Sunday, October 21, 2018

Washington Capitals: That Was The Week That Was - Week 3

The Washington Capitals caught a break in the schedule in Week 3 in which they faced a pair of struggling teams.  It ended up being harder than it had to be to earn three of a possible four standings points, the team looking to establish consistency and a more focused effort as they wrapped up a home stand.

Record: 1-0-1

It was a light week on the schedule with two games, and the Caps had the good fortune of playing teams with a combined 2-6-2 record as they took the ice in DC.  The New York Rangers came to Washington on Wednesday, the third straight week-opening game on home ice on a Wednesday this season for the Caps.  The Rangers had two wins going into the contest, neither of them in regulation.  They would not get a regulation win in this one, either, but neither would the Caps.  Washington gave up a third period lead on a power play goal before salvaging the decision with a Matt Niskanen overtime goal to give the Caps a 4-3 win. 

In the second game of the week the Caps took on the winless Florida Panthers and promptly soiled the bed, allowing four goals in the first period.  They came back to tie the contest in the second period before falling behind once more just before the second intermission.  The Caps scored late in regulation on a power play goal by Nicklas Backstrom, but after a scoreless overtime, they failed to punch through in the trick shot competition, and the Panthers had their first win of the season on the 6-5 decision.

Offense: 4.50/game (season: 4.14/game, rank: 1st)

The Caps did not lack for offensive firepower in Week 3; they finished the week at the top of the scoring offense rankings.  Seven different skaters recorded goals for the week, bringing the total to 13 skaters with goals so far this season through seven games.  Last year, the Caps did not have their 13th skater record a goal until Game 11.  Matt Niskanen, Devante Smith-Pelly, and Brett Connolly all recorded their first goal of the season in Week 3. John Carlson and Alex Ovechkin each had two-goal weeks. 

Carlson had a particularly productive week, going 2-2-4.  He tied for the league lead in goals scored by defensemen for the week (with Minnesota’s Matt Dumba), while his four points trailed only Winnipeg’s Josh Morrissey and Florida’s Keith Yandle with five apiece.  Carlson, with ten points overall, trails only Toronto’s Morgan Rielly (14 points) in scoring among defensemen.

Evgeny Kuznetsov continues to impress.  He had three assists for the week and has recorded at least one point in six of seven games, shutout with the rest of his teammates only in the 6-0 loss to New Jersey on October 11th. His 12 points is tied for seventh in the league scoring tables, and the seven games in which he recorded those points is fewer than every player with whom he is tied or trails save for Evgeni Malkin, who has 12 points in six games thus far.

Defense: 4.00/game (season: 3.86/game, rank: 29th)

The Capitals did not have a bad week on defense in some respects, but here is where we learn the difference between “efficiency” and “effectiveness.”  The Caps allowed 62 shots on goal, which was right in line with their season average (31.9 shots against per game at week’s end).  It would have been an even better week in this regard but for those 18 shots on goal that the Caps allowed to the New York Rangers in the second period of the game to open the week, but those things do happen from time to time.  The 5-on-5 shots attempts tilted in the Caps’ favor, too.  The Caps allowed only 76 5-on-5 shot attempts for the week.  The result was a week in which the Caps had a shot attempts-for percentage of 53.94, a number supported with a 56.06 percent mark when tied and a 52.68 percent in close situations (source:

But limiting shots doesn’t help when you are letting opponents pounce on rebounds and work their will from in close.  The Rangers and Panthers combined for four 5-on-5 goals against the Caps for the week.  They were scored from a combined distance of 46 feet, three of them from almost the same spot on the ice, from just off the left pad of the Capitals goaltender.  The fourth was scored from the top of the crease.  Hard to miss the net from those distances.  Part of it might have been rebound control, part of it might have been being too loose too close to their own net, but either way, efficient numbers did not lead to effective results.

Goaltending: 3.79 / .871 (season: 3.80 / .879 / 1 SO)

Goaltending was neither efficient nor effective in Week 3.  Braden Holtby started both games for the week but finished only one.  He was relieved after 20 minutes of work against Florida after allowing four goals on 11 shots in the first period of the Caps 6-5 Gimmick loss to the Panthers.  It made for a bad week for Holtby, who has struggled in the early going.  He has had two appearances in each of the three weeks to date and has yet to post a weekly save percentage over .900.  Week 3 was his worst week to date, posting a .837 save percentage.  It has been a rough early going for Holtby, who ranks 35th among 46 goalies in even strength save percentage (.899; minimum: 50 even strength shots faced).

Pheonix Copley relieved Holtby in that loss to Florida, and he stopped 18 of 19 shots to give the Caps a chance to come back, which they did to force extra time.  He was tagged with the loss, though, when he managed only one save on four shots in the freestyle competition.

Power Play:  3-for-7/42.9 percent (season:  38.5 percent, rank: 1st)

The power play has been the most consistently successful part of the Caps’ play through three weeks.  Week 3 was the third straight week in which the Caps finished over 35 percent.  It was their best week so far, efficiency-wise, with their 42.9 percent power play.

What was the surprising thing about the power play this week was how ineffectual the Rangers were in denying shots by Alex Ovechkin.  With as many games as these two teams have played against each other and as much film that exists (there are people in Ittoqqortoormiit, Greenland who, when asked what “The Office” is, reply, where Alex Ovechkin scores his power play goals”).  Ovechkin scored two power play goals on four shots, half the total of shots on the man advantage the Caps unleashed on Ranger goalie Henrik Lundqvist. 

