1-4, even, seven shots on
goal, three hits, five blocked shots, 4-for-8 on faceoffs)
- Second Star: Braden Holtby (2-1-0, 1.35, .945, one shutout)
- Third Star: Matt Niskanen (2-3-5, plus-3, one game-winning
goal, seven hits, four blocked shots)