Sunday, November 20, 2016

Washington Capitals: That Was The Week That Was -- Week 6

The Washington Capitals bounced back in Week 6 to gain points in all three games and posted a 2-0-1 record.  The week had something for everyone – a pasting of a bitter rival, a nail-biter against one of the league’s elite franchises, and for those who like to complain about something, a blown third period lead that led to the only blemish on the week, an overtime loss.

Record: 2-0-1

For the third time in six weeks the Caps avoided a loss in regulation time and left the Caps one point behind last year’s points pace after 17 games (11-4-2 versus 12-4-1).  The win and an overtime loss against Metropolitan Division opponents left the Caps with a 2-2-2 record against divisional opponents.  The two consecutive wins to close the week were the first consecutive wins for the Caps since they put together a five-game winning streak in Games 7-11, ending on November 5th. 

Offense:  3.00/game (season: 2.71 /game; rank: 13th)

The Caps had a measure of balance in Week 6.  Seven skaters shared in the nine goals scored for the week, and 14 different skaters recorded points.  Nicklas Backstrom and T.J. Oshie shared the lead in goals for the week with two apiece; Backstrom and Jay Beagle had the game-winning goals for the Caps.  For Beagle, his game-winning goal against the Red Wings to close the week was his second of the season, tying a career high in game winners (two).  Both of those game-winners have come late in the third periods of games, the first with just 30 seconds left in a 3-2 win over Winnipeg on November 18th, and again this week with 5:11 left in the 1-0 win over Detroit.

Nicklas Backstrom also had a pair of goals for the Caps in Week 6 and led the team in points (3-3-5), five of them of them coming in the Caps’ 7-1 win over Pittsburgh in the middle game of the week.  It was Backstrom’s fifth career five-point game against his fifth different team (Tampa Bay, Philadelphia, New Jersey, and the New York Rangers being the others).  It was the first time he had two goals in a five-point effort. 

T.J. Oshie was the other Capital with two goals for the week, both of them also scored in the win over Pittsburgh. It was Oshie’s second four-point game as a Capital (the other coming in a 5-3 win over the Tampa Bay Lightning last December 18th) and fourth four-point game of his career.  The week did not come without a price for Oshie, who left the game against the Red Wings with an upper-body injury that is described as “week-to-week.”

Defense: 1.00/game (season:  2.12/game; rank: 2nd)

After allowing opponents more than 30 shots on goal in consecutive games for the first time this season in Week 5, the Caps returned to their stingy ways in Week 6.  Opponents averaged just 26 shots on goal per game in the three games, and all of them failed to reach the 30 shot threshold.  By the end of the week , the Caps allowed the sixth-fewest shots on goal per game in the league (27.5 per game).

There weren’t many goals scored on those shots, but Alex Ovechkin and John Carlson saw them all.  Both were on ice for all three goals scored against the Caps in Week 6.  Otherwise, it was a pretty good week for the Caps in terms of suppressing opponents’ pressure.  The Caps were 53.0 percent in Corsi-for at 5-on-5 for the week (numbers from

Goaltending:  1.00 / .962 / 1 shutout (season: 1.93 / .929 / 2 SO)

It was a fine week for the goaltenders. It was the first time that Caps goalies allowed one or fewer goals in regulation time in three consecutive games since Games 33-35 last season when they Beat Carolina, 2-1, defeated Montreal, 3-1; and shutout Buffalo, 2-0.  And, as in that instance, the wins were split into two for Braden Holtby (the second one, as in Week 6, a shutout) and one for Philipp Grubauer.

Holtby was especially impressive in the final two games of the week.  In beating Pittsburgh and Detroit, he stopped 50 of 51 shots (.980 save percentage).  It is the last fine performance in a recent run of them for Holtby.  Since allowing four goals on 29 shots in a 4-1 loss to the Edmonton Oilers on October 26th,  he is 7-1-0, 1.70, .942, with one shutout.  The shutout, a 1-0 win over the Detroit Red Wings to close the week, was Holtby’s 24th in team history, second only to Olaf Kolzig (35).  Since coming into the league in the 2010-2011 season, those 24 shutouts are tenth-most in the league. 

Philipp Grubauer opened the week against Collumbus, a challenge by head coach Barry Trotz to the skaters to play better in front of him than they did in a 5-1 loss to Carolina to close Week 5.  They responded, as did Grubauer, who stopped 24 of 25 shots in regulation before allowing a Cam Atkinson goal in the first minute of overtime to come up short on getting the second standings point.

Overall, Holtby and Grubauer stopped every shot they faced in the first and second periods, 47 shots turned aside in all.  Even their 27-for-29 performance in the third periods of games (.931 save percentage) – one of those goals a shutout-spoiling goal by Phil Kessel when the Caps already had a 6-0 lead over the Penguins – was very good.

