Thursday, January 31, 2019

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 51: Flames at Capitals, February 1st

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

Bye-Bye “Bye Week.”  The Washington Capitals return to the ice on Friday night with no interest in picking up where they left off, aiming to end a seven-game losing streak  (0-5-2) when they host the Calgary Flames at Capital One Arena.

It will be a tall order, even on home ice, to defeat the Flames.  Calgary has the second-best record in the league (33-13-5/71 points) just five points behind the league-leading Tampa Bay Lightning.  They also have the best road record among Western Conference teams (16-9-0/32 points).  More recently, the Flames are among the hottest clubs in the league overall, going 11-1-2 in their last 14 games, the best record in the league since Christmas.

Johnny Gaudreau leads the club in goals (13) and overall scoring (25 points) since Christmas.  Those 13 goals top the league in that span, while his 25 points rank second to Chicago’s Patrick Kane.  Gaudreau has already posted 29 goals this season in 51 games, one off his career high (30 in 79 games in 2015-2016).  He also seems a good bet, with 73 points in 51 games, to top his best season points-wise, 84 points in 80 games last season.  It is already a career year for Gaudreau in other respects – even strength goals (24, tying his total in 2015-2016), game-winning goals (six, tying he total from 2015-2016), shooting percentage (17.8 percent so far this season), ice time (20:22 per game) and plus-minus (plus-20).  Going into Thursday’s games, only Tampa Bay’s Nikita Kucherov had more multi-point games this season (24) than Gaudreau (22, tied with Colorado’s Nathan MacKinnon and Mikko Rantanen).  He has had 17 multi-point games in his last 31 contests.  In nine career games against the Capitals, Gaudreau is 1-8-9, plus-1.

Since the 2013-2014 season, four defensemen have recorded at least 80 goals and at least 275 points.  Brent Burns, Erik Karlsson, Dustin Byfuglien, and Calgary’s Mark Giordano are the foursome.  Giordano might be the least known (not to mention appreciated) of the group.  This might be Giordano’s best season of his career.  His 11 goals does trail his career high of 21 substantially, but his 41 assists in 49 games is already a career best, and his 52 points are four short of the career high of 56 he posted in 2015-2016. His plus-29 leads all skaters going into Thursday’s games, and his 1.06 points per game lead all league defensemen.  Giordano leads all defensemen in three-point games this season with seven, three more than his closest competitors.  And when Giordano posts points, which is often, it matters.  Calgary is 21-5-3 in the 29 games in which he recorded a point, 11-7-2 in the 20 games in which he did not.  Giordano is 3-6-9, plus-2, in 13 career games against the Caps.

Calgary has been successful largely through filling the opponent’s net with pucks.  At the other end, goaltending has been an issue.  David Rittich is sixth in the league in save percentage (2.47) among 46 goalies with at least 1,000 minutes played and tenth in save percentage in that group (.918).  Those numbers have slipped since Christmas, though.  But his is an odd profile.  In ten starts since Christmas, Rittich had a goals against average of 2.77, almost a third of a goal per game higher than his season mark, and his .909 save percentage of .909 in that span is nine points lower than his season mark.  Nevertheless, he is 8-0-2 in those ten appearances.  Rittich has not lost a game in regulation since dropping a 2-0 decision to the Dallas Stars on December 18th.

Mike Smith has even worse numbers, not that they have been very good this season.  Overall, he ranks 35th of 46 goalies with 1,000 minutes in goals against average (3.04), and his save percentage of .888 is next to last in that group.  Since Christmas, though, Smith’s goals against average (3.26) has slipped, while his save percentage (.888) has shown no improvement.  Still, he is 3-1-0 in that span.

1.  Going into Thursday’s games, no team has scored more goals since Christmas than Calgary (63, tied with San Jose).  Their shooting percentage also leads the league in that span (14.6).

2.  Over that same period, no team has fewer credited hits than the Flames (186, 15 fewer than the Toronto Maple Leafs).

3.  The Flames can be loose with the puck.  Their 244 giveaways is most in the league since Christmas.  Then again, so is their 167 takeaways.  Scoring quirks?  Or Turnover-palooza in Calgary games?

4.  What Calgary has not been is an especially dominant team in shot attempts.  Since Christmas, their 49.64 percent in shot-attempts for at 5-on-5 ranks 17th in the league, although they are more impressive when behind (56.80 percent.sixth).  So, don’t sleep on this team with a lead.

5.  The Flames have not done a good job coloring within the lines.  Since Christmas, their 139 penalty minutes rank third in the league (tops among Western Conference teams), and they are the only club in that time to have been charged with a match penalty (Sam Bennett).

1.  The Caps are 8-7-2 in their last 17 home games since a 2-1 loss to Columbus on November 9th.  Among Eastern Conference teams, only Detroit (7-8-3) and Ottawa (7-7-2) have worse records over that span on home ice.

2.  In those 17 home games, the Caps have scored 51 goals and allowed 51 goals.

3.  Over those same 17 home games, only three teams have fewer shots on goal on home ice than the Caps (505): New York Rangers (482), Los Angeles (481), and Ottawa (478).

4.  No team has suffered more shorthanded instances on home ice than the Caps in their 17-game run. Their 60 shorthanded situations faced are two more than the Colorado Avalanche over that span.

5.  The Caps have eight goals scored in their last four home games.  They lost all of them, including the one game in which they scored six of those eight goals, a 7-6 overtime loss to San Jose in their most recent home game (January 22nd).

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

Calgary: James Neal

In his first ten seasons in the NHL, James Neal never posted fewer than 21 goals, and he recorded that total on only 40 games with Pittsburgh in 2012-2013.  He was among the better goal scorers over that decade, his 263 goals ranking 15th in that ten-year span.  But, he was expendable, having dressed for four different franchises over those ten years—Dallas, Pittsburgh, Nashville, and Vegas.  After spending one season with the Golden Knights in last year’s inaugural season, he signed a five-year/$28.75 million contract as a free agent with the Flames.  It has not worked out well.  He started cold (three goals in his first 14 games) and slipped into the deep freeze thereafter (two goals in his last 35 games).  With five goals in 49 games he will struggle to reach double digits in goals if he does not pick up his pace.  His ice time has slowly been pared back as a result.  He averaged 15:55 in ice time per game over his first ten games, dropping to 15:10 in his next ten, 15:07 in his third ten-game segment, 15:23 in his next ten, and 14:14 in his last nine contests going into Friday’s game in Washington.  And ice time seems to be an indicator of success.  Calgary is 12-8-3 in the 23 games in which Neal skated at least 15:50, 21-4-1 in the 26 games in which he skated less than 15:50.  Neal is 10-5-15, plus-4, in 21 career games against Washington.

