Sunday, February 05, 2017

A TWO-Point Afternoon -- Game 53: Washington Capitals 5 - Los Angeles Kings 0

The Washington Capitals put the “super” into Super Bowl Sunday, scoring early, scoring late, and getting excellent goaltending for 60 minutes as they defeated the Los Angeles Kings, 5-0, on Sunday afternoon at Verizon Center.  Washington gots goal from five different players and points from 11 different skaters in the win, but it was really goalie Philipp Grubauer’s show, stopping 38 shots for his third shutout of the season.

Lars Eller got things going for the Caps in the game’s fourth minute.  Andre Burakovsky rushed the puck up the right side to the Los Angeles line where the puck slid off his stick and down into the corner to the left of goalie Peter Budaj.  Burakovsky pursued it into the corner, pressuring Alec Martinez enough to give it up to Brent Connolly, who managed to slide it to the middle to the waiting Eller.  From the low slot, Eller had time to pull the puck to his forehand and snap it past Budaj’s right pad to make it 1-0 just 3:16 into the game.

Washington doubled their lead late in the period when Evgeny Kuznetsov hustled down the left side with the puck, stopped just inside the Kings’ blue line and fed Marcus Johansson in the middle for a shot that beat Budaj on the blocker side as the goalie was peeking out the other side of a screen his own teammate – Jake Muzzin – set in front of him.  The goal at 18:12 of the period gave the Caps a 2-0 lead going into the first intermission.

The Caps piled it on in the second period with a pair of goals, the first coming early on Brett Connolly’s tenth of the season.  The play started with Karl Alzner poking a loose puck in the neutral zone away from the stick of Brayden McNabb.  It made its way to Tom Wilson, who carried it down the right wing into the Los Angeles zone on a 2-on-1 break.  Wilson feathered the puck into open space for Connolly, who took it in stride, made one move of Budaj to fake him to the ice, and wrapped it around his left pad to make it 3-0 at the 3:43 mark.

Late in the second period, T.J. Oshie made it 4-0.  From the defensive zone, Dmitry Orlov fed the puck up to Alex Ovechkin standing in front of the players’ bench.  Ovechkin bump-passed the puck to Nicklas Backstrom skating toward the Kings’ end.  Backstrom carried the puck into the offensive end, circled around the Los Angeles net, and fed Oshie in the right wing circle for a one-timer that beat Budaj over his left shoulder on the near side, exploding the water bottle resting on the top of the net.  At the  16:24 mark, it was 4-0, Caps.

Justin Williams capped the scoring late in the third period.  Muzzin tried to feed the puck up along the wall in the defensive end, but it made it only as far as Johansson, who knocked it down and fed it into the middle for Williams. Before Muzzin could close the distance to defend, Williams pulled the puck to his backhand and beat relief goalie Jeff Zatkoff on the blocker side to make it 5-0, 16:38 into the period.  All that was left was to preserve the shutout for Grubauer, and the Caps did just that to skate off with the 5-0 win.

Other stuff…

-- Brett Connolly became the ninth player to record ten goals for the Caps this season, the number surpassing last year’s total of eight players to reach double digits in goals.

-- Karl Alzner recorded an assist to reach the ten-point mark for the season, the 18th Capital to reach that mark this season.  Last season, 16 players reached that total.

-- Philipp Grubauer’s third shutout of the season made it nine shutouts for the Caps this season, tying a franchise best for a single season, set in 1995-1996 and tied in 2014-2015.

-- The Caps sure did spread the peanut butter.  Every Capital finished a “plus” player except for Daniel Winnik (even), and every King finished a “minus” player except for Drew Doughty (even).

-- Grubauer’s 38-save shutout ties for the seventh highest total of shots faced by a goaltender in Caps history in recording a shutout.  Brent Johnson holds the record with a 46-save shutout in a 1-0 win over the Ottawa Senators on April 1, 2006.

-- This was the 12th time in team history that the Caps scored five or more goals in a game on 20 or fewer shots (they had 20 in this game).  It happened to be the second time they did it in less than a month, scoring seven goals on 18 shots in a 7-1 win over the St. Louis Blues on January 19th.

