Sunday, March 13, 2016

Washington Capitals: That Was The Week That Was -- Week 22

Week 22 was a cold splash of reality for the Washington Capitals as they took their annual trip to the west coast. They found out that in an 82 game season, no team is immune from an off week, even a team threatening to lap the field in the standings.

Record: 1-1-1

If you are going to put a bow on Week 22, it was just the third non-winning week (by standings points) for the Caps this season, and one of the others was a one-game week shortened by a game that was postponed due to Winter Storm Jonas in Week 16.  The week was spent entirely in the Pacific time zone, the Caps taking their annual California spin.  While we do not wish they all could be California games, the Caps having a history of struggles in the Golden State, this was the third consecutive season in which they did not post a losing record on their three-game sojourn.

If you are not inclined to dress this week up in a bow, then you realize that the Caps are now 5-4-1 in their last ten games.  As of Sunday morning, this is the 12th-best ten-game record in the league (tied with Chicago, another team with Stanley Cup designs, so there is that).  Then there is the record against their cohort – playoff-eligible teams.  In their last 11 contests against teams currently eligible for the postseason, the Caps are 6-4-1.

Offense:  2.00/game (season: 3.16 /game; rank: 2nd)

Hitters go through slumps in baseball, shooters go through slumps in basketball, quarterbacks go through spells when they couldn’t hit the ocean from a boat with a pass.  So it is with hockey players.  There are times when the puck just doesn’t find its way to the back of the net.  So it was in Week 22 for Washington, which managed just six goals on 89 shots on goal for the week.  A 6.7 percent shooting week from a team with the likes of team goal-scoring leader Alex Ovechkin (no goals on 11 shots), second-ranked goal scorer (coming into Week 22) Evgeny Kuznetsov (no goals on seven shots), and Marcus Johansson (no goals on five shots; we will get to him in a moment) is unusual.  But better the slumps be dispatched now than having to deal with them a month from now.

Johansson is a bit of an odd case in Week 22.  All five of his shots on goal for the week came in the middle game, the 4-3 overtime loss to the Los Angeles Kings.  It was his second-highest shot total for the season, matching his five-shot effort (also with no goals) against Colorado on November 21st and exceeded by a seven-shot game against Buffalo on December 30th.  Johansson finished the week with no shots on goal in three of his last four games, and he had just nine shot attempts in more than 46 minutes of ice time, including those five shots on goal against Los Angeles.

Defense: 3.33/game (season: 2.34 /game; rank: 3rd)

Slow starts in Week 22 manifested themselves in high shot volumes in the first period.  The Caps were outshot overall by a 34-23 margin in the first 20 minutes of games, and this reflected the underlying possession numbers as well.  In the three first periods of the week, the Caps were out-attempted at 5-on-5 by a 50-38 margin (43.2 percent Corsi-for).  The Caps did do better in the final 40 minutes of games, allowing 23 shots in the second periods of the contests and 24 in the third periods, but they found themselves too often, as has been the case too often over the last month, letting teams dominate early in games.

The odd part of Week 21 with respect to those possession numbers is that over the three games, the total number of Corsi events per 60 minutes varied in a small range – 107.0 to 108.3, a little more than one shot attempt per 60 minutes across the three games.  The Caps were dominated in the split of those relatively equal numbers in two of the games, 61.7 to 46.6 attempts per 60 minutes at 5-on-5 against Anaheim and 58.9 to 49.3 against San Jose.  They did much better in the middle game of the week, 60.5 to 46.5 against the Kings, the top possession team in the league (numbers from

Goaltending: 2.90 /.894 (season: 2.22 / .922 / 2 shutouts)

Week 22 was not a good week overall for the goaltenders.  Usually, when there has been an off week, it was a case of Braden Holtby having a hiccup, but backup Philipp Grubauer doing well in relief.  This week, both netminders struggled to an extent.  Braden Holtby was 1-0-1 for the week, with a 2.34 goals against average and a .913 save percentage.  Philipp Grubauer finally had an off night afteralmost three months of solid play as a backup to or in relief of Holtby.  The four goals he allowed on 27 shots against San Jose in the last game of the week was the first time he allowed more than three goals in a contest since he allowed four goals on 18 shots against Florida on February 2nd and just the second time he did so since allowing four goals on 23 shots in his first appearance of the season back on October 23rd against Edmonton.

