Sunday, January 22, 2017

Washington Capitals: That Was The Week That Was -- Week 15

If Week 14 was a dominating week, Week 15 was a knock-down, drag-out, up-and-down sort of week that harkened back the 1980’s for goal scoring and, by week’s end, fisticuffs.  What it had in common with the previous week was wins as the Caps finished the week with the league’s best record.

Record: 3-0-1

The Caps finished Week 15 with an 11-0-2 record in their last 13 games after going 3-0-1 for the week.  Four game weeks do not seem to be a problem for the Caps, at least so far.  In five four-game weeks so far, Washington is a combined 16-3-1, only Week 7’s 2-2-0 record keeping them from having won every four-game week to date.   And if you haven’t noticed, in their two-and-a-half years under Barry Trotz as head coach, the Caps have the best record in the league (132-53-25), 16 standings points better than the New York Rangers (128-65-17). 

The blemish on the week was an 8-7 overtime loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins in one of the strangest games in recent memory, the Caps allowing as many goals in that game as they had in their previous seven games combined. But even with that, the Caps earned a standings point after falling behind by a goal twice in the contest.

Offense:  5.75/game (season: 3.22 /game; rank: 5th)

Four games, 23 goals.  Consecutive games with seven or more goals for the first time in almost 24 years.  It is part of an amazing run by the Caps in which they have scored 58 goals in their last dozen contests (4.83 per game).  How amazing is that?  The 58 goals in 12 games is more than half of the total goals scored over the entire season to date by the Arizona Coyotes (98 in 46 games) and the Colorado Avalanche (89 in 44 games).

The odd part about the offense in Week 15 is that perhaps fewer Capitals have goals than one might expect. Eleven Caps share the 23 goals, led by Justin Williams and Andre Burakovsky with four apiece.  Williams, who had goals in each of the first three game of the week, has been on a roll for the past six weeks.  Since December 7th, he has 14 goals in 22 games, a 52-goal pace.  Meanwhile, Burakovsky became the first player in Capitals history to score the game’s first goal in four consecutive games.  Five other Caps had multi-goal weeks: T.J. Oshie (3), Matt Niskanen (2), Jay Beagle (2), Brett Connolly (2), and Lars Eller (2).

Niskanen led the team in overall scoring (2-5-7), one of 17 skaters to record points in Week 15.  Niskanen’s five assists tied for the team lead in helpers with Nicklas Backstrom and Alex Ovechkin.  For Ovechkin it was a bit of an odd week.  The five assists increased his season total by a full third (to 20), and with assists in the first three games of the week extended his streak to four (stopped by Dallas in the last game of the week).  It was his longest streak of helpers since he had assists in Games 55-58 last season in late February.

Then there was Jay Beagle.  With two goals and an assist, the Caps won all three games in which he recorded a point.  None of this should surprise Beagle fans.  At the end of the week, the Caps were 31-5-1 in the 37 career games in which Beagle scored a goal, 61-6-7 in the 74 career games in which he recorded a point.

Defense: 3.50/game (season: 2.09 /game; rank: 1st)

Week 15 was not as bad as it looked.  Maybe it’s just a Pittsburgh thing, but consider that by week’s end the Caps had allowed 30 or more shots on goal 15 times this season.  Three of those instances came against the Penguins, including 37 shots in the 8-7 overtime loss to the Pens on Monday.  No team has hit the 30-shot mark against the Caps more times this season.  The Pens mauled the Caps defense at fives when it came to shot attempts, recording 57 in just under 48 minutes of 5-on-5 ice time, an attempt rate of 1.20 per minute.  It was not the worst Corsi-for the Caps had for the week, but it was a dismal 40.6 percent (numbers from

In one of the odd convergences of numbers, the Caps had their worst Corsi-for at fives for the week against St. Louis (36.2 percent).  But this is deceptive, to a point.  It was not a product of the Blues taking advantage of a porous Caps defense to launch shot attempts at the Washington net.  Quite the contrary, the Caps’ defense held the Blues to the lowest attempts per minute of the week (0.81).  It was that the offense couldn’t generate much, or didn’t after building a big lead early. The Caps averaged just 0.46 attempts per minute on offense. 