Fun goaltending fact: The Caps were the only team in the league after Week 6 with both primary goaltenders with a goals against average of 2.00 or lower for the season.

Power Play: 2-for-11 / 18.2 percent (season: 13.7 percent; rank: 23rd)

The best one could say for the week was that it amounted to “baby steps.”  The worst one could say was, “inconsistent.”  The Caps went 2-for-7 against Pittsburgh in the 7-1 win, the first time since Game 3 ( a 3-0 win over Colorado) that the Caps recorded more than one power play goal in a game.  The Caps went 0-for-2 in each of the games bracketing that win over Pittsburgh.

It was not an especially efficient power play in terms of shooting.  The Caps had 19:33 in power play ice time for the week and managed only 12 shots on goal.  If there was an encouraging sign there, it was in Justin Williams getting three of those shots (one goal) and T.J. Oshie getting another (one goal), players who had not had many opportunities in the middle of the 1-3-1 power play scheme.

Penalty Killing: 11-for-11 / 100.0 percent (season: 84.6 percent; rank: 12th)

It is hard to do better than 11-for-11.  It was part of an impressive run for the Caps that has seen their penalty killers skate off 31 of 34 shorthanded situations over their last 11 games (91.2 percent penalty killing).  The penalty killing was especially impressive against Pittsburgh, holding the Penguins to a single shot on goal in 6:47 of shorthanded ice time.  Overall, the Caps held opponents to 12 shots on goal in 19:48 in shorthanded ice time.

That shorthanded ice time is the one area of concern for the week.  The 11 penalty killing situations the Caps faced in Week 6 is the most they faced in any week this season, both in total and in average per game (3.67).  Even for a team whose penalty killing is improving by the game, that is getting into territory the Caps would prefer to avoid.

Faceoffs: 95-for-190 / 50.0 percent (season: 51.0% / rank: 9th)

The 50.0 percent for Week 6 is a bit misleading.  The Caps dominated the Penguins in the middle game of the week, going 45-for-80 (56.3 percent).  The other two games of the week were not as successful, going 27-for-56 against Columbus (48.2 percent) and 23-for-54 (42.6 percent) against Detroit.  It was also a case of neutral zone dominance (53.6 percent for the week) while less impressive in the offensive zone (50.7 percent) and defensive zone (46.0 percent.

At an individual level three of the four Caps taking at least ten draws were over 50 percent for the week – Nicklas Backstrom (35-for-65/53.8 percent), Lars Eller (14-for-24/58.3 percent), and Jay Beagle (26-for-39/66.7 percent).  But there is an issue here, and that is Evgeny Kuznetsov.  He was 16-for-46 for the week (34.8 percent), under 50 percent in all three zones.  If possession matter, it matters from the drop of the puck, and Kuznetsov ranks 115th of 119 players having taken 100 or more draws this season (40.9 percent).  That’s a tough place for a top-line center to be.

Goals by Period:

What stands out this week is that the Caps did not allow a goal in either the first or second periods of games.  With none allowed in the first period of three games, the Caps ended the week tied for second (with San Jose) in fewest first period goals allowed this season (eight), and their plus-11 first period goal differential was tops in the league.  And, for a team that struggled with allowing second period goals early in the season, the Caps finished the week tied for the fourth-fewest second period goals allowed (13).

Conversely, if there was a concern, it was allowing a pair of third-period goals and an overtime goal.  It left the Caps in the middle of the pack in third period goals allowed (tied for 11th-fewest). 

On the other side, the three goals the Caps scored in the first period were all in the game against Pittsburgh.  It did put them in fourth place (with Florida) for fourth-most goals scored in the first period this season.  What was more impressive was the four third period goals the Caps scored (three against Pittsburgh) that was more than a third of the total they had in the season coming into the week (11).

In the end…

It was a good week in that the Caps overwhelmed the Penguins, but that might overstate the quality of play for the week.  Not that it was bad, but an overtime loss and a 1-0 win on a late goal does not scream “dominating,” either.  What this week was about was banking standings points when, in a larger sense, the Caps were not quite hitting on all cylinders.  And that is a good thing, given that the Caps lost three forwards in the Detroit game, two of them – Lars Eller and T.J. Oshie – who will be out for a bit.  Those players represent the first man-games lost to the club to injury this season, but that won’t be on the record until Week 7.  That is what the 82-game grind of a season is about, though.  Injuries are a part of it, and it gives the Caps an opportunity to see what others can do with some more responsibility.  Think of it as training for next spring.

Three Stars:
  • First Star: Braden Holtby (2-0-0, 0.50, .980, 1 shutout)
  • Second Star: Nicklas Backstrom (3-3-6, plus-3, 53.8 percent faceoff wins, six hits)
  • Third Star: T.J. Oshie (2-2-4, plus-5, 11 shot attempts in two-plus games, four hits)