Washington:  Chandler Stephenson

Chandler Stephenson has yet to establish much of a footprint as an offensive player with the Caps.  In two full seasons with the club he has recorded 64 shots on goal in 113 games.  No player having appeared in at least 100 games over the last two seasons have fewer shots on goal (by way of comparison, even Brooks Orpik has 72 shots on goal in 103 games).  However, Stephenson does have 11 goals on those 64 shots for a respectable 17.2 shooting percentage.  It is not shooting that matters for Stephenson at this career juncture.  This season the Caps are 13-8-3 in the 24 games in which he recorded at least one shot on goal, 13-6-3 in the 22 games in which he did not.  Ice time matters, though, perhaps as an indirect indicator (the Caps perhaps able to roll lines in leading situations).  Washington is 8-3-0 when Stephenson skated more than 14 minutes, 14-9-4 when skating between 10 and 14 minutes, and 4-2-2 when skating under ten minutes.  Stephenson is looking for his first point against Calgary, going 0-0-0, even, in four career games against the Flames.

In the end…

Calgary is a team that can make an opponent pay dearly for making defensive errors, but on the other hand, it is also a very top-heavy scoring team.  Of their 190 goals, 101 come from four players, all topping 20 goals (Johnny Gaudreau (29), Sean Monahan (27), Matthew Tkachuk (24), and Elias Lindholm (21)).  It is more balance than the Caps have, though, considering that Alex Ovechkin’s 37 goals represents 22.0 percent of the team’s total, and his 57 points means he has a hand in more than a third of the team’s 168 goals (33.9 percent).  Can the Caps slow down the Flames’ “Big Four” and get some goal scoring support of their own from other players (given Ovechkin's absence for this gaem)?  This is the fault line upon which this game could be decided.

Capitals 4 – Flames 3

Sunday, January 27, 2019

Washington Capitals: That Was The Week That Was - Week 17

Another week still in search of a win.  These are the Washington Capitals as they headed into the All-Star Game break.  In one respect, Week 17 was not as bad as Week 16, the Caps having earned one standings point for the week.  But the slide left them three points behind the New York Islanders for the top spot in the Metropolitan Division.  And in other ways, this was the ugliest week in Capitals hockey in quite some time.

Record: 0-2-1

Two consecutive weeks without a win.  It is the first time this has happened to the Caps since we started doing TWTWTW summaries in the 2013-2014 season.  That happened to be the last time that the Caps ran off a seven game losing streak, going 0-5-2 in Games 45-51.  The difference between then and now is that the seven-game losing streak in 2013-2014 featured four losses by one goal, two of them in a Gimmick.  Only two of the losses came by three or more goals.  This seven-game streak, however, includes only two games lost by one-goal margins, both in overtime.  Four of the losses were by three or more goals, and in the last three of those losses – the Week 17 schedule – the Caps were outscored by a 21-14 margin. 

The last time that the Caps had a longer losing streak was an eight-game slide in 2010-2011, made famous for being featured on the HBO series “Road to the NHL Winter Classic” in the run-up to the Caps’ meeting with the Pittsburgh Penguins on New Year’s Night 2011.

If there is a plus side to this, the Caps ran off a 7-2-1 run over the 10 games following their seven-game losing streak in 2013-2014, and they went 6-0-2 after their eight-game losing streak in 2010-2011, including a 3-1 win over the Penguins in the Winter Classic.

Offense: 4.67/game (season: 3.36 / rank: 8th)

Week 17 was the very vision of “wasted” offense.  The Caps scored 14 goals in three games, tying the Carolina Hurricanes for most over the week (both did it in three games).  They led the league in shots on goal by a wide margin, their 122 shots topping Carolina by a whopping 19 shots on goal.  The Caps tied Carolina for the league lead for the week in even strength goals (12).  Put another way, this is a club that has allowed four or more goals four times in their last ten games.  The 14-goal output was more than nine percent of the goal total that the Caps brought into the week (154) over 47 games.

Nine different Capitals recorded goals for the week, led by Alex Ovechkin (four).  Three of those four goals came against the San Jose Sharks, Ovechkin’s 23rd career hat trick, breaking a tie with Teemu Selanne for 12th-most all-time and tying Jari Kurri for tenth place on the all-time hat trick list.

Two other Caps had multi-goal weeks, both of them defensemen – Matt Niskanen and John  Carlson.  Both players broke out of lengthy dry spells in goal scoring.  Carlson’s two goals in the 8-5 loss to the Chicago Blackhawks to start the week snapped an 11-game goalless streak and a run of one goal over a 38-game stretch.  Niskanen’s goal against Chicago ended his own streak without a goal at ten games and a run of 30 games with only two goals scored.  He added a goal in the 6-3 loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs to end the week.

Even Brooks Orpik got into the goal scoring column, potting one in the loss to the Blackhawks.  It broke an 18-game streak without a goal, but the odd thing about the two goals he has this season is that both came in losses, he had his other goal in a 7-6 overtime loss to Pittsburgh on October 4th.  The goal in Week 17 gave Orpik two or more goals for a season for the seventh time in his career.  He had three goals for the Caps in 2015-2016, his career high.

Sixteen skaters posted points for the week, led by T.J. Oshie (1-6-7).  Oshie had points in all three games for the week, his first three-game points streak since he opened the season with points in the Caps’s first three games of the season )(4-2-6).  The three multi-point game he had in Week 17 was his longest multi-point streak as a Capital and his longest since he went 4-5-9 over a three-game stretch for the St. Louis Blues in January 2015.

Defense: 7.00/game (season: 3.22 / rank: 22nd)

Last week, we opened this section as follows: “Thirteen goals in three games is a lot of goals.”  If only the Caps allowed “only” 13 goals in Week 17.  They might have had two wins.  As it was, the Caps allowed 21 goals, and even if two of them were of the empty-net variety, that is a lot of goals.  How bad was it?  San Jose, a team than allowed six goals to the Caps (and won in overtime), had the second-highest total of goals allowed for the week: 12.  The 21 goals the Caps allowed for the week was 15 percent of the 140 goals they allowed in their previous 47 games this season.

