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)