Monday, December 31, 2018

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 38: Predators at Capitals, December 31st

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

The Washington Capitals wrap up the 2018 portion of the season on Monday afternoon when they host the Nashville Predators in an afternoon tilt at Capital One Arena.  The Caps will end the year taking a four-game winning streak into this contest, part of a 16-3-0 run since November 16th that propelled them to the top spot in the Metropolitan Division. 

Meanwhile, the Predators have fallen on hard times lately, having lost six straight games (0-5-1) overall.  A lack of scoring has been the obvious problem, Nashville recording only 10 goals in those six games.  It is part of a longer scoring drought that has seen the Predators put up only 25 goals in their last 12 games and not scoring more than three goals in regulation over that span.

During this 12-game scoring drought, Nick Bonino leads the club with four goals.  Caps fans will remember Bonino as the player who ended their 2015-2016 season while with the Pittsburgh Penguins.  It was his goal at the 6:32 mark of overtime in Game 6 of the second round of the playoffs that sent the Caps home for the summer and helped the Penguins toward the first of two consecutive Stanley Cups.  Bonino is now with his fourth NHL team, signed as a free agent by Nashville in July 2017.  Although he is more of a grinder/secondary scorer, he did post 22 goals with the Anaheim Ducks in 2013-2014.  His goal scoring has not been especially supportive of Predators success this season, Nashville having a modest 3-4-0 record in games in which he recorded a goal this season.  Bonino is 4-3-7, minus-8, in 17 career games against the Capitals.

Roman Josi might be the best defenseman in the league that no one seems to talk about.  However, since the 2013-2014 season he has more goals (75) than Victor Hedman (70) or Kris Letang (60) among defensemen, more assists (211) than Drew Doughty (204) or Alex Pietrangelo (192), and more points (286) than all but three defensemen over that span (Erik Karlsson: 385; Brent Burns: 316; and Hedman: 298).  Only four defensemen have logged more minutes in that span (Karlsson, Doughty, Ryan Suter, and Oliver Ekman-Larsson).  He is second on the all-time list of Predator defensemen in goals scored (85), trailing only Shea Weber (166), and he trails only Weber in career points by a Nashville defenseman (320 to 443).  He is the only Predator in double digits in points over the last dozen games (2-8-10).  In 11 career games against the Caps, Josi is 5-5-10, plus-2.

Pekka Rinne will soon become the 48th goaltender in NHL history to appear in 600 career games.  He has dressed for all 595 of his career games with the Predators, and his 325 wins ranks him 25th all-time in the NHL.  His season number so far (14-10-1, 2.23, .922, 2 shutouts) are consistent with his career numbers (2.37/.919), but he has been playing through some rough spots lately.  He is 0-5-0 (one no-decision) over his last six appearances with a goals against average of 3.32 and a save percentage of .894.  He has had a particularly difficult time on the road, where he has not won a game since November 7th.  Since then, Rinne is 0-5-1 (two no-decisions), 2.97, .908.  Rinne is 4-1-0, 2.40, .915 in five career appearances against Washington.

1.  Nashville has had two very different seasons on the road.  They went 8-0-0 in their first eight road games, but they are 0-8-2 in their last ten road contests.

2.  The Predators are the only team in the league without a win on the road since November 12th, when they started their current road losing streak.

3.  In that span of ten road losses, Nashville is 29th in the league in goals scored (20) and tied for 19th in goals allowed (37).

4.  The Predators’ power play ranks 29th over those ten road losses (8.6 percent) and 17th in penalty killing (80.0 percent).

5.  Perhaps the strangest fact of Nashville’s 0-8-2 record in their last ten away games is that they rank sixth in shot attempts-for percentage at 5-on-5 (52.34).

1.  The Caps’ 16-3-0 record since November 16th is the league’s second best in that span (Tampa Bay is 17-2-1).

2.  Over that same span, the Caps are tied for sixth in goals scored (73, with Pittsburgh) and have allowed the fewest number of goals (45).

3.  Only Tampa Bay and Toronto have scored more even strength goals (72 and 66, respectively) than the Caps (61) during Washington’s 16-3-0 run.

4.  Since November 16th, only the Calgary Flames have more empty net goals (seven) than the Caps (six).

5.  Despite that lofty record since November 15th, the Caps rank only 22nd over that span in shot attempts-for percentage at 5-on-5 (48.62).

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

Nashville: Ryan Johansen

Since November 12th, when Nashville started their 0-8-2 run on the road, 735 skaters have dressed in the NHL.  Only one of them – Evgeni Malkin – has a worse plus-minus (minus-12) on the road than Nashville’s Ryan Johansen (minus-11).  Say what you will about plus-minus, but that is not a good number.  It really has been an odd set of circumstances for Johansen, who is 1-7-8 in those ten road games and has points in six of them.  From a broader perspective, though, it is consistent with his career profile, which definitely tilts toward higher performance in home games.  He has 207 points in 277 career home games, but only 166 in 274 road games.  He is a career plus-25 on home ice, but only minus-17 in career road games.  The fact that stands out about Johansen over this 0-8-2 run is that he was on ice for 18 of 37 goals against.  Things happen when he is out there, not all for the good recently.  Johansen is 5-11-16, plus-2, in 18 career games against Washington.

Washington: John Carlson

When John Carlson snapped a shot the length of the ice into an empty net to secure a 3-1 win over the Carolina Hurricanes last week, it broke a 26-game streak without a goal.  The flip side of that streak without a goal is that Carlson recorded 22 assists over those 26 games and was a plus-16.  Only two defensemen had more assists in that span (Brent Burns and Mark Giordano with 23 apiece), and despite going without a goal Carlson was tied seventh in points among defensemen in that stretch of games.  His plus-16 was seventh among blueliners in that stretch.  More important, the Caps were 11-2-0 in games win which Carlson recorded a point over those 26 games.  Carlson will go into this game as one of two defensemen in the league who have averaged more than a point per game this season.  His 1.03 points per game trails only Toronto’s Morgan Rielly (1.13).  Carlson is 0-8-8, minus-5, in 12 career games against Nashville.

In the end…

The Capitals held the top spot in the Metropolitan Division on January 1st, and regardless of the outcome of this game, they will hold it as the clock strikes midnight on 2018 with their first Stanley Cup won in-between.  It is the year Caps fans might not want to end.  But end it will, and with a win the Caps will reach the 50-win mark for the calendar year (50-23-7).  It will be a challenge, despite the Predators missing some key pieces.  Filip Forsberg is on injured reserve with an upper-body injury, and Kyle Turris is day-to-day with an upper-body injury.  P.K. Subban just returned to the Predator lineup last Thursday after being out of the lineup for more than a month with an upper-body injury.  Still, Nashville is like that dormant volcano that can erupt at any time.  Caps fans will be hoping that does not happen until the new year begins.

Capitals 3 – Predators 2

Sunday, December 30, 2018

Washington Capitals: That Was The Week That Was - Week 13

The Washington Capitals came back from celebrating the Christmas break with a pair of wins in Week 13 to extend their winning streak to four games.  It was not the most electrifying week this season, but one more of the “grind it out” variety in posting wins.  That, however, is not to say it was an uninteresting week as the team showed it could get contributions from unexpected places.