-- Marcus Johansson’s goal , his 16th, was just the fifth he scored on home ice this season and the first since December 23rd.

-- The Caps recorded their eighth straight game on home ice scoring five or more goals.  They scored 43 goals on home ice in that span (5.38 per game).

-- Three goaltenders in the NHL have played more than 500 minutes, have a goals against average of less than 2.00, have a save percentage better than .925, and have more than one shutout.  The Caps have two of them – the only team in the league that can say that – in Grubauer and Braden Holtby.  Devan Dubnyk is the other.

-- More Grubi… He loves his home cooking.  Among 53 goalies with at least 250 minutes played on home ice, Grubauer has the best goals against average (0.64), the best save percentage (.977) and is tied for the second highest number of shutouts (three, with three other goalies, behind teammate Braden Holtby, who has five shutouts on home ice).

In the end…

Is there a less hospitable host in the NHL than the Caps?  With this shutout, that makes eight times in 27 games at Verizon Center they denied their guests as much as a single goal.  No other team in the league has more than three shutouts on home ice this season.  Those shutouts have come against eight different teams, four from the East, and now four from the West.  One might try to explain this afternoon’s result as being the product of the Kings having played an overtime game the previous day, three time zones from home.  There might be some merit in that.  But even if one thinks that might have been a factor in this game, the Caps played a game of their own the previous day and had their back-up goaltender playing in this game.  It was a very efficient dismantling of the Kings, a balanced effort.  Having outscored opponents over the last eight games on that ice sheet by a 43-11 margin, other teams can be considered on notice that coming to Verizon Center is not likely to be a pleasant experience.

Washington Capitals: That Was The Week That Was -- Week 17

If Week 17 seemed a lot like Week 16 for the Washington Capitals, that’s because it was.  The same look on offense and defense, power play and penalty kill, and even strength.  That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but neither was it all good, although ringing up their fifth straight winning week – extending their longest streak of winning weeks this season – is certainly a plus.

Record: 2-1-0

There are some teams this season that just seem to give the Caps fits.  Ottawa was one of those teams, even though the Caps did win two of three from the Senators in their season series.  One team that gave the Caps a devil of a time this season and against which they did not fare as well was the New York Islanders.  Washington lost the first game of the week to the Isles, 3-2, their third loss to New York in the five-game season series, now ended.  They are the only team against which the Caps have played more than one game this season and have a below .500 standings points record (they lost to San Jose in the only meeting of the clubs so far).  Washington earned just four of a possible ten points against the Islanders.

On the other end of the spectrum were Boston and Montreal.  The Caps made it two-for-two this season against the Bruins and eight wins in a row since they lost to the Bruins in March 2014.  The domination of the Bruins has been outright spooky.  The three goals the Caps allowed to the B’s on Wednesday was the most they scored against the Caps in any of the eight losses, tying their goal total in the first meeting this season, but Boston still has scored a total of just ten goals in the eight games and has been shut out three times.

Then there is the matter of “Verizon Center North.”  If the Caps’ dominance of Boston has a spooky quality to it, their success in Montreal is outright bizarre.  Beating the Canadiens, 3-2, to end the week, the Caps extended their run of success at Bell Centre to 12-0-2 in their last 14 meetings there dating back to November 2009.  And what is more, the scores there have not been particularly close.  The 3-2 win on Saturday was the exception, seven of the 12 wins on Bell Centre ice having been of the multi-goal variety, including a 4-1 win on January 9th.

Offense:  3.33/game (season: 3.25 /game; rank: 5th)

Week 17 was a week for the stars to shine when it came to scoring goals.  Alex Ovechkin (2), Nicklas Backstrom (2), Evgeny Kuznetsov (2), and T.J. Oshie led the way, but the Caps also got goals from the supporting cast.  Brett Connolly, Andre Burakovsky, and Jay Beagle chipped in, too.  Beagle’s goal to open the scoring against Montreal was paired with a Caps win, hardly an unusual occurrence.  The Caps record when Beagle records a goal over his career is now 32-1-5.