The other two games were much closer affairs when it came to shot attempts, the Caps enjoying a slight edge in both, 40-39 at fives against Philadelphia in the first game of the week and 42-41 over Dallas in the last game of the week.

Goaltending:  3.49 / .884 (season: 2.01 / .928 / 8 SO)

It would be hard for the Caps’ tandem of Braden Holtby and Philipp Grubauer to put together the same sort of week they did (well, that Holtby did) in Week 14. They didn’t, although the week started off as if they might.  Grubauer recorded his second shutout of the season, blanking the Philadelphia Flyers on 24 shots in the 5-0 win last Sunday.  And things looked even better when Braden Holtby stopped all 11 shots he faced in the first period of Monday night’s game in Pittsburgh.  After that, though, the week went south quickly.

Holtby allowed five goals on 15 shots in the second period against the Penguins, and Grubauer allowed one on the only shot he saw to make it six goals on 16 shots in the second period of that game.  Starting with that period, the pair finished the week allowing 14 goals on 86 shots, a .837 save percentage.  The save percentages by period tell the same story.  For the week, the Caps duo had a combined first period save percentage of .980, followed by .773 in the second period, .903 in the third, and .500 in overtime.  The concern was Holtby’s trend through the periods – 1.000 in the first period, .739 in the second period, and .667 in the third (albeit on only six shots faced). 

As for Grubauer, the first period goal he allowed against Dallas to close the week was the first time since Holtby allowed three goals to the Toronto Maple Leafs on January 3rd that a Caps goalie allowed a first period goal,.  They went eight straight games without allowing a first period strike.  In those eight games, Holtby and Grubauer turned aside a combined 81 first period shots without a goal scored.

Power Play: 5-for-10 / 50.0 percent (season: 20.3 percent; rank: 14th)

Following up a 50 percent week with another 50 percent week, it is tempting to think that the power play is healthy again.  These are, after all, the only weeks so far this season in which the Caps finished 50 percent with the man advantage.  But if anything, the Caps’ power play this season has been streaky; they were 1-for-25 (4.0 percent) in the three weeks preceding this recent run and 13-for-46 in the four weeks preceding that (28.3 percent).  It was not as if the Caps were facing the best of the best in penalty killing, though.  Philadelphia (20th), Pittsburgh (24th), and Dallas (29th) finished the week in the bottom half or bottom half of the league penalty killing rankings.  Only St. Louis could be said to be a good penalty killing team of the week’s group of opponents (8th).

The Caps did spread things around on the power play.  Four players – T.J. Oshie (2), Alex Ovechkin, Andre Burakovsky, and Justin Williams – scored the goals; eight different players recorded power play points.   Ovechkin’s goal was the 204th power play goal of his career, tying him with Wayne Gretzky for 15th place on the all-time list.  His next strike will tie him with Joe Sakic for 14th place.

The power play was effective (5-for-10 in opportunities and 5-for-14 shooting in 15:14 of power play ice time), but it also allowed opponents shorthanded shots on goal in each game, five in all.

Penalty Killing: 11-for-13 / 84.6 percent (season: 86.0 percent; rank: 3rd)

The penalty killers had a good week, even if the overall penalty killing percentage dropped a bit.  What made it better was the quality of opponent.  Three of the four opponents finished the week as top-ten power plays – Pittsburgh (23.2 percent), St. Louis (22.1), and Philadelphia (21.8).  The Caps were 6-for 7 against that group (85.7 percent). 

The penalty killers were efficient in an somewhat inefficient way.  The Caps allowed just two power play goals on 20 shots in 23:26 of shorthanded ice time (0.85 shots on goal per minute).  And, they scored a shorthanded goal of their own (Lars Eller against Pittsburgh).  But the Caps did spend at least ten minutes killing penalties against Philadelphia (10:00) and Dallas (10:36).  Against Dallas the shorthanded ice time was supplemented with a pair of fighting majors, the first time this season that the Caps recorded more than one fighting major in a game, Tom Wilson and Daniel Winnik going on the record for the Caps.  It was the first time the Caps had more than one fighting major in a game since December 12, 2015, when Wilson and Nate Schmidt were charged in a 2-1 win over the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Faceoffs: 109-for-228 / 47.8 percent (season: 50.4% / rank: 13th)

It was a case of one game making a big difference in a four-game week when it came to faceoffs.  The Caps were 50 percent or better against Philadelphia (51.2 percent), Pittsburgh (50.0) and Dallas ( 50.8), but were well under that threshold against St. Louis (39.7).  They had a devil of a time in the offensive zone against the Blues, going just 4-for-16 in a 25-for-58 effort overall.