The Caps were simply pummeled.  They were the only team to allow more than 100 shots on goal for the week (108), and only Arizona allowed more shot attempts at 5-on-5 (175) than the Caps (161).  Those two teams were in a class by themselves, the third highest 5-on-5 shot attempts allowed being recorded by Anaheim and Carolina (112).  The odd part about the shot attempts allowed statistic is that the Caps actually broke even for the week, posting and allowing 161 shot attempts at fives.

Goaltending: 6.36 / .822 (season: 3.06 / .904 / 3 SO)

It started bad and just got worse for goaltending in Week 17.  What made it odd was that Braden Holtby came into the week with a solid .921 save percentage over 12 appearances, despite suffering a facial injury when he took a stick through his mask against Columbus on January 12th.  But in Week 17, it fell apart.  He allowed four goals on 11 shots to Chicago in 22 minutes and change before giving way to Pheonix Copley, who finished up the contest allowing three goals in 17 shots in the 8-5 loss (the Blackhawks added an empty netter).

Holtby returned against San Jose, and the best that could be said about his performance against the Sharks was that it was consistent – two goals allowed in each of the three regulation periods.  The last of those goals was scored with just one second left in the game, tying the contest and sending it to overtime, where he allowed a goal on the second shot he faced in the 7-6 loss.

There would be no redemption against Toronto to end the week.  Holtby allowed a game-tying goal to the Maple Leafs in the last minute of the first period, less than a minute after the Caps opened the scoring.  He allowed two goals in 3:08 to turn a one-goal lead into a one-goal deficit from which the Caps could not recover.  He finished the game allowing five goals on 36 shots (Toronto scored into an empty net in the last minute) and ended the week allowing 16 goals on 90 shots, a save percentage of .822.

Power Play: 2-for-6 / 33.3 percent (season: 21.8 percent / rank: 10th)

Week 17 looked a lot like Week 16 – efficient, but with a low volume of chances.  Last week it was two goals on seven chances, and this week is was two goals on six chances.  It makes two weeks in succession with more than one power play goal scored, the first time the Caps went two consecutive weeks with at least two power play goals scored since they recorded a pair in each of Weeks 8 and 9.  It was still disappointing in some respects, though.   For instance, the Caps faced the worst penalty killing team in the league to start the week (Chicago) and failed to convert in two chances.  Chicago had the only power play goal of the game in their 8-5 win.

The Caps were 1-for-3 against San Jose, but holding a 5-4 lead to start the third period, they might have put the game away when they were awarded a power play just 53 seconds into the frame.  They did not, and although the Caps did take a 6-4 lead in the sixth minute of the period at even strength, they allowed two goals late to send the game to overtime, where they lost, 7-6.

Then, the last game of the week, the Caps scored on their first power play of the game against Toronto.  However, it would be the only power play chance the Caps would have in the 6-3 loss.

Another way in which this week resembled last week was in the goal scorers.  Just as in Week 16, it was Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom lighting the lamp.  Backstrom and T.J. Oshie led the team in power play shots with three apiece.  As a team, the Caps did manage to get pucks to the net with some consistency, recording 11 power play shots on goal in 8:57 in power play ice time.

Penalty Killing: 5-for-9 / 55.69 percent (season: 77.3 percent / rank: T-24th)

The penalty kill did not have many victims in Week 17.  The 55.6 percent kill rate was the second worst of the season, only the performance in Week 11 (5-10/50.0 percent) being worse.  A difficult week might have been predicted given that the three opponents all ranked among the top-16 teams in the league on the power play at week’s end.  But there is not enough lipstick to put on this pig.  It was especially brutal against San Jose, who enjoyed six of the nine power play chances allowed for the week and managed two goals on 12 shots in only 8:40 of power play ice time.  For the week, the Caps allowed four goals on 16 shots in 11:37 of penalty killing ice time.

Faceoffs: 80-for-185 / 43.2 percent (season: 46.2 percent / rank: 31st)

It was another poor week in the circle for the Caps.  The only unique thing about it was that only seven players took draws in three games.  As a result, some players got more chances than they otherwise would, but increased frequency was not accompanied by increased efficiency.  Five Caps took at least ten draws, but only Lars Eller among them finished over 50 percent for the week (56.1).

The Caps were under 50 percent in all three games for the week and under 50 percent in all three zones for the week. 

Goals by Period:

We find ourselves writing similar things from week-to-week these days, and one of them is that the Caps do not finish games well.  Not that they were any great shakes in the first or second periods of games; the Caps were in negative goal differential territory in all three regulation periods for the week (and in overtime, for that matter). 

However, while the Caps were just minus-1 in each of the first and second periods of games, they were a minus-4 in the third periods of games with nine goals allowed, one of those coming in the last second of regulation in what would be a 7-6 overtime loss to San Jose instead of a 6-5 win in regulation.  How bad was it?  The nine goals allowed by the Caps in the third periods of games was more goals than the totals allowed by 26 teams in Week 17.


With the recent losing streak, the Caps have now fallen behind last year’s pace in many areas.  Most important, the Caps are behind last year’s pace in wins (27 to 30) and points (60 to 65) at the 50-game mark.  The obvious problem is scoring defense, where the Caps have allowed 21 more goals in 50 games than they did last season, a 15 percent increase.  That’s what allowing 21 goals in a week will do.

That the power play is up is good, but the chances are down about seven percent from the same place last season.  It is a bit worse on the other side of special teams, where the Caps have had to kill more shorthanded situations but have done so less efficiently, the penalty kill finishing under 80 percent through 50 games.

In the end…

The Caps are at the 50-game mark at something of a crossroads in their season.  The 50-game mark coincides with the All-Star Game break and a bye week, which could give the team a chance to recharge, recover, and reset.  Down the other road is an inability to find the spark they had over the second half of last season and the first half of this one a span of 82 regular season games in which they went 49-25-8, sandwiched around a Stanley Cup win.  This is a team with too much talent and experience to think that, as a group, they suddenly lost the ability to win hockey games on a consistent basis.  But after consecutive weeks without a win, they are back to “prove it” time, making it important to get out of the "run and gun" rut they have been in, get back to disciplined hockey, and get out of the blocks quickly after their week off.