Holtby is more of a concern than Grubauer, though.  In his last 20 appearances he has a fine win-loss record of 13-4-2.  However, he has a goals against average of 2.89 and a save percentage of .901.  That save percentage is of particular concern.  Think of it this way.  There are 37 goalies this season to have logged more than 1,500 minutes of ice time.  Only one – Toronto’s Jonathan Bernier – has a save percentage lower than .901.

Power Play: 2-for-8 / 25.0 percent (season: 23.8 percent; rank: 2nd)

There was nothing particularly wrong with the power play in Week 22, but it came up short at the wrong times, specifically in the last game of the week in San Jose.  Overall, the Caps scored power play goals in two of the three games of the week (including that game in San Jose), extending a run in which they scored a power play to seven times in nine games (8-for-26/30.8 percent).

The Caps were efficient enough, recording two goals on 12 total power play shots on goal in 11:55 of power play ice time.  But there was an unevenness to it, too.  T.J. Oshie scored the only power play goals of the week on three total shots.  Alex Ovechkin was blanked on four shots on goal, and four other Caps came up empty on single shots apiece.

That game against San Jose was one that left a bad taste in one’s mouth with respect to the power play.  The Caps did score a 5-on-3 goal, their third 5-on-3 goal of the season.  However, they did not convert the ensuing 5-on-4, and they allowed a shorthanded goal on another power play.  Those were the momentum killers that kept the Caps from climbing all the way out of the holes they kept digging by falling behind the Sharks, and it helped send them to their only regulation loss of the week.

Penalty Killing: 7-for-9 / 75.0 percent (season: 84.2 percent; rank: 4th)

The Caps finished Week 22 under 80 percent on the penalty kill for the first time since Week 17 and for just the fourth time this season.  They allowed power play goals in the last two games of the week.  Not coincidentally, they came in losses.  In fact, the Caps have now lost the last four games in which they allowed a power play goal (0-3-1).

It was an efficient week for the penalty killers, who allowed opponents just nine shots on goal in 15:25 of shorthanded ice time.  And in neither instance of an opponent goal could it be a called a case of defensive breakdowns.  Against Los Angeles, an Alec Martinez shot hit a stick and two skates before finding the back of the net, and against San Jose it was more a case of goalie Philipp Grubauer misplaying a Joe Pavelski shot into a goal than a breakdown in front of him.  The penalty killers probably deserved a better fate than a 75 percent week.

Faceoffs: 72-for-175 / 41.1 percent (season: 49.5% / rank: 20th)

Woof!  The Caps were awful in the circle for the week.  They were below 50 percent in all three games, they were below 50 percent in all three zones, and no Capital taking ten or more draws finished the week above 50 percent.  The best they could manage in any game was 43.9 percent against the Kings.  The best they could manage in any zone was 45.5 percent in the offensive zone.  And, Nicklas Backstrom was the best the Caps could do among players with ten or more draws taken, finishing the week 23-for-54 (42.6 percent).  It was a grim week in this area of the game.

Goals by Period:

About those slow starts… recording no goals in any first period and allowing five goals to opponents made for a difficult week, always having to climb out of a hole.  Washington allowed at least one goal in the first period in each game of the week, part of a skid in which they have allowed the first goal of the game 13 times in 15 games and getting outscored in the first period by a combined 17-4 margin.

That the Caps eked out close positive differentials in the second and third periods did little to make up for the slow starts, but at least they continue to be dominant in those periods, finishing the week with goal differentials of plus-28 in the second period and plus-33 in the third period for the season.  The fact that they are a minus-6 in the first period is something that jumps out from the score sheet, though, and is perhaps the most important thing to be addressed as the Caps head into the final stages of the regular season.