Record: 2-0-0

The Capitals’ knocked off the Carolina Hurricanes, 3-1, and then followed that up with a 3-2 win in Ottawa against the Senators to close the abbreviated schedule for the week.  The two-win week left them at the top of the Metropolitan Division, a spot they have occupied uninterrupted since November 30th.  The two wins extended their most recent winning streak to four games, their third winning streak of four or more games in their last 19 contests over which they posted a 16-3-0 record.

The Caps’ recent run has pulled them into the upper reaches of the Eastern Conference.  They closed the week only three points behind the Toronto Maple Leafs for second place in the conference with two games in hand.  They still have work to do to challenge the Tampa Bay Lightning for the top spot in the East.  The Bolts finished the week 11 points ahead of the Caps, having played two more games than Washington.  At the moment, Tampa Bay is the only team that could lay claim to being hotter than the Caps.  The Lightning are 16-1-1 in their last 18 games.

The two wins ended an odd stretch of the schedule.  The Caps wrapped up a nine-game stretch over which they played only Eastern Conference teams, posting a record of 8-1-0, the only loss a 2-1 decision at the hands of the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Offense: 3.00/game (season: 3.57/game, rank: 3rd)

It was not the most prolific of weeks, but it was balanced.  The six goals scored by the Caps came off the sticks of six different players.  It was also something of a youth movement.  Tom Wilson, 24 years of age, opened the scoring in the Caps’ 3-2 win over Ottawa with his 11th goal of the season in only 18 games.  In the same game, Tyler Lewington, also 24, recorded his first NHL goal in only his second NHL game.  And also in that game against Ottawa, Madison Bowey, 23 years old, scored his first NHL goal in his 78th game, what would turn out to be the game-winning goal in that contest.

Four different Capitals had multi-point weeks.  Lewington had one, adding an assist to his goal against Ottawa (he would also add a fighting penalty to his ledger for that game, earning the “Gordie Howe Hat Trick”).  Wilson and John Carlson recorded a goal and an assist, the goal by Carlson (an empty-netter) in the 3-1 win over Carolina being his first since October 22nd, breaking a 26-game streak without one.  Nicklas Backstrom had a two-assist week to round out the multi-point players for the Caps.

Defense: 1.50/game (season: 2.84/game, rank: 11th)

The Caps had a rather typical week in allowing shots on goal and shot attempts, which is to say, not a great one…on paper.  They were a minus-19 in shot attempts for and against at 5-on-5, tied for 24th in the league for the week.  And, of the six teams with worse numbers, four played three games.  On the other hand, the team having played two games with the worst differential in the league – Pittsburgh (minus-23) – outscored their opponents by an 11-3 margin in their two wins for the week.  It happens.

It is worth noting that the numbers might have been influenced by game status.  Washington’s shot attempts for percentage at fives when behind was 0.0 percent, owing to the fact that at no point in Week 13 were the Caps trailing.  On the other hand, the Caps were 30th in the league in differential at 5-on-5 when ahead (minus-28) and worst in the league among teams playing only two games (Dallas was minus-30 in three games).  The Caps did spend 89:15 with a lead for the week out of 120 minutes, so that was going to be a high minus number, given how shot attempts generally play out when leading in games.

Goaltending: 1.50 / .952 (season: 2.68 / .915 / 3 SO)

On the heels of Week 12’s superb performance in goal (1.01/.971/1 shutout), Braden Holtby and Pheonix Copley had another fine week.  Holtby stopped 28 of 29 shots in the 3-1 win over Carolina, and Copley turned away 31 of 33 shots in the 3-2 win over Ottawa to end the week.

Copley continued an amazing run as Holtby’s backup.  Consider that after 37 games this season, he appeared in 13 games (12 starts) with a record of 9-2-1, 2.61, .914, with one shutout (a .923 save percentage in 11 games since he allowed six goals in his first game this season).  After 37 games last season, Philipp Grubauer appeared in 12 games (nine starts), 2.98, .898, with no shutouts.  Grubauer had a fantastic finish in the 2018 portion of the season (13-5-0, 2.14, .931), but Copley has had a fine start in replacing Grubauer in that role. 

And that brings us to an interesting fact about Caps backup goalies.  In Calendar 2018 to date, the Grubauer-Copley backup tandem appeared in 35 games, started 30 of them, and had a record of 22-7-1, 2.32, .925, with one shutout.  There might not be another position on the ice in 2018 from which the Caps got more production relative to expected role.

Power Play:  1-for-4/25.0 percent (season: 23.5 percent, rank: 8th)

Washington’s entire performance on the power play in Week 13 came in their 3-1 win over Carolina to open the week.   That they had one goal in four chances after going 0-for-three times as many chances (12) in Week 12 was a plus.  That they did it against one of the better penalty killing teams in the league (Carolina finished the week 11th in penalty killing, fourth-best in road games) made it better.

In their second game of the week, in Ottawa against the Senators, the Caps failed to muster as much as a single power play chance.  It was the first time this season in 18 road games that the Caps were denied a chance with a man advantage.  It was the first time they were shut out on the road in power play chances since they went without a power play in a 2-0 win at San Jose against the Sharks last March 10th.

As it was, Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom combined for five of the seven power play shots on goal against Carolina (three and two, respectively), but it was T.J. Oshie getting the lone goal on his only “shot,” a redirection of a John Carlson drive that would end up being the game-winning goal in the 3-1 win.

Penalty Killing: 5-for-5 / 100.0 percent (season: 77.3 percent, rank: 24th)

Based on Week 12 and 13 results, we are once more left with the question, is the Caps penalty kill coming out of its season-long funk?  We were right here after Weeks 9 and 10, over which the Caps killed 20 of 21 shorthanded situations (95.2 percent) and killed all nine shorthanded situations they faced in Week 10.  Now, the Caps wrap up Week 13 having killed 14 of 15 power plays over the last two weeks (93.3 percent), including all five shorthanded situations they faced this past week.

The bad news about that is that the Caps followed up their fine Week 9-10 penalty killing with two poor weeks (16-for-25/64.0 percent).  The good news is the underlying performance of Week 13.  The Caps did allow Carolina four power play chances, but they permitted only three shots on goal in 8:00 of shorthanded ice time.  In their lone shorthanded situation faced against Ottawa, the Caps did not allow a shot on goal over the two minutes.  The five shorthanded situations faced for the week are the second-fewest faced in a week this season (four situations faced in two games in Week 5, also an instance in which all of them were killed off).

Faceoffs: 57-for-116 / 49.1 percent (season: 47.8 percent, rank: 27th)

At this point, it is safe to say that this version of the Capitals is not especially adept in the faceoff circle.  They do muster good efforts from time to time, but as a team and individually, they are inconsistent – from zone to zone, game to game, and week to week.  The issue in Week 13 was the difference between offensive and defensive zones.  Washington was unproductive in the offensive zone for the week, under 50 percent in both games and only 35.0 percent for the week (14-for-40).  It was better in the defensive zone, but barely.  The Caps split the two games, 10-for-16 against Carolina but only 8-for-18 against Ottawa to finish one win over 50 percent for the week (18-for-34).