Three Stars:
  • First Star: Alex Ovechkin (4-1-5, even, 23rd career hat trick, 10 shots on goal, 21 shot attempts, nine hits, five blocked shots (led forwards))
  • Second Star: T.J. Oshie (1-6-7, even, 15 hits (led forwards))
  • Third Star: Nicklas Backstrom (1-4-5, even, one PPG, two PPP)

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 50: Capitals at Maple Leafs, January 23rd

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

The curtain comes down on the traditional “first half” of the regular season for the Washington Capitals on Wednesday night when they head to Toronto to face the Maple Leafs in the last game before the All-Star Game break.

Some folks might look at last night’s 7-6 overtime loss to the San Jose Sharks and say, “gee…tough luck,” but the Caps earned their fate, failing to close out a two-goal lead in the third period.  Finishing games weakly has been an issue all season and might be something deserving fans’ attention in Wednesday’s game.  Meanwhile, the Leafs are stumbling into the break, losers of four of their last five games and 3-7-0 since they had a five-game winning streak in late December.  Since that ten-game run started on December 29th, that record is the league’s worst.

Offense is an issue.  The good thing about it is balance.  The Leafs have had 14 different players record goals over the last ten games.  The bad thing?  Ten of them have only one goal in that span.  One of them happens to be Auston Matthews.  Once upon a time this season, Matthews was being talked about as the next great goal scorer.  It was understandable.  He started the season scoring goals in each of his first six games (ten overall).  And even though he was slowed by a shoulder injury that kept him out of the lineup for a month from late October to late November, he had 16 goals in the first 16 games in which he played this season.  Since then, however he has only four goals in 18 games and that lone goal in his last ten contests.  It matters.  In 34 games played this season, Toronto is 11-2-0 when Matthews scores a goal, 9-10-2 in the 22 games he played and did not score a goal.  He has only one goal at home in the last nine games he played at Scotiabank Arena .  Matthews is 2-4-6, plus-1, in six career games against Washington.

Another player whose offense has dried up in this ten-game slide is defenseman Morgan Rielly.  His start to the season mirrored that of Matthews in terms of points.  He had points in each of his first six games this season (3-10-13), and he maintained that frenetic scoring pace well into the season, going 13-31-44 in his first 37 games this season.  Those 44 points led all defensemen by a wide margin going into the Christmas break (Ottawa’s Thomas Chabot had 37 points).  But then, after the break, Rielly suffered a three-game streak without a point, his first pointless streak of that length this season.  He has only four assists on his ledger over his last 11 games and has been shut out in goals on a total of 29 shots over that span.  Rielly is 1-7-8, minus-3, in 16 career games against the Caps.

Frederik Andersen was having a nice start to his season in goal.  In his first 30 appearances, through December 22nd, he was tied for the league lead in wins (20, with Marc-Andre Fleury), eighth in goals against average among 44 goalies with at least 750 minutes (2.50), seventh in save percentage (.923), and had a shutout.  However, December 22nd was the last he would play for a while, sitting out eight games with a groin injury.  He returned to the lineup on January 14th against Colorado, but he has not yet discovered that early season rhythm.  In three appearances since his return he is 1-2-0, 3.04, .913. 

Pace is important for Andersen, at least so far this season.  A hectic pace.  In 14 games in which he faced more than 35 shots, he is 11-3-0, 2.21, .942.  In 19 appearances in which he faced fewer than 35 shots, he is 10-8-1, 2.75, .901, with one shutout.  The Caps might do well to try to put Andersen to sleep, if he gets the nod.  In six career appearances against the Capitals, he is 4-1-1, 2.72, .912, with two shutouts, the Caps being the only team in the league against which he has recorded more than one shutout.

1.  Toronto not only has the worst record in the league since December 29th, they are tied for 29th in goals scored, 30th in shots on goal, last in power play goals (one),  last in power play chances (18), and last in power play efficiency (5.5 percent).  This might be the most surprising and unexpected turn in the league at this point of the season, Toronto’s offense disappearing over the last three weeks.

2.  Give the Leafs credit, they are entertaining.  Or not.  In 48 games this season they have played in games settled by margins of three or more goals.  They are 10-9 in those games.

3.  On the other hand, Toronto does not play in very many close games.  Only 11 times in 48 games have they played to a one-goal decision, going 6-3-2.  Only three teams have fewer one-goal wins (St. Louis, New Jersey, and Colorado), and only four have fewer one-goal losses in regulation (Pittsburgh, Anaheim, Carolina, and Tampa Bay).

4.  It is best to score first against Toronto.  Only two teams have more wins than the Maple Leafs (22) when scoring first – Nashville and Calgary have 23 apiece.  They’re .786 winning percentage in such games (22-5-1) is fourth-best in the league.

5.  There is one area in which the Leafs are strong where the Caps have been weak – finishing games strong.  Toronto has a 63-48 goal differential (plus-15) in the third periods and overtimes of games this season.

1.  The Caps have allowed 50 goals over their last 12 games.  That is as many goals as they allowed in the 21 previous games.

2.  Washington has allowed 15 goals in their last two road games.  In their previous eight road contests they allowed only 18 goals and had two shutouts.  But even there, the writing was on the wall.  In two of those games they allowed five goals, which brings us to…

3.  The Caps have allowed five or more goals in five of their last 12 road games.

4.  Four times in their last 12 games, the Caps allowed opponents 40 or more shots.  Only five times have they had 30 or more of their own.

5.  The overtime loss to San Jose was the third straight time that the Caps lost in extra time (all in the overtime period).

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

Toronto: Patrick Marleau

Is there any more “under-the-radar” player over the last 20 seasons than Patrick Marleau?  Yes, 20 seasons.  Well, 21 actually.  Marleau, who entered the NHL the same season that the Caps appeared in their first Stanley Cup final (1997-1998) is among the active leaders in:
  • Career games played (1,623/1st)
  • Goals (546/2nd)
  • Assists (605/5th)
  • Points (1,151/4th)
  • Even strength goals (361/2nd)
  • Shorthanded goals (17/T-8th)
  • Game-winning goals (106/1st)
  • Shots on goal (4,090/2nd)

Almost as amazing is his uncommon durability.  In 21 NHL seasons, Marleau has never missed more than eight games in a single season, and he has appeared in 80 or more games 14 times.  He appeared in every regular season game 11 times, including the abbreviated 48-game season in 2013.  The last time he missed a game was in the 2008-2009 season, when he missed five games to a lower-body injury late in the season.  He brings a 754-game streak into this game, second among active players (Keith Yandle: 763).  However, he, like a lot of his teammates, has been in a scoring slump lately.  The goal and assist he posted in a 4-2 win over Tampa Bay last Thursday are his only points in his last 12 games.  Marleau is 9-14-23, plus-6, in 31 career games against the Capitals.

