The last full week of the season for the Washington Capitals
was one in which the team found itself having to play four Eastern Conference
teams either trying to get into playoff shape themselves or just trying to
reach the playoffs.
And when Week 26 was
over, all four contenders were vanquished in what ranks as among the best weeks
of the season for the Caps.
This was the ninth four-game week of the season for the Caps
and the fourth time in which the Caps swept the week. That achievement came against four eastern
teams that were arguably of playoff caliber.
The Columbus Blue Jackets were still harboring hopes of overtaking the
Caps in the Metropolitan and league standings when they faced the Caps and were
beaten, 3-2. It put the Blue Jackets in
a spin; they ended their week on a five-game losing streak. The Toronto Maple Leafs, using the Caps as a
measuring stick in their effort to return to the postseason, fell behind by
four goals on their way to a 4-1 loss.
The New York Rangers were looking to settle themselves in advance of the
postseason and use a win over the Philadelphia Flyers as a springboard against
the Caps three nights later. They were
shutout, 2-0. Finally, the Boston Bruins
were in particular need of a win to avoid having to face the Caps in the first
round of the playoffs. After splitting
the first two goals of the game, the Caps pulled away for a 3-1 win and put the
Bruins in the crosshairs. When it was
over, the Caps had 55 wins for the season, the second highest total in
franchise history with one more chance to tie the franchise record.
Offense: 3.00/game (season: 3.22 /game; rank: 2nd)
The Caps played three of the top dozen scoring defenses in
the league in Week 26 – Columbus, the Rangers, and Boston – and scored eight
goals. Frankly, that is not a bad week’s
work. Not extraordinary, just solid. And consistent; the Caps finished the week
with three goals or more in three of the four games. That made 50 times this season the Caps
recorded three or more goals in a game.
Only Pittsburgh (59) and Minnesota (53) have done it more often.
What was remarkable about the scoring for the week was the
balance. Ten different players shared
the 12 goals for the week; 15 different players recorded points. Justin Williams and Kevin Shattenkirk were
the multiple goal scorers for the week, each with a pair. It might be worth noting here that these two
players are strong evidence of the effectiveness of Brian MacLellan making
personnel decisions and addressing specific needs. Williams was one of two right wings MacLellan
acquiring in 2015 (T.J. Oshie being the other) to plug a hole at right
wing. And, there is Williams’ track record
as a clutch performer (“Mr. Game 7”).
Shattenkirk was a trading deadline acquisition this season obtained to
beef up the blue line and add a bit more punch from the right side.
Williams led the team in points for the week (five) with
five players coming up right behind with three apiece (Andre Burakovsky, Alex
Ovechkin, Evgeny Kuznetsov, Nicklas Backstrom, and Shattenkirk). Every one of
the 13 forwards who dressed in Week 26 recorded a point except for Paul Carey,
who was held without a point in the only game he played, although he was quite
active against the Bruins on Saturday.
Defense: 1.00/game (season: 2.16 /game; rank: 1st)
The Caps faced three of the top six scoring offenses in the
league in Week 26 and held the Rangers, Maple Leafs, and Blue Jackets to a
total of four goals and 89 shots. The
three games for the week holding teams to one or fewer goals made it 29 times
this season they did so, tying Montreal for most in the league. The Caps held the last three opponents for
the week – Toronto, the Rangers, and Boston – to fewer than 30 shots apiece,
the Rangers (24) and the Bruins (22) to under 25. The Caps finished the week having held 27
opponents to under 25 shots in a game this season, tying the Bruins for second
most in the league, behind Los Angeles (34).
They recorded eight periods of the 12 played for the week holding
opponents under ten shots. None of the four
opponents got off to good starts, shots-wise, all of them failing to hit the
ten-shot threshold on the shot meter.
The Caps had a bit of an odd week at 5-on-5.
They lost the shot attempts battle rather badly
to Columbus to open the week (41-57/41.8 percent Corsi-for), but then rebounded
to win that battle in each of the next three games to finish the week just under
50 percent (49.2; numbers from Corsica.hockey
Goaltending: 1.00 / .964 / 1 SO (season: 2.06/ .925 / 12 shutouts)
Braden Holtby and Philipp Grubauer split the week, and their
numbers were almost indistinguishable.
Holtby was 2-0-0, 1.00, .964; while Grubauer was 2-0-0, 1.00, .960. Holtby had the shutout, a 24-save gem against
the Rangers. It was his league-leading
ninth shutout this season, giving the Caps a league-leading 12 blankings this
season (Ottawa has ten).
Both Holtby and Grubauer pitched perfect first periods,
Holtby stopping all 17 first period shots he saw and Grubauer stopping all 11
of the shots he saw in the opening frame.
Holtby was perfect in the second periods of his two games as well,
stopping all 21 shots he faced.