Individually, the light schedule made for only three Caps with at least ten faceoffs taken.  Nicklas backstrom was the only one of the three to finish over 50 percent for the week owing to his being over that threshold in all three zones.  Lars Eller had a difficult week, his 44.8 percent saved only by his neutral zone performance (6-for-9).  He was 7-for-20 in the ends (35.0 percent).  Evgeny Kuznetsov had a typical week (read: under 50 percent), but he did have the distinction of being the only Capital taking more than one faceoff against the Senators in the second game of the week to finish over 50 percent (6-for-11/54.5 percent).

Goals by Period:

There was not much meat on the bones in terms of the goals by period for the week, given there were only two games played.  But there were good signs here.  The Caps did not allow a first period goal while scoring two of their own (both against Ottawa), and they scored first in both games. 

The Caps have slowly, but steadily improved their first period goal differential so that it is now third best in the league (plus-11), trailing only San Jose (plus-16) and Pittsburgh (plus-15).  They finished the week second in the league in second period goals scored (55) to Tampa Bay (57) and joined Tampa Bay as the only teams in the league with a second period goal differential of plus -20 or better, the Caps at plus-20 and the Lightning at plus-28.

The Caps could stand to finish better, though.  They were a minus-1 for the week and finished Week 13 tied for 24th in third period goals scored (33) and a minus-5 in goal differential.

Year over Year:

If there is one thing that one notices looking at the year-over-year numbers, it is how much more efficient this year’s team is over last year’s.  For instance, the Caps are down by 1.8 percent in 5-on-5 shot attempts, yet their total shots on goal are up by 4.3 percent.  And, with more shots on goal, the Caps are scoring on a higher percentage of them – 12.0 percent so far this season (second in the league to, yes, Tampa Bay at 12.4 percent).  It makes for a 17.9 percent increase in goals scored and going from a plus-5 goal differential through 37 games last season to a plus-27 through 37 games this season.

In other respects it is noteworthy how much this season looks like last.  Differences in goals against, power play chances, shot attempts-for percentage, hits, and giveaways are virtually unchanged from this point last season. 

In the end…

The Caps are about to end their best calendar year in team history with a strong finish.  Their 16-3-0 record going into the year’s finale against the Nashville Predators on Monday is the league’s second-best record since November 16th (Tampa Bay is 17-2-1).  No team has allowed fewer goals (45), and only five have scored more than the Caps (73).  The good news there is that the success was largely a product of superior 5-on-5 play, but the flip side of that is that the special teams have been comparatively weak, the power play at 17.8 percent (18th) and the penalty kill at 82.5 percent (11th).

Through 13 weeks, the Caps have earned a spot in the conversation as to which teams are the most serious Cup contenders this season.  Their consistency (only one losing week in 13 to date) makes them a formidable opponent over long spans of games, of the sort one sees in the spring.  That they are doing it with an incomplete lineup (defensemen Brooks Orpik, Christian Djoos, and Matt Niskanen are out of the lineup as of the end of Week 13) is testament to their steely nature, hard won from last year’s playoff run, and their ability to grind out wins in a variety of ways. 

Three Stars:
  • First Star: Tyler Lewington (1-1-2, plus-2, first NHL assist, first NHL goal, first NHL fight, first NHL “Gordie Howe Hat Trick”)
  • Second Star: Braden Holtby (1-0-0, 28 saves on 29 shots)
  • Third Star: Tom Wilson (1-1-2, plus-1, seven hits, 3-for-3 on faceoffs, no penalty minutes (three straight games without one))

Sunday, December 23, 2018

Washington Capitals: That Was The Week That Was - Week 12

Recording two wins in three games is not a bad week.  However, for the Washington Capitals, the week did have the faint whiff of disappointment over with whom that loss was recorded.  Nevertheless, the Caps finished the week with a two-game winning streak and a spot at the top of the Metropolitan Division going into the Christmas holiday break, a place they did not occupy at the break last season.

Record: 2-1-0

Going into the Christmas break last season, the Caps were in second place in the Metropolitan Division, one point behind the New Jersey Devils, and the Devils had two games in hand.  Winning the week allowed the Caps to remain at the top of the Metro, four points clear of the Columbus Blue Jackets.  That the Caps went 2-1-0 for the week against three Eastern Conference teams – Pittsburgh, Buffalo, and Ottawa – should hardly be surprising.  The Caps go into the Christmas break with a 14-5-2 record against Eastern Conference teams, slightly better than last season’s 13-6-1 record heading into the break.  The two wins against Atlantic Division teams left the Caps with a 7-2-1 record against that division, not much different than the 8-3-1 record they posted last season at the break against the Atlantic.

The disappointment was in the loss to a Metropolitan Division opponent, the archrival Pittsburgh Penguins.  It was a milestone loss of sorts, the 100th time in the history of the regular season series that the Caps lost in regulation to the Penguins.  They lost an opportunity to get even between wins (they have 98) and regulation losses.  Of current relevance, the loss allowed the Penguins to climb within five points of the Caps at the break, although the Caps do hold a game in hand on Pittsburgh.

Offense: 2.33/game (season: 3.60/game, rank: 3rd)

There is the old “glass half full/glass half empty” theme to deal with in this category in Week 12.  In the glass half full portion, the Caps had seven different goal scorers.  Glass half empty?  None of them had more than one goal.  Glass half full?  The Caps had 12 different players record points.  Glass half empty?  None had more than two, and there were only three of them.

What was odd for the Caps was the lack of production at the top of the shot column.  Alex Ovechkin…12 shots on goal, no goals.  Evgeny Kuznetsov… 10 shots on goal, no goals.  Jakub Vrana…nine shots on goal, one goal.  John Carlson…eight shots on goal, no goals.  The top four Caps in shots on goal combined for one goal on 39 shots.  There was, at the other end, Chandler Stephenson, who recorded a goal (shorthanded) on his only shot on goal for the week.  Go figure.

The Caps got two of their seven goals for the week from defensemen, those coming from Matt Niskanen and Michal Kempny.  What is noteworthy about that is who was – and remains – missing from the goal scoring register.  When the Caps skated off the ice after their 4-0 win over Ottawa on Saturday to end the week, it marked the two-month mark since John Carlson last recorded a goal.  In 26 games since he lit the lamp, part of a three-point night for Carlson in Vancouver in a 5-2 win over the Canucks, he has no goals on 67 shots.  Not that he hasn’t contributed.  Carlson has 22 assists over that span, third in the league among defensemen, trailing by one only Brent Burns and Mark Giordano.  He is also a plus-16 over that span, seventh-best in the league among defensemen.

Defense: 1.00/game (season: 2.91/game, rank: 15th)

The Caps allowed 30 or more in all three games – 30 to the Penguins, 37 to the Sabres, and 35 to the Senators.  The odd part of it all, though, was the Pittsburgh game.  The Caps allowed the Pens only 38 shot attempts at 5-on-5, by far their lowest total for the week (and the only game in which the Caps were on the “plus” side of that ledger).  Washington allowed Buffalo 55 shot attempts at fives and then 60 by Ottawa to end the week.