Washington: The Fans

When a team goes on an extended losing streak, their fans get impatient, and memories are set aside.   Over the course of an 82-game season, a team earns its record, good or bad.  However, there is a difference between being in a slump and being bad.  But between the two there might be a gray area where effort, focus, and attention lie.  And it is here where the Caps are coming up short, characterized by taking shortcuts and displaying lack of commitment to the things that made them successful last season.  Fans might be a bit too quick to call for trading this guy, or sending that guy down to Hershey, bringing that other guy up, or (the go-to-solution for fans) making a coaching change.  But the Caps stand squarely in that gray area at the moment, and they have less than half a season to figure out if they are a good team that was merely in a slump or a team whose expiration date has passed.

In the end…

Good teams that are focused play to the final horn.  Last night the Caps were a good team without focus.  There has been a lot of that in the last month.  Good teams that are focused play hard to the break in the schedule.  We’ll find out where the Caps stand on that matter on Wednesday night.

Capitals 3 – Maple Leafs 2

A ONE-Point Night: Washington Capitals -- Game 49: Sharks 7 - Capitals 6 (OT)

Frustration mounts in Capitals Nation.  The Washington Capitals blew a two-goal third period lead in the last ten minutes of regulation, the latter of the two goals scored by the San Jose Sharks coming with one second left in regulation.  The Sharks went on to grab the extra standings point in overtime to send the Caps to a sixth-consecutive loss.

First Period

It was a wild first period, but hardly surprising for two teams who give up goals recently as if they could claim them as charitable deductions.  Joe Pavelski opened the scoring off a faceoff win in the offensive zone, gathering a rebound of a Brent Burns drive to the net and backhanding it past goalie Braden Holtby just 12 seconds into the game.  It was a sign of things to come.

Alex Ovechkin tied the game mid-way through the period on a power play when he jumped on a loose puck to the right of goalie Martin Jones, pulled the puck off his backhand to his forehand, and chipped it past Jones at the 10:41 mark.  And the deluge was on…

Andre Burakovsky scored 90 seconds after Ovechkin when he altered his skating line to give him shooting room through a defender and wristed the puck through Jones… Tomas Hertl tied the game barely two minutes later, converting a nifty passing play among Joe Thornton, Joe Pavelski and himself…T.J. Oshie scored less than a minute after Hertl to restore the lead, taking a backhand centering feed from Ovechkin, deking Jones to the ice, and slipping the puck past Jones’ right pad…

…and the first period finally came to an end, the Caps ahead, 3-2.

- San Jose had a 24-21 edge in shot attempts and a 15-14 edge in shots on goal.

- T.J. Oshie led the Caps with four shots on goal in the first period.

Second Period

And the rains came once more…

….Evander Kane tied the game once more just 52 second in as a power play expired… Evgeny Kuznetsov put the Caps in front again two minutes later by being patient, collecting a loose puck at the goal line to Jones’ right, pulling it back for a shooting angle, and snapping a tough-angle shot past a lunging Jones,,, Ovechkin gave the Caps a two-goal lead less than three minutes later by waiting until he could use two Sharks as a screen and snapping a shot past Jones just 5:41 into the period. 

The damage… the two clubs combined for seven goals (the Caps with five) over a 15:00 span across the first and second periods.  But it was not over…

Just after a Caps power play expired, a turnover led to a not one…not two… but a THREE-on-0 break for the Sharks, Logan Couture converting with a backhand between Holtby’s pads 14:39 into the period to make it 5-4.  And quiet settled over the land for the second intermission.

-  Six different Caps had points in the second period (Kuznetsov and Ovechkin with goals; Vrana, Wilson, Backstrom, and Oshie with assists).

-  Dmitrij Jaskin was the only Capital without a shot attempt through two periods.

Third Period

The teams traded goals less than five minutes apart to open the third period.  Ovechkin completing the hat trick 5:52 into the period when he took a cross-ice feed from Jakub Vrana and swept the puck from the left wing circle past Jones.  Hertl got the Sharks back to within a goal on a replay of the first period power play goal he scored, this one off superb passing to set it up from Logan Couture and Joe Pavelski at the 10:02 mark.  But it was not over…not nearly.

Evander Kane tied the game with one second left in regulation when he got free on the weak side, camped at the far post to Holtby’s left.  Pavelski threw the puck at the net, and it squeezed through to Kane, who swatted it in to force overtime.


Hertl got the hat trick, snapping a shot under Holtby’s right arm and into the far side of the net 1:48 into the extra frame, and the Caps left a point they seemed sure to have earned on the table.  Caps fans hope that point won’t matter in April.

Other stuff…

-  This was the 334th multi-point game of Alex Ovechkin’s career, 18th on the all-time list and third among active players (Joe Thornton: 380, and Sidney Crosby: 350).  It was his 105th career game with three or more points, breaking a tie with Doug Gilmour for 16th all-time and tying him with Peter Forsberg for 15th on the all-time list.  He trails only Crosby (133) and Thornton (110) among active players.  It was his 26th four-point game, tied with Forsberg and Eric Lindros for 18th-place all-time and third among active players (Thornton: 28; Crosby: 31).

-  Ovechkin’s hat trick was his 23rd of his career, breaking a tie with Teemu Selanne for third place all-time.  He leads all active players (Eric Staal: 14).

-  T.J. Oshie also had a multi-point game, his 44th as a Capital, breaking a three-way tie for 25th all-time with Sylvain Cote and Scott Stevens.  It was his 14th three-point game as a Capital, 19th on the all-time franchise list.

-  Andre Burakovsky’s goal broke a personal 14-game streak without one.