In the end…

The Capitals are not the dominating team that they were over the first 50-60 games of the season.  Their last ten games have been plagued by slow starts and uneven goaltending.  Important players are in a bit of a rut – Alex Ovechkin and Braden Holtby being the noteworthy culprits here.  But they are hardly alone.  The third line of Marcus Johansson, Tom Wilson, and Jason Chimera had one point for the week, and that was a power play assist by Johansson.  That group has not had a goal since Wilson had one against Pittsburgh on March 1st.  It is not a team that is firing on all cylinders lately.  One can wave this away with the thought that perhaps everyone is getting this out of their systems at the same time, and better now than in April.  But it will make next week one to watch with a measure of concern as the Caps have an opportunity to turn things around with a pair of home games.  The team with the league’s best home record (26-6-2) needs to take advantage of the schedule to get back on track.

Three Stars:

  • First Star: T.J. Oshie (2-1-3, minus-2, 2 PPG, 9 shots on goal, 4 hits)
  • Second Star: Nicklas Backstrom (1-1-2, minus-1, GW shootout goal, 7 shots on goal
  • Third Star: Evgeny Kuznetsov (0-3-3, even, 7 shots on goal)

Washington Capitals Recap: A NO-Point Night: Sharks 5 - Capitals 2

The Washington Capitals wrapped up their four-game road trip on Saturday night on an off-note, dropping a 5-2 decision to the San Jose Sharks.  It was a game in which the Caps never could quite seem to get traction, falling behind in the first period and finding themselves in a constant state of catch-up.  They did manage to tie the game twice after Sharks goals, but San Jose pulled away with a three-goal third –period.

The Caps found themselves a victim of a persistent problem over the last month – allowing the first goal and having a sluggish first period.  The Caps started decently enough, holding the Sharks to a 6-5 edge in shots and a 10-7 advantage in shot attempts over the first nine minutes and change, despite allowing a Sharks power play.  San Jose scored in that tenth minute, though, when Joe Thornton put back a rebound of a Brenden Dillon shot.

The Cap prevented any further first period damage, then they struck early in the second.  With Nick Spaling off for a high-sticking penalty taken late in the first period and Brent Burns joining him after taking a delay-of-game penalty 20 seconds into the second period, the Caps had a 5-on-3 advantage.  They worked the puck smartly around and through the San Jose defense, Alex Ovechkin sending a cross-ice pass to Nicklas Backstrom at the right wing wall then Backstrom threading a pass through the middle of the Sharks’ defense to a wide-open T.J. Oshie for a one-timer than he snapped past goalie Martin Jones at the 1:21 mark.

The Caps could not complete the power play advantage with a goal on the ensuing 5-on-4, but they did get another power play chance when Joe Thornton went off for boarding Dmitry Orlov 3:39 into the period.  The Caps managed just one shot on goal in the first minute and a half of the power play, then they got in their own way and gave the hosts  a shorthanded chance.  Marc-Edouard Vlasic slammed the puck from behind the net around and up the left wing boards where Orlov and Justin Williams were stationed for the Caps.  Neither could take possession of the puck, which suited Patrick Marleau just fine.  Marleau darted between them and started up ice, Joel Ward joining him on a two-on-none break.  Marleau gave up the puck to Ward at the Caps blue line, and Ward returned the puck to Marleau, who chipped it up and over goalie Philipp Grubauer’s pad for the shorthanded goal to make it 2-1, Sharks, 5:14 in the period.

Washington tied the game five minutes later on a bang-bang play.  Andre Burakovsky glided down the left wing with the puck, dropping it off for Evgeny Kuznetsov in the circle.  Kuznetsov took one step and ripped a pass to the top of the crease, where Williams was waiting to redirect it past Jones to make it 2-2 at the 10:12 mark.

Just before the end of the second period, the Caps had a chance to take the lead into the locker room when Jay Beagle, who was slashed by Brent Burns as he was closing on the Sharks’ net, was awarded a penalty shot.  Beagle’s attempt was poke-checked away by Jones, and the Caps had to be satisfied with going to the second intermission tied with the Sharks.