There was a sense of variety in the shots allowed profile.  Against Pittsburgh, it was the middle frame in which the defense allowed the most attempts to reach the net (13 of the total of 30).  Against Buffalo, it was the third period (17 of 37), and against Ottawa it was the first period (13 of 35).

Tom Wilson had perhaps the most interesting week on the defensive side of the puck.  His 11 hits led all players, as did his five takeaways.  And there was defenseman Tyler Lewington, who dressed for his first game in the NHL, getting 13 minutes and change against Ottawa to end the week.  Four hits and a penalty made for an eventful debut, despite not recording a point.  Fun Lewington fact…he became the first player in team history to wear jersey number “78.”

Goaltending: 1.01 / .971 / 1 SO (season: 2.75 / .913 / 3 SO)

Week 12 was the best week of the season for the netminders.  When the number one netminder stops 64 of 67 shots (a .955 save percentage), and that is the second-best performance of the week, it says a lot about the total effort.  That was Braden Holtby’s week, taking the 2-1 loss against the Penguins but following that up with superb 36-save effort in the 2-1 win over Buffalo in the middle game of the week.  His .962 save percentage at even strength was fourth-best in the league among the 36 goalies appearing in at least two games.  It was part of an oddly inconsistent month for Holtby, who in seven appearances in December allowed five or more goals twice and two or fewer goals four times.

Holtby’s performance was quite a set up for the end of the week, when Pheonix Copley got the nod in Ottawa against the Senators.  The Caps scored on their first and last shots of the first period, and inbetween Copley had 12 saves on 12 shots (he had 13 for the period).  So, one might have thought it would be a good night for the Caps.  What one might not have foreseen was that Copley would stop all 35 shots he faced to earn his first NHL shutout.  The win gave Copley a record of 8-1-1 in his last 11 appearances with a goals against average of 2.34 and a .921 save percentage.  The odd part of that record was his no decision.  It was the only time in the 11-game run in which he allowed four or more goals, giving up four on 22 shots before being relieved after 21 minutes by Braden Holtby, who took the 5-4 loss against the Montreal Canadiens on November 19th after the Caps came back to tie the game.  Fun Copley fact…through Week 13, he has a better even strength save percentage (.927) than does Henrik Lundqvist (.926)…and Andrei Vasilevskiy (.924)…and Ben Bishop (.923)…and Matt Murray (.918)…and Sergei Bobrovsky (.917).

Power Play:  0-for-12/0.0 percent (season: 23.4 percent, rank: 8th)

When does a power play go from “slump” to just “bad?”  Those are the same players out there as who put together a 32.7 percent power play through the first six weeks of the season.  But over the past six weeks, the Caps’ power play is at 15.3 percent, 20th in the league over that span.

Week 12 was the worst week of the season.  It marked the first week this season in which the Caps failed to record a single power play goal.  It was the first time that they did not record a power play goal in a week’s worth of games since Week 23 last season, when they went 0-for-6.  It was the first time that they failed to record a single power play goal in a week in which they had ten or more chances since Week 12 of the 2016-2017 season, when they went 0-for-12.

The Caps just seem to be in a rut, perhaps in need of a new wrinkle.  Whatever it is, Week 12 was not very good from a shooting standpoint.  They managed only 14 shots on goal in 21:07 of power play ice time.  Low shot volume, high minutes, makes for an unsuccessful week on the man advantage. 

One thing to note on the shooting numbers.  Of the 14 shots the Caps recorded, only one – that from T.J. Oshie, came from the middle of the 1-3-1 set-up, a reflection of either not getting pucks there or defenses doing a good job collapsing around it.  The other 13 shots came from perimeter players – Evgeny Kuznetsov (five), Alex Ovechkin (four), and John Carlson (four).  Ovechkin has only one power play goal in his last 15 games, two in his last 21 contests.

Penalty Killing: 9-for-10 / 90.0 percent (season: 76.4 percent, rank: 26th)

There has been nothing mediocre about the Caps’ penalty kill lately.  It has been either very good or very bad.  Consider a 9-for-10 week one of the very good variety.  It was the third time in seven weeks that it was 90 percent or better.  That matches the three times in that span that the Caps were under 75 percent.

As inefficient the Caps were on the power play getting shots to the net, the penalty killers were efficient at denying shots on goal.  In 16:37 of shorthanded ice time, the Caps allowed only nine shots on goal.  And that goal allowed was a bit flukish.  A shot-pass from Evgeni Malkin to Sidney Crosby at the left of goalie Braden Holtby was redirected off Crosby’s stick and then of the toe of his right skate behind Holtby.   Had he not gotten his toe on it, the redirected puck appeared to be going wide.  And, the little things.  On that goal, Jonas Siegenthaler, a rookie defenseman, had responsibility down low on that play and drifted to the middle to allow Crosby to set up unchallenged at the left side of the crease.

Faceoffs: 68-for-157 / 43.3 percent (season: 47.7 percent, rank: 27th)

There is a technical term for what was the Caps’ performance in the faceoff circle in Week 12.  That term would be, “yuck.”  They lost all three zones for the week, and they were under 40 percent for two of the three games.  The good points… Washington was 28-for-51 against Buffalo in the middle game of the week.  On the other hand, the Sabres finished the week 26th in the league in faceoff winning percentage (one spot, it turns out, ahead of the Caps).  Pittsburgh and Ottawa were the teams holding the Caps under 40 percent, but those clubs are middle-of-the-road in faceoff winning percentage (14th and 16th, respectively, at week’s end).  If you looked at the zone statistics through a rose-colored lens, you could say that it was the neutral zone winning percentage (38.1 percent) that pulled down the week’s numbers, and that is what the numbers say.  But they also say that the Caps were under 50 percent in the ends, too.

On an individual basis, Nicklas Backstrom saved the week from being an utter disaster in the circle.  He was over 50 percent in all three zones and had a 59.3 winning percentage overall.  Of the other three skaters who took ten or more draws, only Nic Dowd finished over 40 percent.  And none of the four had a stranger week than Lars Eller, who was over 50 percent in the neutral zone and over 60 percent in the offensive zone, but was 2-for-18 in the defensive zone (11.1 percent).

Goals by Period:

This was where the Caps were most consistent for the week, although in a low scoring week overall, it was not dominating.  However, the Caps did not lose any period for the week, and they held opponents to a single third-period goal in three games, an area in which the Caps have had intermittent issues so far this season.

Year over Year:

As the Caps head into the Christmas break, this season looks a lot like last season.  There are the 22 wins through 35 games last year and this, a two standings points difference, a one-goal difference in goals allowed.  There just do not appear to be any overly significant swings, good or bad, in the range of statistical categories from last year to this with the lone exception of penalties/penalty minutes, where there is an 11 percent reduction in the number of penalties and a 19 percent reduction in penalty minutes. 