-  The last time that the Caps allowed seven or more goals in consecutive games… October 7-8, 2005 (Ovechkin’s second and third career games). A pair of losses to the Atlanta Thrashers on consecutive nights, 7-3 and 8-1.

-  Nicklas Backstrom had a pair of assists, his 226th career multi-point game, second in franchise history and tied with Jason Spezza for eighth place among active players.

-  That’s three times in four games that the Caps allowed seven or more games.

-  The Caps allowed 43 shots on goal, the highest total for an opponent since Montreal recorded 44 in a 5-4 overtime win for the Caps on November 19th.

-  Evgeny Kuznetsov had a goal and an assist, his first two-point game since January 6th and only his second since December 11th.

-  Until this season, Braden Holtby had not allowed seven goals in a game.  This was the second time this season in which he did.  The first one also ended in overtime, a 7-6 loss to Pittsburgh on October 4th, the second game of the season.

In the end…

The Caps are a mess in their own end.  They cannot score enough to spackle over all the holes on defense and in goal.  It is arguably the worst sustained defense/goaltending performance over a series of games since the earliest games of the Ovechkin era, when the Caps just didn’t have much talent.  This team does not have that excuse.  Scoring 11 goals in consecutive games and getting one standings point out of it might be an aberration, but it doesn’t matter.  It has to end, and end soon, or this is going to be one long, frustrating winter.

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 49: Sharks at Capitals, January 22nd

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

The Washington Capitals close the books on the home portion of their pre-All-Star Game schedule on Tuesday night when they host the San Jose Sharks at Capital One Arena.  The Caps are stumbling in the run-up to the break, carrying the burden of a five-game losing streak overall and a three-game losing streak on home ice.

The Sharks are visiting Washington in the back half of a back-to-back set of road games that wrap up a four-game road trip. They dropped the front half of that set, 6-2, in Florida to the Panthers on Monday night.  The loss extended San Jose’s own losing streak to three games.  It is a slap in the face for the Sharks, who before their current losing streak won seven in a row and nine of ten contests.

San Jose, their current struggles notwithstanding, have been among the better teams in the league since December 1st.  Their 16-7-2 record over that span is fifth-best in the league.  The Sharks have done it with an uncommon mix of volume and balance in their scoring.  In those 25 games since December 1st, six skaters have at least 20 points.  That group is led by defenseman Erik Karlsson, who has 28 points in only 21 games played, but he is being shut-down until after the All-Star Game break with a lower-body injury.  With Marc-Edouard Vlasic having been absent from the lineup since January 3nd with a wrist injury (he was placed on injured reserve on Monday), the Sharks are thin on the blue line.

They still have Brent Burns on the back end, though.  Burns has stepped up in a big way over the last 25 games, going 6-21-27, second on the team to Karlsson in points over that span.  Not that this should be surprising.  Burns leads all NHL defensemen in overall scoring (53 points) and is tied for eighth in goals (nine).  He is second in power play scoring (20 points) to Florida’s Keith Yandle (24) and is tied for third in power play goals (five, with Florida’s Aaron Ekblad and Los Angeles’ Drew Doughty). 

Burns has produced at a consistently high level in recent years – tied for second in points among defensemen last season (67, with Dallas’ John Klingberg) to Washington’s John Carlson (68); he led the league’s defensemen in scoring in 2016-2017 (76 points); he was second in scoring in 2015-2016 (75 points) to Karlsson (82 with Ottawa); tied for second the previous year (60 points).  You get the point.  In fact, over the last five seasons, no defenseman has more goals than Burns (94) or points (331).  Burns is 6-9-15, plus-1, in 16 career games against Washington.

Tomas Hertl leads the club in goals (13) since December 1st.  He had a big night recently.  Recall that in only his third NHL game, against the New York Rangers on October 8, 2013, he had four goals in a 9-2 win over the Blueshirts.  He would go 367 games without another hat trick.  Until last Tuesday night, that is.  Hertl put the hurt on the Pittsburgh Penguins with a hat trick, the last goal being an empty-netter, in a 5-2 win over the Pens.  It was also his 100th career goal.  He became the 12th player in Sharks’ history to hit the 100-goal mark for the club, and his next one will put him in the top-ten, tying him with Mike Ricci and Ryane Clowe for 10th on the team’s all-time goal scoring list.  Hertl is 1-1-2, plus-1, in eight career games against the Caps.

Goaltending might get overlooked when a team is scoring four goals a game over a 25-game stretch, but Martin Jones has not been playing up to his level of performance over his first three years in San Jose, and it is part of a season-long problem.  In those three seasons he posted save percentage in the mid-.910’s, but this year his save percentage has dropped.  Of 46 netminders with at least 1,000 minutes, he ranks 38th at .897.  It has not been much better recently, Jones posting a .901 save percentage in 20 games since December 1st, 29th of 44 goalies with at least 500 minutes played.  That he leads the league in wins over that span (13, tied with Vegas’ Marc-Andre Fleury) is a product of the goal support he is getting.  Nine times in 19 appearances since December 1st he allowed three or more goals, 11 goals on 47 shots in his last two appearances (.766 save percentage).  Jones is 4-2-0, 1.51, .944, with two shutouts in six career appearances against the Caps.

1.  San Jose is the only team in the league to record 100 goals since December 1st.  They have exactly 100 in 25 games.

2.  If the Sharks do not want Jones to start back-to-back games in goal, Aaron Dell would get the call.  Here is the thing about that.  Since he posted shutouts in consecutive appearances in November, his record in seven games he started and finished is 2-4-1, 4.41, .844.  At the moment, goaltending is an issue for this club.

3.  The Sharks are not being rewarded for tilting the ice in their favor on the road.  They have out-shot opponents by a 918-783 margin in 26 road games and are second in the league on the road in shot attempts-for at 5-on-5 (55.33 percent).  In spite of that, only three teams have allowed more road goals than the Sharks (98) – Chicago (99), Florida (103), and Ottawa (103).

4.  What special teams giveth, they taketh away for the Sharks.  Their power play on the road (25.0) ranks fifth in the league, but their penalty kill (78.3 percent) ranks 22nd).

5. San Jose is a rude visitor.  Their 264 penalty minutes on the road is third-most in the league, trailing only Florida (266) and Edmonton (267).

1.  The Caps can’t win for losing.  The five goals they scored against Chicago on Sunday were more than they scored in their previous four games (four).  They lost anyway, 8-5.

