Sunday, October 15, 2017

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

Last season, the Washington Capitals did not have a losing week until Week 5.  This season, with a 1-2-1 record, the Caps experienced the bitter taste of a losing week in Week 2.  And it Week 2, the Caps’ issues and problems were on display.  So, too, were their strengths, but in displaying them, they illustrated the difficulties this team might have in reaching the postseason.

Record: 1-2-1

The Caps were 1-2-0 in Week 5 last season in what would be one of just three losing weeks in the 2016-2017 season.  The disturbing aspect of Week 2 and the Caps’ 1-2-1 record – their first losing week this season – is that the record came entirely against Eastern Conference teams, and the Caps were 1-2-0 against fellow travelers in the Metropolitan Division.  Disappointing as it was, it was not far from being a lot better, the Caps dropping a pair of one-goal decisions, one in overtime to the Tampa Bay Lightning on a power play.

Offense:  3.00/game (season: 3.67/game, 9th)

Three goals a game over four games might be considered an “average” week for this team.  How they got there was not, and it was not an especially confidence-building experience.  Five Capitals shared the 12 goals scored for the week, and the distribution is what is of note.  T.J. Oshie led the club with four goals, and 11 of the 12 were scored by forwards on the top two lines.  Christian Djoos had the other for the defenseman’s first NHL goal in his NHL debut against Pittsburgh in the second game of the week.  It also happens to be the only goal scored by a Capitals defenseman through six games so far this season.  As it is, Nathan Walker and Brett Connolly are the only forwards outside the top-six to record a goal so far among the 21 scored by the club.

Defense: 4.25/game (season: 3.67/game, 24th)

If Wayne Gretzky was right about not scoring on 100 percent of the shots you don’t take, opponents have taken that adage to heart against the Caps.  The Caps allowed more than 35 shots to three of their four opponents in Week 2, giving them five games with more than 30 shots against in six games this season.  That they merely rank 22nd in the league in shots against per game might be a reflection of more offense across the league at this early stage of the season.  Digging into that number, the Caps finished the week ranked 24th in 5-on-5 Corsi (46.2 percent; numbers from and 17th in shots attempts against per 60 minutes at 5-on-5 (55.22).

Goaltending: 4.23 / .875 (season: 3.60 / .894)

Goalies get the wins, and often the praise that goes with it, and they get the losses, and the often the grief that follows along.  The numbers paint a portrait of a bad week for Braden Holtby and Philipp Grubauer.  Holtby took Game 2 and 3 for the week and did not fare all that poorly.  His 1-1-0, 2.54, .915 record for the week was not at the standard of overall production one has come to expect of Holtby, but stopping 43 of 44 shots at even strength was (.977 save percentage).  That 9-for-13 in facing power plays was another matter (.692 save percentage), including all three goals scored by the Penguins in their 3-2 win over the Caps.

The best that can be said of Philipp Grubauer’s week is that he took one for the team, and over the course of a long season, there is a lot to be said for that.  He did not get much in the way of support in front of him.  He faced 40 shots against the Tampa Bay Lightning to start the week, 22 of them in the third period and overtime, and had to face a Lightning power play on the game-deciding goal.  Against the Philadelphia Flyers to end the week, the team in front of him was playing its third game in four nights and the back half of a road set of back-to-back games.  It might not be as grueling a run as it might be in February or March, when the grind of the season takes its toll, but it was no skate on the pond, either.  And Grubauer was left in to face the whirlwind – 37 shots, eight goals.  It was the most goals allowed by a Caps goaltender in a single game since Olaf Kolzig gave up eight in an 8-1 loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins on January 25, 2006.