In the end…

There are worse things to say than “this year looks like last year at this point,” especially given the way that last season ended for the Caps.  But to that add the fact that there have been significant absences from the lineup by important pieces – Brooks Orpik (25 games and counting), Tom Wilson (19 games), T.J. Oshie (11 games), Christian Djoos (seven games and counting), Evgeny Kuznetsov (six games).  This is a team that has learned to grind out wins and do it in different ways.  How many people would look at Alex Ovechkin with one power play goal in his last 15 games, and the Caps having a 12-3-0 record in them?  Or the Caps with an 18-7-1 record in the games John Carlson played since he last scored a goal?  This is a team that has shed its reputation of one that wilts in the face of adversity.  Winning does that.

Three Stars:
  • First Star: Pheonix Copley (1-0-0, 35-save shutout (first in the NHL))
  • Second Star: Tom Wilson (1-1-2, plus-3, 1 GWG, 11 credited hits, 3 blocked shots, 5 takeaways)
  • Third Star: Braden Holtby (1-1-0, 64 saves on 67 shots (.955 save percentage))

Thursday, December 20, 2018

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 34: Sabres at Capitals, December 21st

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

Hey, didn’t we just do this?  Why yes…yes we have.  The Washington Capitals, who knocked off the Buffalo Sabres in a 4-3 Gimmick win last Saturday at Capital One Arena, get a chance to make it two-for-two on the same ice sheet when the Sabres visit on Friday.  While the Caps will be trying to avoid things like allowing two power play goals and coughing up a lead before coming back to scratch out the win, as they did in last Friday's win, the Sabres will be looking for their fourth win in six games (3-1-1 in their last five contests going into this game).

Buffalo has had some difficulty scoring recently.  After averaging 3.09 goals per game over their first 22 games, they backed off by almost a third of a goal per game, to an average of 2.77 goals per game in their last 13 contests.  One Sabre who has not taken his foot off the gas on offense is Jeff Skinner.  With 25 goals through 35 games, he seems a sure bet to record his fourth 30-plus goal season and demolish his career best of 37 goals in 2016-2017.  This is a player who started relatively slowly, recording only one goal in his first seven games this season.  He put that slump to rest with a hat trick against the Los Angeles Kings in a 5-1 win on October 20th.  Starting with that game he has only once gone as many as three games without a goal, and on only one other occasion did he go consecutive games without one.  He goes into Friday’s game with goals in four of his last five games (five goals in all) and on a seven-game points streak (5-4-9).  If anything, he has been more dangerous as a goal scorer on the road with 14 goals in 18 road contests.  Skinner has dressed for more games against the Caps, most of them with the Carolina Hurricanes, than he has against any other NHL club over his career.  He is 12-13-25, minus-2, in 38 games against Washington.

One might look at Jack Eichel as the consolation prize in the Connor McDavid sweepstakes that was the 2015 entry draft.   Some “consolation” prize.  Eichel is now in his fourth season with the Sabres, who took him with the second overall pick in that 2015 draft, and he has slowly and steadily improved on his numbers.  A 56-point season in his rookie year was the foundation for growing into a near point per game player in his next two seasons.  This year, he has 46 points in 35 games, his 1.31 points per game ranking ninth in the league and his 32 assists tied for fifth.  He has been absolutely on fire of late.  After going consecutive games without a point in mid-November, Eichel is 10-17-27, plus-11, in 17 games.  Over that span he was held without a point only twice while posting ten multi-point games, including a two-goal effort against the Caps last week.  Add to that the fact that Eichel is 5-22-27, plus-7, in 18 road games, and he bears watching.  In seven career games against the Caps, he is 2-3-5, minus-2.

All good things come to an end.  That might be a phrase to use gently around Sabres goalie Carter Hutton.  Hutton cobbled together an eight-game winning streak from November 8th through November 27th, over which he posted a goals against average of 1.97 and a save percentage of .936.  That streak ended with a 5-4 loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning on November 29th and started Hutton down a different path.  In his last five appearances he is 1-3-1, 2.99, ,907, including the trick shot loss to the Caps last week.  Hutton has not had a lot of success on the road so far this season, posting a win-loss record of 4-6-1, along with a GAA of 2.81 and a save percentage of .909, despite seeing less rubber (30.7 shots per 60 minutes versus 32.2 shots per 60 minutes at home).  Hutton is 2-2-2, 3.53, .876 in seven career appearances against the Caps.

1.  No team in the Eastern Conference has enjoyed as many power play opportunities on the road as Buffalo (60, three more than the Florida Panthers).

2.  The Sabres could stand to be a little tighter with the puck on the road.  Their 167 charged giveaways are fourth-highest in the league.

3.  Buffalo does not do a very good job tilting the ice in their favor on the road.  They 46.95 shot attempts-for percentage at 5-on-5 is 25th in the league.

4.  On the other hand, the Sabres do have fine 5-on-5 shooting and save percentages on the road, the sum of which (1014) is fifth-best in the league.

5.  Buffalo has 19 skaters who have dressed for at least 10 games on the road.  All of them have at least one point.

1.  The Caps have won six straight games against Buffalo at Capital One Arena, outscoring the Sabres by a 25-10 margin.

2.  Last Friday’s game was the first time that the Caps allowed more than two goals to the Sabres since they took a 5-3 decision against Buffalo in DC on St. Patrick’s Day 2013, a span of seven games without doing so.

3.  Washington has pelted the Sabres’ net when hosting them.  The Caps have recorded seven straight games of more than 30 shots on goal against the Sabres in Washington, averaging 38.7 shots per game.

4.  When the Caps failed to record a power play goal against Pittsburgh on Wednesday, it marked the first time this season that the Caps failed to record a power play goal in consecutive home games.  Before going 0-for-2, the Caps were shutout on the power play only twice in 15 games at Capital One Arena.

5.  The Caps won only 22 faceoffs (in 56 tries – 39.3 percent).  That was the lowest number of faceoff wins on home ice for the Caps since Opening Night, when they won only 19 of 60 draws against the Boston Bruins.

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

Buffalo: Rasmus Dahlin

Last April, Craig Button called amateur prospect defenseman Rasmus Dahlin a “franchise defining blueliner who very well may be the best defenceman entering the draft since Denis Potvin in 1973.”  He has done nothing so far to dispel that point of view.  Dahlin’s 19 points lead all rookie defensemen, reminiscent of Potvin’s leading all rookie defensemen in points in his 1973-1974 rookie season (54 points, well clear of Borje Salming’s 39 points).  He did suffer a seven-game streak without a point when he came to Washington last week, but he broke out of that slump in a big way by having a hand in all three Sabres goals in the 4-3 loss to the Caps (a goal and two assists).  He followed that up with a two-assist night against the Bruins the next night in a 4-2 win.  Last week’s three-point night against the Caps was Dahlin’s first appearance against Washington.