2.  Here’s one to impress your friends with.  The eight goals allowed on Sunday to Chicago was the 73rd time in team history that Washington allowed eight or more goals.  Total standings points earned over those 73 games?  OneThey scratched out a point in an 8-7 overtime loss to Pittsburgh on January 16, 2017.  Their 0-72-1 record includes an overtime loss to the New York Islanders in 1983, but standings points were not awarded for overtime losses back then.

3.  Only two teams in the Eastern Conference have committed more minor penalties on home ice than the Caps (85) – Montreal (88) and New Jersey (91).

4.  Montreal and Tampa Bay are the only teams in the East with more power play chances on home ice (86 and 91, respectively) than the Caps (84).

5.  Since December 1st, forwards Lars Eller, Evgeny Kuznetsov, Andre Burakovsky, and Devante Smith-Pelly have combined for a total of five goals in 83 man-games.  T.J. Oshie has five goals in 19 games (and he’s fourth among forwards on the team since December 1st).

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

San Jose: Evander Kane

It took a while, but Evander Kane might finally have found a place where he could produce consistently and with a minimum of issues.  Injuries and off-ice issues were a feature of his early career with the Atlanta Thrahsers/Winnipeg Jets and Buffalo Sabres, but since he was acquired by the San Jose Sharks in a trade with Buffalo for Daniel O’Regan and two conditional draft picks last February, he is averaging 0.41 goals per game in 68 games, a higher average than any of his previous stops in the NHL (that is a 34-goal pace over 82 games).  Kane has been especially effective on the road of late.  In his last 11 road contests he is 7-5-12, plus-1. 

However, there is the matter of timing, and Kane’s was poor in the Sharks’ loss to the Panthers last night.  His double-minor penalty for high-sticking less than two minutes into the third period of a 2-2 game led to power play goals scored by Florida just nine seconds apart on the ensuing power plays.  He then took an unsportsmanlike conduct and ten-minute misconduct penalties with under a minute to play, the Panthers converting that power play into their last goal in their 6-2 win.  It brought his penalty minute total over those same 11 road contests to 36, and his total this season to 74 penalty minutes on the road, most in the league.  Kane is 14-6-20, minus-3, in 30 career games against the Caps.

Washington:  Jakub Vrana

If there is one thing one might be picky about in Jakub Vrana’s performance this season, it is his production on home ice.  The youngster already has a career-high 15 goals in 48 games, surpassing the 13 he had in 73 games last season, his first full-time season in the league.  However, only six of those goals have come in the 24 games in which he has played at Capital One Arena.  That total is tied for fifth on the team with Tom Wilson (whose production has come in only 13 games on home ice).  It is not for a lack of shooting.  He has 50 shots in 24 games on home ice (a 12.0 percent shooting rate) and 46 shots on goal on the road (19.6 percent).  Half of that home ice goal production came over two games straddling the end of the old year and the beginning of the new, breaking what was a stretch in which he had just one goal in 12 home games, but he will go into this game without a goal in three straight games on home ice.  Vrana is 1-0-1, even, in three career games against San Jose.

In the end…

In the baseball movie, “Bull Durham,” Crash Davis tells pitching phenom Nuke LaLoosh the secret of getting out of a slump…

“You know what the difference is between hitting .250 and hitting.300?  I got it figured out.  Twenty-five hits a year in 500 at bats is 50 points. Okay?  There's six months in a season, that's about 25 weeks -- you get one extra flare a week -- just one -- a gork, a ground ball with eyes, a dying quail -- just one more dying quail a week and you're in Yankee Stadium!”

For the Caps, score one off a post, ricochet one off a skate, a shot from the point with eyes that snakes through a maze of players, and you’re back in the lead in the division, or at least closer to it.  That might be what it takes more than some fancy tic-tac-toe passing play or a deke-and-a-shot off a breakaway.

Capitals 4 – Sharks 3

Sunday, January 20, 2019

Washington Capitals: That Was The Week That Was - Week 16

Week 16 was the worst for the Washington Capitals this season.  It was the first time in 16 weeks this season that the club failed to earn at least one standings point.  It was the first time that the Caps finished a week looking up at a team in the Metropolitan Division standings in quite some time.  And it had the look of a team running on fumes as they dead stick their way toward the All-Star game break.

Record: 0-3-0

Not since Week 22 of the 2016-2017 have the Capitals gone an entire week without earning at least one standings point (they were 0-3-0 in that week almost two years ago).  In 46 weeks since then, going into last week, the Caps had 30 winning weeks, seven weeks of a .500 record in standings points earned, six losing weeks, and none in which they were shutout in standings points.  It is – was – a remarkable record of consistency.

It was not just the losses, though, it was the “to whom.”  The Caps had chances to avenge lopsided losses to two opponents barely two weeks before the rematches and lost in lopsided fashion once more.  They lost at home to the St. Louis Blues, 4-1, after dropping a 5-2 decision in St. Louis on January 3rd, and they lost to the Nashville Predators, 7-2, in Nashville after being clocked, 6-3, on December 31st at Capital One Arena.

The Caps closed the week with a loss to the surging New York Islanders, 2-0, in what might have been the most purely uninteresting game of the season.  Not that former head coach Barry Trotz minded.  He got to visit the scene of some of his greatest triumphs, watch a well-done appreciation video of his seasons in Washington, and lead his team to a win that propelled them into the top spot of the Metropolitan Division ahead of the Caps.

The two losses at home to St. Louis and the Islanders gave the Caps eight regulation losses on home ice this season, surpassing the seven they had in 2016-2017, tying the eight they had in 2015-2016, and putting them on a path to surpass the 11 that they had last season.

Offense: 1.00/game (season: 3.28 / rank: 8th)

Three games, three goals, one-two-none.  There isn’t enough paint at Home Depot to cover up that mess.  No team in Week 16 scored fewer goals  Shoot, even the utterly pathetic Los Angeles Kings, who finished the week last in scoring offense in the league (2.22 per game) had five goals in three games.  The Caps had one even strength goal for the week.  I will repeat that…

The Washington Capitals had one even strength goal for the week.

For the record, that was T.J. Oshie, who scored an entirely cosmetic goal to make a 7-1 game a 7-2 game with 3:49 left in the Caps 7-2 loss to Nashville on Tuesday.