With his two fine performances in Week 26, Holtby seems to
be righting himself after consecutive sub-par performances against Minnesota
and Arizona. For Grubauer, his two wins
make him 3-0-0 (one no-decision), 1.61, .938.
When Grubauer stopped 21 of 22 shots on Saturday, it might have been his
last regular season game as a Capital, given the attention he is getting as a
possible selection of the Vegas Golden Knights in the upcoming expansion
draft. If it was, it was a fine performance
to go out on, closing a fine season and as an important ingredient to the Caps’
success this season.
Power Play: 2-for-13 / 15.4 percent (season: 23.2 percent; rank: 3rd)
The Caps faced three top-ten penalty killing units in Week
26 – Boston (first), Toronto (ninth), and Columbus (tenth) – so going 1-for-9
against that trio, especially with two of the games on the road, was not
particularly surprising. Still, it was
just the second time in the last seven weeks in which the Caps had ten or more
power plays that they finished the week under 20 percent.
The Caps’ efficiency on the power play reflected the skill
of the penalty killers they faced. They
scored two goals on 14 shots in 17:25 of power play time. The Caps had particular trouble getting their
power play unleashed against Boston in the last game of the week. Against the league’s top penalty killing
unit, the Caps managed only two shots on goal in 6:35 of power play time. Alex Ovechkin and Kevin Shattenkirk led the
team with three shots on goal apiece, but it was Shattenkirk getting one of the
power play goals for the week. Justin
Williams had the other.
Penalty Killing: 7-for-8/ 87.5 percent (season: 84.2
percent; rank: 6th)
The charm of Week 26 as far as penalty killing goes was the
few shorthanded situations faced as much as the efficiency with which the Caps
dealt with them. It was the second time
in nine four-game weeks this season in which Washington faced fewer than ten
shorthanded situations (they faced eight in Week 20. They held three of the four opponents to two
or fewer power play opportunities. The
Caps finished the week having held opponents to two or fewer power play chances
30 times. The odd thing is that the Caps
are 18-7-5 in those games, 37-11-3 when allowing three or more chances.
It was an efficient as well as an effective penalty kill in
Week 26. The Caps held their four
opponents to just seven shots on goal in 12:51 of shorthanded ice time. They did not allow a power play shot on goal
in either of the final two games of the week.
Against the Rangers, that was due to not having to face the Ranger power
play; they did not have any chances.
Against Boston, the Caps shutout the Bruins on shots on two power plays
and 4:00 of ice time.
Faceoffs: 106-for-215 / 50.7 percent (season: 49.9 percent;
It was a fair week overall, but not as good in the
particulars. The Caps won 34 of 54 draws
against Columbus to open the week (63.0 percent), but then finished under 50
percent in each of the last three games of the week. It was just one under 50 percent in the
middle two games of the week, against Toronto and the Rangers, but the Caps won
just 22 of 52 against Boston (42.3 percent) in the last game of the week.
The final numbers were a bit inflated by the success the
Caps had in the neutral zone, winning 40 of 60 draws (66.7 percent). They split 70 draws in the offensive zone,
but they won just 34 of 85 defensive zone draws (40.0 percent).
The good part was that each of the big four who took at
least ten draws for the week finished over 50 percent – Nicklas Backstrom
(51.6), Lars Eller (52.4), Jay Beagle (50.8), and Evgeny Kuznetsov (55.6).
Goals by Period:
The second period has been on in which the Caps struggled
from time to time this season. Not so in
Week 26. They recorded seven goals in
the middle frame for the week, scoring at least one in the second period of
each game and finishing with a plus-6 goal differential in the period, far better
than the plus-2 differential for the season with which they started the
week. The Caps were as impressive in the
first period, just in a different way, denying any of their four opponents a
goal, scoring two of their own to finish the week with a plus-42 goal
differential in the first periods of games.
The Caps did get a third period scare from Columbus, who got a pair to
close a 3-0 deficit to 3-2, but they could get no closer.
In the end…
To find fault with a 4-0-0 week, especially against the
quality of opponent, would be to pick nits off of nits. Consider that last season, the Caps went
1-0-2 in week 26, coasting into the postseason, and this club’s Week 26 look
reflects a more determined attitude to enter the postseason taking care of
business in a businesslike way.
When the Caps wrap up their regular season on Sunday against
the Florida Panthers, they will have a chance to tie a franchise record for
wins in a season and post more wins on home ice (33) than any team has in more
than 20 years, since the Detroit Red Wings posted 36 wins at Joe Louis Arena in
1995-1996. Week 26 teed it up for them
with a superb effort.
Three Stars of the Week:
- First Star: Justin Williams (2-3-5, plus-4, 1 GWG, 1 PPG,
nine shots on goal, 12 shot attempts)
- Second Star: Kevin Shattenkirk (2-1-3, plus-2, 2 GWG, 4
hits, 5 takeaways, five blocked shots)
- Third Star: Braden Holtby (2-0-0, 1.00, .967, one shutout)