Washington: Tom Wilson

He was suspended for 16 games to open the season, and he went 8-6-14, plus-8, in 11 games before he was concussed against the Vegas Golden Knights.  He missed three games, and they he came back and recorded a goal and an assist in three games, not to mention mixing it up (briefly) with Pittsburgh’s Jamie Oleksiak in the Caps last game.  Tom Wilson is no longer merely a bludgeon, a cruise missile seeking out opponents to target and destroy with a big hit or fisticuffs.  He’s a hockey player, a power forward in the traditional sense of the term, a player who can defend himself or teammates, who can create space for himself and others to work, who can go into the hard areas and be successful, but most of all, he can produce.  In just 14 games this season he is already more than half way (nine) to his career best goal total (14, last season) and is almost half way (16) to his career high in points (35, also last season).  Wilson has points in 11 of those 14 games in which he played, and the Caps are 9-2-0 in those contests.  He is now a player who makes a difference in a lot of ways.  Nevertheless, he is looking for his first career goal against Buffalo.  He has two assists in 16 games and is a plus-1 against the Sabres.

In the end…

Familiarity, it is said, breeds contempt.  These teams met just a short time ago, so there is still a reading on the contempt meter that might make this an interesting game, especially since the Caps are coming off a tough loss to Pittsburgh on Wednesday.  Buffalo, on the other hand, wants to re-establish some momentum in what has been a pleasantly surprising season so far.  If familiarity breeds contempt, we’ll go with the outcome being a familiar one.

Capitals 4 – Sabres 2

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 33: Penguins at Capitals, December 19th

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

The Washington Capitals return to the ice on Wednesday night to host the Pittsburgh Penguins in the latest edition of one of hockey’s most intense rivalries.  However, while the Capitals enter this contest on a hot streak as winners of five straight games and 12 of their last 14 contests, the Penguins will visit Washington fresh off a loss on Monday night to the Anaheim Ducks and are just 9-11-4 since they won four in a row to get off to a 6-1-2 start last October.

It is not often that we associate the word “struggle” with either Sidney Crosby or Evgeni Malkin, and in their case the term is relative.  But by the high standards of performance both have set over their respective careers, “struggle” is what they have done to some extent.  Going into this season, Crosby was the leader among all NHLers in points per game since he came into the league in 2005-2006 (1.29; minimum: 100 games), while Malkin was third (1.19).  However, through Monday’s games, Crosby ranked 20th in the league (1.20), while Malkin ranked 33rd (1.09).  Crosby missed three games earlier this season to an upper body injury, itself a bit disappointing since last year was the first of his career in which he appeared in every regular season game.  The injury did not slow him down that much, though.  Since his return on November 21st against Dallas, he is 7-10-17, plus-2, in 14 games.  What Crosby has not had this year so far is his usual volume of high-point volume games.  This is another category in which he leads the league over his career – games with three or more points (131, 27 more than Alex Ovechkin).  This year, however, he has four such games, and to give you some perspective on that, this is the same number of such games that Caps’ defenseman John Carlson has.  Crosby is 21-45-66, minus-1, in 47 career games against Washington.

Malkin has had two rather distinct phases to his season to date, and not in the best order.  In his first 19 games he was 7-20-27, minus-2, and had nine multi-point games.  However, since that 19-game start, he is 4-5-9, minus-12, in 14 games and has only one multi-point game along the way.  Only six skaters among 793 to dress this season have a worse plus-minus than Malkin’s minus-14.  Getting Malkin productive matters, because the Pens are just 3-7-1 in the 11 games in which he did not register a point so far this season.  He also has been having trouble scoring on the road.  After going 6-10-16, plus-2, in his first 10 games on the road this season, he goes into this game without a point in his last five games away from the Confluence and is a minus-9.  He has not had a “plus” game on the road since October 27th in Vancouver when he was plus-3 in a 5-0 win over the Canucks.  That’s ten road games, and counting.  In 42 career games against the Caps, Malkin is 19-41-60, even.

You could scratch your head until you hit gray matter and not figure out what the thinking was behind giving defenseman Jack Johnson a five-year/$16.25 million contract.  But one supposes the Penguins had their reasons.  Never a particularly effective defender in his own end, and not owning enough offense to make up for that deficiency, he has always seemed (to us, at least) a player who is thought of in better terms than his numbers would suggest.  That he is 1-7-8 in 33 games is not surprising, nor is the fact that his minus-8 is tied for worst among Penguin defensemen (Chad Ruhwedel is also minus-8…in 11 only games) and is tied for 259th among 280 defensemen to dress in the NHL this season.  Johnson has the unfortunate distinction of having the worst plus-minus of any of the 2,436 skaters to dress in the NHL since he came into the league in 2006-2007 through Monday (minus-117).  That he has only two points over his last 14 games (both assists) does not help his cause, although he is plus-2 over that span.  Johnson is 5-9-14, minus-2, in 26 career games against the Caps.

1.  What makes the Penguin’s slide even worse is how they failed to pick up points on home ice.  In their 9-11-4 skid, they are just 7-6-1 at home.  But of relevance to this game, they are just 2-5-1 on the road in that span, their seven road points fewer than all but four teams over that same span.

2.  The Penguins have three players with more than 35 points.  Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, and Phil Kessel all have 36 points.  The Calgary Flames are the only team with more players with more than 35 points (four).

3.  Pittsburgh games are like old westerns – real shoot ‘em ups.  The Penguins are one of two teams to average over 32 shots on goal per game both taken and allowed.  Winnipeg is the other club.

4.  Pittsburgh is fourth in the league in road power play efficiency (28.6 percent), but they have had only 42 chances, sixth fewest in the league.

5.  Caps penalty killers, take note.  No team in the NHL has allowed more shorthanded goals than the Penguins (eight).

1.  Blocking shots, good or bad?  Seems to work for the Caps.  In eight games in which the Caps recorded 20 or more blocked shots, they are 7-1-0, 12-4-1 in the 17 games in which they had 15 or more blocked shots.

2.  Then there are the giveaways.  Bad, right?  Well… the Caps are 11-2-2 in the 15 games in which they surrendered the puck 12 or more times.

3.  Hits?  The Caps are 15-7-3 in the 25 games in which they were credited with at least 15 hits.  Seems “high even” games are a good thing.  Might be a scoring thing.

4.  Special teams… the Caps are 14-3-2 when recording at least one power play goal, 9-8-2 when allowing at least one power play goal.

5.  Penalties are a strange thing for the Caps.  They can be whistled four times, but a fifth?  A sixth?  More?  The Caps are 3-3-2 when charged with five or more penalties this season, regardless of type (e.g., major, minor, misconduct, etc.).  But, they are 7-0-0 when charged with precisely four penalties.

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

Pittsburgh: Jake Guentzel

In his first two seasons, Jake Guentzel posted 16 and 22 goals in 122 games.  He has 13 in 33 contests so far this season, putting him on a pace to finish with 32 goals.  Should he finish with that number, he would have a total of 70 goals over his first three seasons.  That would put him just one short of the top-ten goal totals over a player’s first three seasons in Penguin history, one short of the total that Mark Recchi and Greg Malone posted for the Pens over their first three seasons.  For a club with as deep and rich a history of offensive players as the Penguins, with the likes of Mario Lemieux, Jaromir Jagr, Pierre Larouche, Evgeni Malkin, and Sidney Crosby, that is no small feat.  He has hit a bit of a dry patch, though.  Since recording a hat trick in a 4-2 win over Columbus on November 24th, Guentzel has only two goals in his last 11 games.  And he is the embodiment of the idea that secondary scoring matters.  Pittsburgh is 7-1-2 in the ten games in which he has a goal this season.  The ominous part of that for the Penguins is that he has only two of his 13 goals this season on the road, none in seven games since he had one in a 4-2 loss to the Devils in New Jersey on November 13th.  Guentzel is 2-3-5, even, in seven career games against Washington.