Backstrom had a hand in half of the goals for the week, adding three assists to his two goals to lead the team in overall scoring.  He had points in all three games for the week after going consecutive games without a point as the week started.  In his last 15 games he is 6-16-22, plus-8.

The Caps scored the first goal in all three games for the week, which made the loss to the Islanders on Tuesday unusual.  The Caps finished the week with the most wins (29) and best winning percentage (.784) when scoring first.

What was not unusual was the Caps scoring five goals at home in the middle game of the week, the 5-3 win over Boston.  It was the seventh straight game on home ice the Caps scored five or more goals, over which they averaged 5.43 goals per game.

Defense: 2.67/game (season: 2.12 /game; rank: 1st)

It was not an awful week on defense, and in some ways it was not bad at all.  Washington did face two top-ten teams in scoring offense in Week 17 – Montreal (ranked seventh at week’s end) and the Islanders (eighth), both on the road, where Montreal ranked even higher (fourth at week’s end).  The Caps held them to a total of five goals.  Even against Boston, the third goal allowed was a bit of window dressing for the B’s, coming as it did with just 1:31 left in a 5-2 game.

The Caps did have a good week in terms of their 5-on-5 play.  In 145 minutes at 5-on-5 they finished with a 52.67 percent Corsi-for and held the three opponents to just over 51 shots per 60 minutes at 5-on-5 (numbers from  They held both road opponents – the Islanders and Canadiens – under 30 shots on goal, making it three straight road games doing so. The odd thing about that is how well they have been able to clamp down on Montreal.  The Caps held the Habs to 22 shots on goal after holding them to 23 shots on goal in their previous meeting on Bell Centre ice on January 9th.  In the 12-0-2 streak the Caps have in Montreal, they held the Canadiens to fewer than 30 shots nine times and fewer than 25 five times.

Goaltending:  2.00 / .933 (season: 2.01 / .928 / 8 SO)

With a back-to-back set of games to start the week, the Caps split the goaltending duties, Philipp Grubauer getting the Islander game in Brooklyn on Tuesday and Braden Holtby getting the nod the following night against the Bruins in Washington.  Holtby then got the last game of the week in Montreal. 

Grubauer played rather well against the Islanders and might have deserved better than to suffer the loss.  He stopped 26 of 28 shots, the first time he allowed fewer than three goals in a game since shutting out the Philadelphia Flyers on January 15th.  He had allowed three goals in each of his three appearances after that before holding the Islanders to a pair.

Holtby wrapped up the week with a pair of appearances that reflected his season to date in some respects.  He stopped 44 of 47 shots at even strength against Boston and Montreal (.936 save percentage), but stopped just four of six shots when the Caps were shorthanded (.667).  That was not unusual.  Among goalies appearing in more than ten games this season, Holtby is second in even strength save percentage (.940 to Devan Dubnyk’s .942) but 46th in that group in save percentage when the Caps are shorthanded (.840).

Power Play: 2-for-8 / 25.0 percent (season: 20.9 percent; rank: 11th)

For the fourth straight week, the Caps finished with a power play of 35 percent or better.  Over that span they are 13-for-36 (36.1 percent), lifting them into 13th place in the league’s power play rankings.  It might have been better but for getting only one power play opportunity against the Islanders to open the week.  It was the sixth time this season that the Caps were awarded one or no power plays in a game, compared to seven times all of last season.

Overall it was an effective week performance-wise, as the 25.0 percent conversion rate suggests, but the efficiency wasn’t really there.  In 14:15 of power play ice time, the Caps managed just seven shots on goal.  Part of that is mitigated by the fact that Alex Ovechkin scored on the only power play shot he took against Boston, and Nicklas Backstrom did the same against Montreal, but it really was not that great of a week on the power play.  The seven shots might be categorized as “perimeter” shots since six of them came from Ovechkin (2), Backstrom (2), Andre Burakovsky, and John Carlson.  Only Justin Williams recorded a shot on goal from the middle of the power play for the week.