The effort against Florida was more pedestrian, by Caps standards, scoring one goal on three shots on three power plays in all.  Overall, the Caps scored three goals on 11 shots in 11:16 of power play time, seven different skaters recording at least one power play poing.  Not a bad week.

Penalty Killing: 7-for-11 / 63.6 percent (season: 72.4 percent, rank: 24th)

The other side of the special teams divide is not going well for the Caps.  Week 3 was the third straight week to open the season that the Caps could not exceed 80 percent on the penalty kill, and it was their worst week to date.  Worse, they performed poorly against teams that do not inspire much fear with their power plays, the Rangers finishing the week ranked 19th in power play efficiency (18.2 percent) and the Panthers finishing tied for 25th (11.1 percent).

The two power play goals scored by the Rangers were variations on a problem that plagued the week – scoring from in close, Jimmy Vesey pouncing on a loose puck just off Braden Holtby’s right pad and Chris Krieder redirecting a shot from Neal Pionk from the top of the crease.  Same against Florida, Evgenii Dadonov burying a centering feed from the low slot, Jonathan Huberdeau putting back a rebound from the top of the crease.  Opponents had too much room down low and time to maneuver themselves in a position to get on loose pucks.

Making it worse was the Caps putting themselves too often in the position of having to defend man advantages, going shorthanded 11 times in Week 3, seven times against Florida.  That they allowed only 12 shots on goal in 14:52 of shorthanded ice time was the only positive as one could find, but it was too many chances and too much freedom in front of the net to be successful.

Faceoffs: 67-for-131 / 51.1% percent (season: 45.9 percent, rank: 29th)

That the highest level of examination it was a pretty good week with a 51.1 percent winning result.  Look closer, and it was quite uneven in the circle.  The good part at the next level was the Caps being plus-17 in the differential between offensive zone faceoffs taken (53) and defensive zone draws (36).  A goo thing, too, since the Caps were 52.8 percent in the offensive zone (28-for-53) but only 44.4 percent (16-for-36) in the defensive zone.

Drilling down to the individual level, four Caps took at least ten draws for the week, and the unevenness showed itself there, too.  Nicklas Backstrom had a fine week overall at 64.3 percent, but while he was 12-for-15 in the offensive zone (80.0 percent), he was just 4-for-12 in the defensive end (33.3 percent).  Lars Eller was more consistent in that regard, finishing 53.8 percent in the offensive zone and 71.4 percent in the defensive end.   The best that could be said for the weeks of Evgeny Kuznetsov (37.1 percent overall) and NIc Dowd (29.4 percent) is that the week is over.

Goals by Period:

That four-goal period the Panthers planted on the Caps in the second game of the week did wonders for that first period goals against number, and not in a good way.  While the Caps did dig their way back to the rim of that hole, they could not quite see their way clear of it. By the end of the week, only Philadelphia and Los Angeles allowed more first period goals (11 and 10, respectively) than the Caps (nine, but in one fewer game than the other two teams).  On the goals allowed by period side, at least the Caps have shown consistency (nine, nine, and eight goals by period).  They just need to be consistently better.

On the goals scored side, that three-goal second period in the comeback against Florida helped propel the Caps to the third highest middle period goal total for the season (12), trailing only Philadelphia and Toronto (14 apiece).

Year over Year:

It is one thing to look at this club through Stanley Cup lenses and conclude that they are lacking in results so far, but the Caps did end the week with a 3-2-2 record overall, one point better than their 3-3-1 record after seven games to start the 2017-2018 season.  In most other respects they are slightly ahead of last season’ performance through the same number of games. In fact, it was almost spooky the degree to which the Caps were tracking last season’s performance through their first six games. 

Last year… 3-2-1
This year… 3-2-1

Last year… SO win over OTT, 3-goal win over NJD, blowout win over MTL
This year… OT win over NYR, 3-goal win over VGK, blowout win over BOS

Last year… OT loss to TBL, 1-goal loss to PIT, blowout loss to PHI
This year… OT loss to PIT, 2-goal loss to TOR, blowout loss to NJD

Last year… 22 GF/22 GA
This year… 24 GF/22 GA

Last year… 30.0% PP/76.9% PK (STI: 106.9)
This year… 39.1% PP/72.7% PK (STI: 111.8)

Last year… SAT%/5-on-5: 46.20
This year… SAT%/5-on-5: 45.68

That they earned a point in Game 7 was an improvement over last season when they were shut out by the Toronto Maple Leafs, 2-0, in their seventh game.

In the end…

That the Caps have played with such unremarkable results through three weeks and find themselves only one point out of first place in the Metropolitan Division speaks to either the parity in the division or its weak play in the early going, or perhaps a bit of both.  Still, consider that last season the Caps were three points off the pace in the division (with one more game played than this season through three weeks).  The Caps did not look good in Week 3, especially given the quality of competition, despite underlying numbers that did look pretty good.  If a shot by Dmitry Orlov in overtime of the Panthers game hits the post and goes in instead of ricocheting out, this conversation looks a bit different.  It reflects the thin margins there are in the league between winning and losing, between good weeks and not so good weeks.  Week 3 tends to tilt more to the latter. All things considered.

Three Stars:
  • First Star: John Carlson (2-2-4, even, 2 power play points, 27:45 average ice time (first in the league for the week), two goals tied for league lead among defensemen)
  • Second Star: Nicklas Backstrom (1-2-3, plus-1, 23:05 average ice time, 64.3 percent on faceoffs)
  • Third Star: Lars Eller (0-3-3, plus-1, 56.5 percent on faceoffs, four credited takeaways with no giveaways)

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