Washington: T.J. Oshie

Nobody slays Penguins in Washington like T.J. Oshie.  OK, Alex Ovechkin does, but Oshie is right there with him.  In Oshie’s four-plus seasons as a Capital, having played against the Penguins eight times at Capital One Arena, Oshie has five goals, the same number as does Ovechkin.  It is something Oshie has done over his whole career, as a matter of fact.  Of the 22 teams that Oshie has faced at least 20 times, Pittsburgh is one of two teams against which he averages at least half a goal per game, 0.50 goals per game in the case of the Penguins on 12 goals in 24 games (he has 12 goals in 17 career games against Tampa Bay).  Oshie has been dinged up this year, missing 11 games to a concussion.  Then, almost before he got his legs back under him (he has played in three games since that absence), he crashed into the net in practice and hearts slid up into the collective throats of Capitals Nation.  Oshie returned to the ice, but beware of too much ice time.  The Caps are just 2-4-2 in the eight games in which Oshie skated more than 20 minutes this season, but with three goals in the two games in barely 32 total minutes of work against the Penguins so far this season, perhaps he can make quick work of an opponent against which he does so well.   Oshie is 12-11-23, plus-11, in 24 career games against Pittsburgh.

In the end…

If it wasn’t a dumpy skating penguin on the front of the jersey, and you looked at that club with a critical eye, you’d say that the Caps are a better team, and not by a small margin, even with the injuries.  Pittsburgh is not deep on defense, has had inconsistent play from its goaltenders (not to mention a lower body injury to Matt Murray that has limited him to 12 games this season), and has had consistency problems generally (they have not had as many as three consecutive wins since late October).

But so what?  The Penguins remain a gifted and dangerous club at the top of their forward lines.  Either Sidney Crosby or Evgeni Malkin can drag a team to a win on their own on any given night.  Patric Hornqvist can sometimes annoy an opponent into submission (although he is on injured reserve), and Phil Kessel just keeps plodding along on a pace to another 30 goal season (it would be his seventh).  But the Caps are now that Penguins team that always seemed to have the ability to look at an opponent and sneer, “you think you’re so good…,” upon which they would dispose of the challenger quickly and emphatically.  That’s the Caps team that needs to show up on Wednesday night.

Capitals 3 – Penguins 1

Sunday, December 16, 2018

Washington Capitals: That Was The Week That Was - Week 11

Week 11 was a successful, if harrowing week for the Washington Capitals.  There was a lot to pack into the five days over which three games were played, not to mention all the extra hockey the Caps bestowed on their fans. Well, we will mention that, too.

Record: 3-0-0

The perfect week was the Caps’ third in their last four weeks and their sixth straight non-losing week.  Starting with a 3-2 overtime win over the Colorado Avalanche on November 16th, the Caps are 12-2-0, a seven-game and a five-game (current) winning streak wrapped around a pair of losses.  The Caps share the best record in the league since November 16th with the Tampa Bay Lightning.

One odd part of that record over the last month is that the Caps started it with a pair of extra time wins, the overtime win over Colorado and another overtime win over the Montreal Canadiens three nights later.  The Caps wrapped up Week 11 and extended their current winning streak to five games with a pair of Gimmick wins over the Carolina Hurricanes and the Buffalo Sabres after starting the week with a 6-2 win over the Detroit Red Wings.  Those trick shot wins, coming on back-to-back nights marked the first time in team history that the Caps won in a Gimmick in back-to-back games on back-to-back nights.

Washington finished the week with 20 wins on the season.  It is the fourth time in team history that the Caps had precisely 20 wins through their first 32 games.  In two other seasons they finished with more wins: 1991-1992 (22 wins) and 2015-2016 (24).

Offense: 4.50/game (season: /game 3.72, rank: 2nd)

The Caps had 14 goals in Week 11, and Alex Ovechkin had half of them, his seven goals leading the league for the week (Vancouver’s Brock Boeser had five).  Ovechkin had hat tricks in consecutive games against Detroit and Carolina, and while he did not have a third straight hat trick game, he did have a goal in the hockey portion of the contest against Buffalo, and he had the game-deciding goal in the freestyle competition (you will be pleased to know that it was his 12th career game-deciding trick shot goal, tying him with Martin Erat on the career game-deciding Gimmick goal list).  The two hat tricks lifted Ovechkin into a tie with Teemu Selanne for third place on the all-time list.  Only Winnipeg’s Patrik Laine has more hat tricks this season than Ovechkin (three).

Almost as impressive was the fact that the other two multiple goal scorers for the week were Brett Connolly and Travis Boyd, with two goals apiece.  Both players accomplished the feat on only five shots on goal.  Connolly finished the week with three goals in his last four games, as did Boyd, who had a three-game goal scoring streak (his first three NHL goals) stopped against Buffalo.

One odd outcome of Ovechkin scoring as many goals as he did was the number of Caps at the top of the points leader board for the week without the benefit of a goal of their own scored.  Ovechkin led the team with seven points (all goals), but four other Caps recorded four or more points without a goal to finish second through fifth in scoring for the week: Nicklas Backstrom (0-6-6), John Carlson (0-5-5), Nic Dowd (0-4-4), and Evgeny Kuznetsov (0-4-4).

Defense: 3.33/game (season: 3.09/game, rank: 18th)

Washington did a decent job of managing shots on goal for the week, allowing 93 in the three games (31.0 per game), not a bad number given that the Caps played an extra ten minutes over those three games.  But, it was in the game that did not go to extra time that the Caps allowed their highest volume of shots on goal for the week (37 to Detroit, but almost half of them – 16 – after the Caps went out to a 5-0 lead after two periods).

It was also in that Detroit game that the Caps recorded their worst shot attempts-for at 5-on-5 for the week (45.0 percent).  All of that was registered when the Caps led.  Even so, the 55 shot attempts that the Caps allowed the Red Wings at fives was not a remarkably high number.  There were 12 instances during the week by ten other teams of higher volumes of 5-on-5 shot attempts allowed.

Otherwise, the Caps dominated the underlying numbers, holding Carolina to 41 5-on-5 shot attempts (55.4 percent) and Buffalo to only 33 5-on-5 shot attempts (62.5 percent).

Goaltending: 3.36 / .891 (season: 2.91 / .907 / 2 SO)

The good part in goaltending in Week 11 was that it was consistent.  The bad part was that it was consistently disappointing (or the play in front was disappointing).  Braden Holtby got the two games to start the week, and Pheonix Copley got the start against Buffalo to end the week.  Holtby stopped 57 of 63 shots in the two games for a .891 save percentage, and while he was over .900 in the first periods of games (.905), he finished under that threshold in the second (.875) and third periods of games (.885).  Copley had similar numbers, only reversed, his above-.900 save percentage coming in the third period against the Sabres, stopping all five shots he faced.