San Jose ended the competitive portion of the evening early in the third period, scoring a pair of goals barely two minutes apart in the first three minutes.   With Kuznetsov off for a hooking penalty he took late in the second period, the Caps were chasing the Sharks and the puck around in their own zone when Joe Thornton eased the puck down to Joe Pavelski, who had worked himself behind the Caps’ defense.  Pavelski lifted a backhand that Grubauer misplayed off the bottom of his blocker and into the net to give the Sharks the lead they would not relinquish a third time. 

With the echo of the goal horn still reverberating in the arena, the Sharks struck again, Brenden Dillon throwing a harmless looking shot from the top of the offensive zone that sailed through a screen and past Grubauer’s right shoulder to make it 4-2 just 2:51 into the period.

That goal took whatever fight was left in the Caps out of them, and the Sharks added an empty net goal by Burns in the final minute for the final 5-2 margin.

Other stuff…

-- The loss left the Caps 2-1-1 on their four-game road trip, which by most measures would be considered a successful trip.  However, the Caps are now 5-4-1 in their last ten games, have been out-scored by a 27-24 margin, and are just 25-for-31 killing penalties (80.6 percent).

-- How bad has it been lately?  When San Jose scored in the first period, it was the 13th time in the Caps’ last 15 games they allowed the first goal of the game, and in that same span of games they have been outscored in the first period, 17-4.

-- Philipp Grubauer did not have a great game.  Maybe it was coming.  In his last dozen appearances he was 6-3-0 (three no-decisions), 1.60, .946.  This was just the third time in his last 13 appearances he allowed more than two goals and just the fourth time in that span that he allowed more than one.

-- After being shut out by the Sharks, Alex Ovechkin is now five games and counting without a goal, his longest drought of the season.

-- The Caps took it on the chin in the faceoff circle, winning just 21 of 58 draws (36.2 percent).  Take away Jay Beagle’s 6-for-8, and it looks a lot worse (30 percent).

-- An indicator that their heads might not have been in the game?  Justin Williams – not Alex Ovechkin – led the team with six shots on goal.  Jay Beagle was next with four. No other Cap had more than two.

-- Patrick Marleau’s shorthanded goal was the fourth allowed by the Caps this season.  Eight teams have allowed fewer.

-- Bad omen…. Yes, Matt Niskanen was getting to the end of a shift when he went behind the net in the first period to get the puck, and yes, he was nailed by Joe Thornton went he reached it.  But he took the long way around from behind the net, allowing Thornton to get inside position, and then when Thornton set up in front of Grubauer, Niskanen looked sluggish in engaging him.  It was a recipe to allow Thornton time to whack in a rebound for the game’s first goal.

-- Even the bright spot for the Caps in this game dimmed somewhat.  The Caps recorded a power play goal for the seventh time in nine games (8-for-26/30.8 percent), but their inability to convert the 5-on-4 after scoring at 5-on-3, and allowing a shorthanded goal on another power play shortly after the first 5-on-4 expired were momentum killers.

-- It has become a tired theme.  San Jose out-attempted the Caps at 5-on-5 in the first period, 23-16, and carried a 1-0 lead to the locker room.  The Caps did better in the second, finishing with a 16-9 edge in shot attempts and dominating the scoring chances by a 10-2 margin (5-0 in high-danger scoring chances).  What they could not do was close the deal in the third period, the Sharks finishing with a 17-9 edge in shot attempts, a 10-3 edge in scoring chances, and a 3-0 advantage in goals (numbers from

In the end…

Don’t look now, but the Caps are pretty ordinary at the moment.  Five wins in their last ten games, getting outscored, possession not impressive (50.2 percent Corsi-for at 5-on-5).  Over an 82-game season it is bound to happen, and this is still a team that has not lost consecutive games in regulation all year.  Then again, it took an herculean effort to claw back against the Kings with three third period goals in Los Angeles to gouge out a point in that game before last night’s loss in San Jose. 

Nine goals allowed in consecutive games ties the season high for the Caps (oddly enough, also in a 4-3 overtime loss and a 5-2 loss, to the Philadelphia Flyers on January 27th and to the Florida Panthers on February 2nd, respectively).  The Caps have a chance to get their heads on straight with a pair of home games next week before they head into a stretch of six road games in eight contests.  It’s time to put the indifferent-looking play of the last month behind them.