Sunday, October 23, 2016

Washington Capitals: That Was The Week That Was -- Week 2

The Washington Capitals dropped the puck on their 2016-2017 season this week, and it was something of a mixed bag.  A win and a loss, some fine 5-on-5 play, less than fine play from special teams, performances you expect from some players, and performances from some players Caps fans will hope improves before too long. 

Record: 2-1-0

The Caps opened Week 2 with a pair of wins, putting them in a position to end the week with their best five-game start since opening the 2011-2012 season with seven wins.  The New York Rangers put an end to that thinking with a 4-2 win over Washington to end the week.  It did not keep the Caps from ending the week on top of the Metropolitan Division, a rather clogged division at the moment with three points separating the top spot (Washington with 7) and eighth place (Carolina with four).  When the Caps lost their last game of the week, they became the 28th team to lose their first game in regulation time.  Only the Vancouver Canucks and Montreal Canadiens (both with 4-0-1 records) remain as clubs yet to lose their first game in regulation time.

Offense:  3.00/game (season: 2.60 /game; rank: T-24th)

It was the top line’s week to shine, accounting for six of the nine goals scored by the Caps for the week.  Alex Ovechkin put aside the donut he had in Week 1 and scored in each of the week’s three contests.  T.J. Oshie had a pair in the Caps’ 3-0 win over the Colorado Avalanche to open the week, and Evgeny Kuznetsov scored one in the Caps’ 4-2 win over the Florida Panthers in the middle game of the week.  Justin Williams cracked the seal on his season with a goal to open the Caps’ win over Florida, and Lars Eller did the same in opening the scoring in the 4-2 loss to the Rangers.  Marcus Johansson had a goal and two assists to tie Kuznetsov for second on the team in points for the week.  It was a week that might have been better had the Caps not gone dry after taking a 2-0 lead on the Rangers in the game to end the week.

Defense: 2.00/game (season:  1.80/game; rank: T-2nd)

When Week 2 ended, only two teams in the league had not allowed more than 30 shots on goal in a game – the Florida Panthers (who have yet to allow as many as 30) and the Caps (who allowed 30 only in an overtime game against the Penguins).  The Caps held three opponents in Week 2 to an average of 27.3 shots per game, only 18 of them to the Colorado Avalanche in a 3-0 win. It left the Caps with the second-fewest shots allowed per game in the league (24.8; the New York Rangers have allowed 24.6).

From a shot attempts perspective it was a good week.  At 5-on-5 the Caps out attempted their opponents by a 127-108 margin, a Corsi-for of 54.04 percent (numbers from  That went a long way to explaining the Caps shots on goal advantage at fives (78-55/58.65 percent) and their 5-on-5 goal differential (plus-4).

Goaltending: 1.68 /.930 / 1 SO (season: 1.58 / .935 / 1 SO)

Few Capitals fans would have bet it would be Philipp Grubauer would be the first Capital goalie to get a shutout this season, but he did, against the Colorado Avalanche on Tuesday (he beat Semyon Varlamov, who happens to be the only goalie in the Western Conference with a shutout through two weeks).  Grubauer faced just 18 shots in the shutout, the fewest a Capital goaltender faced in a shutout since Varlamov faced 17 with the Caps in a 6-0 win over Tampa Bay on November 26, 2010.

Braden Holtby got the other two starts of the week, and in five of the six periods he played, he was very good.  That second period against the Rangers to close the week, though. Three goals on five shots faced.  It certainly was not all his fault.  As is often the case, defensive breakdowns contributed, at least on two of the goals (the shot through a screen by Brandon Pirri to start the scoring for the Rangers was a goal that is not unusual).  As it was, he finished the week with a .906 save percentage, not usually what Caps fans see from Holtby.

Power Play: 2-for-8 / 25..0 percent (season:  percent; rank: T-21st)

It looked as if the Caps’ power play shook off the early season rust in the first game of the week, scoring two power play goals in three chances to open the game against Colorado on Tuesday.  It would be all they would get, though.  The Caps went 0-for-5 to close the week.  Overall they shot 2-for-14 on their eight power plays in 12:54 of power play time.  They overpowered the Avalanche with 11 shots in just 6:54 of power play time, and they were barren against the Rangers, managing only one shot on goal in 4:00.  It might be worth noting at this point that Alex Ovechkin, the first shooting option on the power play, had just two shots on goal for the week, both against the Avalanche (one goal).  Teams seem to be forcing the set-up guys with pressure, making them give up the puck earlier than they might want to in trying to set up plays for Ovechkin. 

Penalty Killing: 8-for-10 / 80.0 percent (season:  percent; rank: T-26th)

The Caps managed something they failed to do in Week 1, hold a team without a power play goal.  But they only did it once in three games in Week 2.  Colorado was the victim, failing on three chances to find the back of the Washington net.  Florida got one in the 4-2 loss to the Caps, and the Rangers got one in their 4-2 win over Washington.  All in all, the Caps did kill eight of ten shorthanded situations.  It was not as if teams riddled the Caps with shots.  The three opponents managed just 12 shots on goal in 16:59 in ice time.  There was an odd juxtaposition in the power play goals allowed for the week.  The first of them was scored by Jaromir Jagr, a veteran in his 23rd season with more than 1,800 regular season and playoff games in the NHL.  The other was scored by Jimmy Vesey, a rookie born two and a half years after Jagr played his first game in the league who was playing in his fifth NHL game.

Faceoffs: 81-for-161 / 50.3 percent (season: 52.1% / rank: 8th)

It was the good, the bad, and the “meh” in the fsaceoff circle for Week 2.  The good was the Caps winning 59 percent of their offensive zone draws for the week.  Nicklas Backstrom had a great week in the offensive end, going 14-for-20 in the offensive end.  Lars Eller was 6-for-9.  The defensive end was a different story.  The Caps were just 39.1 percent in their own end, Jay Beagle and Backstrom the only players taking more than five draws to win 50 percent of their draws.  Eller had a difficult week in the defensive end, going 4-for-13 (30.8 percent).  In the neutral zone, the Caps went 27-for-54 to complete the “meh” portion of the week.  The concern here overall is the performance of the top line center, Evgeny Kuznetsov.  He was 14-for-39 for the week and is just 38.9 percent through five games.  Of 130 players having taken at least 25 draws so far, Kuznetsov ranks 118th in winning percentage.

Goals by Period:

The second period kept the Caps from a perfect week.  Three goals in 12 minutes did the Caps in against the Rangers in the 4-2 loss to close the week.  Washington allowed four second period goals for the week, pushing their total to six for the season and putting them in the top ten of most goals allowed in the middle frame (tied for 10th with San Jose and St. Louis).  Those six goals allowed in the second period are twice as many as the Caps allowed in the other two periods and overtime combined through five games.

In the end…

A 2-1-0 record in week two is hardly a poor outcome, but that second period against the Rangers is probably going to be the takeaway for the week.  The problem was summed up nicely by captain Alex Ovechkin after the game: “We scored first two goals, and I think we felt like it’s going to be over.”   You would think guys with as many games in hockey as those who play for the Caps would, in just the fifth game of the season, not succumb to such perils, but yet it happens, and not just to the Caps.  Still, it was the wrong way to end the early eastern portion of the season as the Caps get ready to head to western Canada for a four-game tour.

Three Stars:
  • First Star: Alex Ovechkin (3-1-4, plus-3, 13 shots, 20 shot attempts, nine hits)
  • Second Star: Philipp Grubauer (1-0-0, 0.00, 1.000, 18-save shutout)
  • Third Star: Evgeny Kuznetsov (1-2-3, plus-3, nine shots, 15 shot attempts)