Penalty Killing: 5-for-8 / 62.5 percent (season: 84.2 percent; rank: 5th)

After hitting their season high point of 87.1 percent after Week 13, the Caps’ penalty kill has been sliding.  The 62.5 percent in Week 17 was their worst week since Week 1 of the season when they killed two of four shorthanded situations (50.0 percent).  Since that Week 13, Washington is just 32-for-43 (74.4 percent).

Unlike the power play, which was effective but not efficient, the penalty kill was neither.  The Caps gave up three goals on 11 shots on goal in 13:41, the shots per minute saved by shutting out Montreal on two shots in six minutes of shorthanded ice time.  For the optimistic, it is that last bit that is the takeaway.  The Caps ended the week holding the Canadiens off the board on their power play, which finished the week as the tenth-best power play on home ice in the league.

Faceoffs: 82-for-157 / percent (season: 50.6% / rank: 11th)

It was a very good week in the faceoff circle in that the Caps were over 50 percent in all three games and over 50 percent in two of the three zones for the week.  Only a 49.0 percent finish – one under 50 percent (24-for-49) -- in the offensive zone blemished the week.  At the game level, they won in the offensive zone once in three games (against Boston), in all three games in the defensive zone, and in two of three games in the neutral zone (against the Islanders and Canadiens).  Perhaps most impressive was the Caps holding their own (53.6 percent, their best mark of the three games) against the third-best team in the league in taking draws (Boston).

At the individual level, Nicklas Backstrom stood out, winning 31 of 53 draws (58.5 percent), including 15 of 19 against Montreal.  Jay Beagle also finished above 50 percent for the week among the four Caps taking at least ten draws (14-for-26).  The other two Caps in that category finished under 50 percent for the week (Lars Eller: 13-for-28; Evgeny Kuznetsov: 13-for-30).

Goals by Period:

Giving up first period goals has started to creep into the Caps’ game.  Although the Caps still do lead the league in fewest first period goals allowed (23), they allowed one to both Boston and Montreal to end the week.  Worse, though, was the four goals allowed in the third periods of games.  One of them was an empty netter against the Islanders, and one was a window dressing goal scored late by the Bruins, but one still would like to see better (read: stingier) finishes in games.

The goals allowed covered up, to an extent, the strong starts and finishes in games for the week.  The Caps scored goals in the first and third periods in all three games.  In fact, the only period of the nine in which they did not score a goal was the second period against the Islanders in the first game of the week. 

In the end…

The Caps finished the week with 52 games on their record and the top spot in the league’s standings, a spot they have occupied since January 15th.  Going 2-1-0 might not sound especially impressive for a single week, but if the Caps do that over their last 30 games, they will finish with 116 points, the third highest standings points total in team history, and as likely as not their second straight Presidents Trophy (116 points has been exceeded for the prize six times in 10 full seasons since the 2004-2005 lockout, twice by the Caps).

Washington will be hard-pressed to sustain their success going into Week 18.  It is a four-game week with teams in a variety of circumstances – the Los Angeles Kings trying to hold onto, at a minimum, the wild card spot their currently occupy in the Western Conference; the Carolina Hurricanes, just a few points on the outside looking in on the playoffs; the Detroit Red Wings, desperately trying to extend their streak of postseason appearances to a 26th season; and the Anaheim Ducks, trying to overtake the San Jose Sharks for the top spot in the Pacific Division.

This is a team that has risen to a variety of challenges through 52 games this season in their climb to the top of the league standings.  They appear to have shaken off most of the rust that accumulated over the All-Star break in winning Week 17.  Week 18 will be another challenge to be met and overcome.

Three Stars:
  • First Star: Nicklas Backstrom (2-3-5, plus-2, 1 GWG, 3-for-53 (58.5 percent) on faceoffs)
  • Second Star: Evgeny Kuznetsov (2-2-4, plus-1)
  • Third Star: Matt Niskanen (0-3-3, plus-1, 5 blocked shots, almost 23 minutes of ice time per game)