What saved the week for the goaltending was what happened in extra time.  Holtby stopped the only overtime shot he faced against Carolina, and Copley stopped all seven shots directed at him by Buffalo to close the week.  In the freestyle portion of games, Holtby stopped five of six shots against Carolina, while Copley stopped three of four to cement the Caps’ perfect week.

Power Play:  3-for-8/37.5 percent (season: 26.3 percent, rank: 5th)

It was a very good week for the power play, returning to an efficiency rate over 30 percent over a week after finishing under 10 percent in Week 10 (7.7 percent).  It would have been better, though, without having allowed a shorthanded goal by Sebastian Aho in the Caps’ 6-5 extra time win over Carolina.  It was only the third shorthanded goal allowed by the Caps this season; only eight teams have allowed fewer.  Given that the Caps generally play with only one man at the top of the power play formation, that is the sort of low number that should be appreciated more than it is.

As for the offensive side of the power play, three different Caps recorded the three goals – Alex Ovechkin, Brett Connolly, and T.J. Oshie.  No Capital recorded assists on all three goals, but three players did end the week with a pair – Nicklas Backstrom, Evgeny Kuznetsov, and John Carlson.  None of this scoring profile should be seen as surprising.

The Caps were generally efficient on the power play in Week 11; they just didn’t have much of an opportunity to take advantage of it.  The eight chances were the lowest among the four three-game weeks this season, and the Caps spent only 12:20 on the power play all week.  Getting 13 shots on goal in that volume of ice time is a good result as well.  The odd part of it might have been that the Caps were 0-for-4 on the power play against Buffalo on home ice.  Carter Hutton, who stopped all seven power play shots he faced, brought a save percentage against the power play of just .849 into the game, which ranked in the bottom half of the league among goalies with at least 50 power play shots faced.

Penalty Killing: 5-for-10 / 50.0 percent (season: 75.2 percent, rank: 27th)

Week 11 was the worst week of the season for the penalty killers.  Things started well enough, the Caps killing off the only shorthanded situation they faced against Detroit to start the week and killed off the first Carolina power play to start the middle game of the week.  But then, things took a turn.  The Caps allowed five goals on the last eight shorthanded situations faced for the week, three of the last five that Carolina had and two in three penalty “kills” against Buffalo. 

The 50 percent “kill” rate was the worst penalty killing efficiency for a week this season.  And it was not as if the shot numbers were overwhelming.  The three opponents for the week combined for 15 shots on goal in 16:23 of ice time, hardly a sign of pelting the net with rubber.  But this penalty kill, at the moment, sucks on toast.  In the last two weeks it is a combined 16-for-25.  In this league, a 64.0 percent penalty kill (not to mention getting outscored, 10-4, on special teams) isn’t going to cut it in the long run.

Faceoffs: 88-for-185 / 47.8 percent (season: 48.1 percent, rank: 25th)

In this category, the Caps are what they are, a somewhat indifferent and unremarkable team in the game’s basic play (though certainly not usually its most consequential one).  And so it was in Week 11.  The Caps did not win in either end, going 24-for-57 in the offensive zone (42.1 percent) and 25-for-52 in the defensive zone (48.1 percent).  They were one win over 50 percent in the neutral zone (39-for-76/51.3 percent).  They did finish over 50 percent in the last game of the week (31-for-58/53.4 percent), but Buffalo is one of those few teams ranked lower in the circle than the Caps.

Among individuals with at least ten draws taken, the usual suspects finished in their usual places.  Nicklas Backstrom and Nic Dowd had pretty good weeks (52.6 percent and 66.7 percent, respectively), while Lars Eller and Evgeny Kuznetsov finished under 50 percent (45.2 and 41.0 percent, respectively).  One odd thing about Kuznetsov’s week was that despite being the top line center, he did not take an offensive zone draw against Buffalo.

Goals by Period:

For the week, the Caps displayed a problem that has plagued them from time to time this season, an inability to finish games strong on offense.  Scoring six first period and six second period goals, the Caps had only two third period strikes for the week and, of course, did not score a goal in either of the overtimes.  It is a bit odd that Washington is a top-five team in first period goals scored (37/tied for fourth) and a top-five team in second period goals scored (48/first), but can’t seem to replicate that success late (31 third period goals/tied for 18th).  One might say that it is a product of the Caps taking as many leads as they do into the third period (17 times in 32 games), but on the other hand, no team has more losses in regulation when leading after two periods than the Caps (three, tied with Winnipeg).

Year over Year:

The Caps have used this last stretch of a dozen games to pull away from last year’s wins and points pace, one more win and four more points than they were through 32 games last season.  It is worth noting, though, that in the 12 games ending with Game 32 last season, the Caps went 9-3-0.  This is a time of year when the Caps seem inclined to bestow presents on their fans in the form of wins.

Washington continues to far outpace last year’s goal output through the same number of games.  It should be no surprise that the Caps have had 21 games this season with four or more goals, a volume topped only by Tampa Bay (22).  At this time last season, the Caps had 14 such games.

The power play, despite some inconsistency from time to time, continues to outpace last year’s efficiency at a similar point of the season.  The penalty kill, however, continues to disappoint, struggling without success to reach the 80 percent kill threshold.

Shot attempts are still on the underside of 50 percent at 5-on-5, but we keep telling ourselves, “quality, not quantity.”  The grittership numbers are generally better with a notable exception.  Blocked shots…up.  Giveaways…down.  Takeaways…up.  All good trends.  The faceoffs, though, have seen a pronounced negative swing, more than four percentage points lower than last season at this time.  As far as the penalties are concerned, the year-to-year change is primarily a “Wilson” effect.  Through 32 games this season (of which he has played in 13), Tom Wilson has 23 penalty minutes.  Through 32 games last season (in which he dressed for 28 contests), he had 68 penalty minutes, a drop of 45 minutes from last season to this, 78.9 percent of the total drop in team penalty minutes.

In the end…

Results matter, and a three-for-three week extended the Caps’ lead in the Metropolitan Division to six points over the Columbus Blue Jackets.  It also lifted them to 43 points, putting them within two points of the second-best point total in the league (Nashville: 45) with a game in hand.  It is a team that is finding a way to grind out wins when, frankly, they shouldn't.  Add to that the remarkable week put together by Alex Ovechkin, the thrill of extra time hockey, the trick shot finishes (if you like that sort of thing), and Week 11 had something for just about every Caps fan.

Three Stars:
  • First Star: Alex Ovechkin (7-0-7, plus-5, 21st and 22nd hat tricks of his career (tying Teemu Selanne for third place all-time), 17 shots on goal, 41.2 percent shooting percentage, 22:07 in average ice time, 32 shot attempts, one game-winning goal, one game-deciding Gimmick goal)
  • Second Star: Nicklas Backstrom (0-6-6, plus-3, 12th career game with four or more assists (most since he came into the league/Ryan Getzlaf: 8), 22nd game with four or more points (tied with Ovechkin for second since he came into the league/Sidney Crosby: 23), 52.6 faceoff winning percentage)
  • Third Star: Travis Boyd (2-0-2, plus-2, goals scored on only five shots on goal while averaging only 10:09 in ice time for the week)