Power Play: 5-for-15 / 33.3 percent (season: 30.0 percent / 2nd)

Going 5-for-15 is a very good week, but what is odd about that kind of efficiency was that the Caps alternated games with power play goals (two against Tampa Bay, three against New Jersey) with games without a goal (against Pittsburgh and Philadelphia).  T.J. Oshie had a particularly productive week, posting three of the Caps’ five power play goals.  And then there was Nicklas Backstrom, who recorded an points on all five goals with the man advantage, a goal and four assists.  That output put him at the top of the league’s power play scoring list for the week and at the top of that list for the season (1-5-6).  Overall, the Caps were an efficient group, scoring those five goals on 25 power play shots (20.0 percent) and recording those 24 shots in 24:00 of power play ice time.

Penalty Killing: 11-for-17 / 64.7 percent (season: 76.9 percent / T-21st)

And yet… the Caps ended up on the short end of the special teams scoring for the week, going minus-2 off five goals scored and seven allowed.  Six of those special teams goals against came on the opponents’ power play (one other a shorthanded goal against) in what would be charitably be called a difficult week.  The Caps allowed three power play goals to the Penguins in the second game of the week, the first time they allowed that many in a single game since they allowed three power play goals in a 4-2 loss to the Dallas Stars on March 13, 2015.  Overall, the Caps spent entirely too much time killing penalties.  The recorded 28:38 in shorthanded ice time for the week, and that despite only 1:32 recorded against the Flyers to end the week (they scored on that power play).  Allowing 27 shots in that time logged wasn’t a bad result in terms of shots per minute, but the cumulative effect was hardly what the Caps were looking for.

Faceoffs: 125-for-257 / 48.6 percent (season: 51.6 percent / 12th)

It was a mediocre week in the circle overall and one that was very different among players in their particulars.  The 48.6 percent was spit roughly into a good week in the defensive end (49-88/55.7 percent) and a poor one in the offensive end (28-73/38.4 percent).  At the individual level, two of the Caps taking ten or more draws finished the week over 50 percent – Nicklas Backstrom (35-68/51.5 percent) and Lars Eller (32-52/61.5 percent).  T.J. Oshie (11-27/40.7 percent) and Evgeny Kuznetsov (18-55/32.7 percent) were well under 50 percent, while Jay Beagle has what was for him an off week (15-33/45.5 percent).

Goals by Period:

Allowing three goals in four first periods is not great, but it’s not especially bad, either.  But as time went on in games, the worse if got for the Caps, who were outscored, 14-8 over the last 40 minutes and overtime for the week.  The Caps finished the week with only the Penguins (10) allowing more second period goals than the Caps (9) and only Calgary and St. Louis (nine apiece) allowing more third period goals than Washington (eight). 

In the end…

Everything the Caps might be concerned about came to pass in Week 2.  An injury to an important player; Matt Niskanen will be out for at least ten games and 24 days with a hand injury after being slashed by New Jersey Devil forward Jimmy Hayes.  Lack of defensive depth – the Caps iced Aaron Ness, Christian Djoos, and Madison Bowey (in his NHL debut) against the Flyers to end the week.  Their lack of experience showed and was exploited by the Flyers.  Lack of bottom six scoring – it helped doom their postseason last spring, and things have not improved with the start of the new season. The competition – if the Caps wanted to measure themselves against potential postseason rivals, they came up short against Tampa Bay and Pittsburgh, although both of those games were decided by one goal, one of them in overtime on a power play.  The schedule – the Caps played three of their four games in Week 3 on the road, making it four of six games on the road to start the season and part of a eight games in 12 on the road in October.  It is a trial by fire the Caps are on that will temper them and make them stronger or burn their early season playoff hopes to a crisp.

Three Stars:

  • First Star: Nicklas Backstrom (3-6-9, plus-2, points on all five power play goals, 51.5 percent faceoff winning)
  • Second Star: T.J. Oshie (4-3-7, plus-1, three of the Caps’ five power play goals, four power play points)
  • Third Star: Christian Djoos (1-1-2, plus-2, first rookie defenseman to record two or more points in a season since the Caps had four blueliners do it in the 2013-2014 season: Alexander Urbom, Patrick Wey, Connor Carrick, and Nate Schmidt)