That offensive zone performance was one part of a week in which the Caps were under 50 percent in the ends – 42.6 percent in the offensive zone, 45.1 percent in the defensive zone – while finishing over that mark in the neutral zone (53.3 percent).

Jay Beagle was, once more, on the good side of 50 percent for the week, winning 54.3 percent of the 70 draws he took, although that mark was the product of his 61.1 percent success rate in the defensive end.  He was under 50 percent in the offensive zone (42.9) and the neutral zone (48.1).  Evgeny Kuznetsov also finished at 50 percent (19-for-38), falling under 50 percent only in the offensive zone (4-for-10).  Nicklas Backstrom (41.4 percent) and Lars Eller (44.4 percent) finished under 50 percent among the big four, and T.J. Oshie also found himself under that mark among Caps who took at least ten draws (45.5 percent).

Goals by Period:

Except for one big stain on their record, the Caps would have had a borderline spectacular week in goals by period.  They outscored opponents by a 5-1 margin in the first periods of games, that one goal against Dallas being the first time in nine games that they allowed a first period goal.  They won the third periods of games by a 9-3 margin.  Then there was that second period.  In three games not played in Pennsylvania, the Caps held a 5-3 advantage for the week.  However, they lost the second period in Pittsburgh, 6-3, the six goals allowed being more than the total the Caps allowed in any full game played this season (they allowed five goals twice).  The Caps finished the week with the largest first period goal differential in the league (plus-28) and the third largest third period goal differential (plus-20, trailing Pittsburgh and the New York Rangers).  They are the only team in the league with a goal differential of plus-20 in more than one period for the season.  They also have the second-best goal differential in overtime (plus-4, trailing only the Los Angeles Kings).

In the end…

We’ve remarked from time to time that streaks are funny in that you can see the end of them before they actually do end.  Cracks start to appear in game management and execution that result in sluggish offense, leaky defense, questionable decisions, or all three.  Although the Caps finished the week 3-0-1, one might conclude after the four games that such cracks were evident on a club that is on a 13-game points streak.  The offense was not the problem in Week 15, although they might have taken more advantage of a defense-challenged team like Dallas more than they did, even with four goals scored. 

The problem was defense and goaltending, the 14 goals in four games – all of the goals recorded in the last three games of the week – being the canary in the coal mine of this streak.  In the glass-half-filled version of this, almost half of the week’s goals allowed were given up in one period – six goals in the second period of the 8-7 overtime loss to Pittsburgh, five of them in a span of 8:09. 

As the schedule heads into Week 15, the last week before the All-Star Game break, it is tempting to say that the schedule lightens up a bit for the Caps with two of the games against teams not currently playoff eligible – Carolina and New Jersey.  But both the Hurricanes and Devils finished the week just two points out of the playoff mix.  Meanwhile, the third opponent, the Ottawa Senators, might be described as “pesky” or “a pain in the backside” to play against, the Caps beating them by 2-1 and 1-0 margins earlier this season.   It might look easier, but it’s never easy in the NHL, and to keep the streak going into the All-Star Game break, the Caps will have to fight off the urge of looking forward to a few days off.

Three Stars:
  • First Star: Andre Burakovsky (4-2-6, plus-5, first goals in all four games to set a club record, six times this season he scored the game’s first goal)
  • Second Star: Matt Niskanen (2-5-7, plus-2, assists on three of Caps’ five power play goals, averaged 24:33 in ice time in four games with John Carlson out of the lineup)
  • Third Star: T.J. Oshie (3-3-6, even, four hits, two blocked shots, two power play goals)

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