Lack of goals sometimes stems from lack of shots.  Such was the case for the Caps, who managed only 76 shots on goal for the week (25.3 per game), far below the 29.3 shots on goal per game at which they finished the week.  Even for a team that prides itself on “quality over quantity,” that was a low volume.  How low?  Nicklas Backstrom tied Alex Ovechkin for the team lead with 10 shots apiece.  Only two other Caps had more than five – Evgeny Kuznetsov (eight) and Oshie (seven).

Defense: 4.33/game (season: 2.98 / rank: 15th)

Thirteen goals in three games is a lot of goals.  It resembles the difficulties the Caps were having at the start of the season, when they could not keep pucks out of their own net.  Over their first dozen games of the season they had a rolling three-game total of 13 or more goals five times in 10 instances.  In their last ten instances, they have 13 or more goals allowed over three games four times.  Put another way, this is a club that has allowed four or more goals four times in their last ten games.

Shots allowed is not necessarily the culprit here, at least at the level of volume alone.  The Caps allowed 91 shots on goal for the week.  Of the 14 teams playing three games in Week 16, that is tied (with San Jose) for the eighth-highest amount.

Shot attempts are a different matter.  The Caps were minus-27 for the week in shots attempted-for and shots-attempted against at 5-on-5 for the week.  Being 11th among 14 teams playing three games in shot attempt differential at fives was bad enough.  Being minus-27 when tied (13th of 14 teams) and minus-30 in close situations (13th of 14 teams) was worse.  The Caps could not get teams off their collective back.

Goaltending: 4.44 / .857 (season: 2.85 / .910 / 3 SO)

It was not a good week overall, but in a way it was a long time coming.  Pheonix Copley allowed six goals on 36 shots in his first appearance this season, a 6-0 loss to the New Jersey Devils on October 11th.  In 15 appearances after that he stopped 385 of 417 shots, a .923 save percentage.  Only two of 46 goalies logging at least 750 minutes over those two months had a better save percentage (Tuukka Rask and Frederik Andersen, both at .928).

However, an injury to Braden Holtby against Columbus in the last game of Week 15 kept him out of the lineup to start the week, and it gave Copley a chance for consecutive starts for the first time since he had three consecutive starts in Games 17- 19 this season.  He won two of the decisions, all of them on the road, sandwiching wins over Minnesota and Colorado around a loss in Winnipeg and stopping 71 of 77 shots overall (.922 save percentage).

Things did not go as well for Copley in Week 16.  The week started well for him, stopping all 14 shots he faced in the first period against St. Louis to open the week.  However, he allowed four goals on 23 shots to end the game and then allowed all seven goals to Nashville on 29 shots in the middle game of the week, a true “take one for the team” moment for Copley, given Holtby’s injury status.  It made for a .788 save percentage over his last five periods of hockey for the week.

Holtby returned against the Islanders on Friday, and he looked superb for 45 minutes.  He stopped the first 22 shots he faced over that span, but he allowed goals on consecutive shots 2:26 apart, to Josh Bailey and Cal Clutterbuck, in dropping a 2-0 decision.  Still, it was the 16th time in 32 appearances that Holtby stopped at least 92 percent of his shots.  If you want a basis of comparison for that fact nugget, he was at a .920save percentage or better 35 times in 66 appearances in his Vezina Trophy season in 2015-2016.

Power Play: 2-for-7 / 28.6 percent (season: 21.3 percent / rank: 11th)

If there is a silver lining, it is in special teams in Week 16.  The Caps had two power play goals for the week, the first time they recorded more than one man advantage goal for a week since they went 3-for-8 in Week 11.  In fact, the two power play goals they recorded matched the total they had over the last four weeks (2-for-35/5.7 percent).

On the other hand, you could say two things about the power play to stick a pin in the balloon of hope.  First, the Caps scored on their first power play of the week, and then they went 1-for-6 (16.7 percent).  The other thing is that they had only seven opportunities in three games.  While it is true that the two opponents faced at home– St. Louis and the Islanders – generally play well within the rules (St. Louis and the Islanders rank in the bottom ten in the league in road shorthanded situations faced), the Predators had the fourth-highest number of shorthanded situations faced at home to end the week, and the Caps managed only two power plays against them.

For the record, the power play goals were scored by Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom.  For Backstrom it was his first power play goal since recording one in a 6-3 win over New Jersey on November 30th and his second power play goal on the road this season (and first in regulation), his first coming in overtime in a 3-2 win in Colorado against the Avalanche on November 16th.

It was a bit of an odd week, the infrequency of opportunities masking a level of efficiency the Caps have not had on their power play in a while.  They managed 11 shots on goal in 11:48 of power play time, and they spread the shots around, five different players with at least one, Ovechkin and Evgeny Kuznetsov leading with three apiece.

Penalty Killing: 8-for-9 / 88.9 percent (season: 78.4 percent / rank: 23rd)

The other side of special teams had a good week, continuing a nice run of late.  In killing off eight of nine shorthanded situations, the Caps are 22-for-25 (88.0 percent) over the last two weeks, seventh-best in the league over that span.  Take the result with a grain of salt, since the Islanders and Predators, who went a combined 0-for-7 against the Caps, rank in the bottom ten in power play efficiency this season (24th and 29th, respectively), but one takes their opportunities for improvement where presented.

For the week, the Caps allowed only 12 shots in 15:06 of shorthanded ice time.  That makes only 21 shots allowed in 35:50 in shorthanded ice time over the past two weeks.  If there is something on which to build as the Caps try to navigate their way out of their recent slump, penalty killing seems to be it.

Faceoffs: 74-for-160 / 46.3 percent (season: 46.4 percent / rank: 31st)

By now, we know that the Caps just are not very good at this aspect of the game.  Week 16 was no exception.  It was, in fact, typical – a 46.3 winning percentage week in a season in which they are winning 46.4 percent of their draws.  For the week, they won one zone in one game (they were 11-for-18 in the defensive zone against Nashville).  Otherwise the Caps lost all three zones for the week and won more than 50 percent only against Nashville (30-for-58). 

One might look at the offensive zone performance as a factor in the low offensive production for the week.  The Caps won only 22 of 53 offensive zone draws (41.5 percent), and no Capital taking more than three draws finished the week over 50 percent in the offensive end.

The odd part of the week from an individual standpoint was the performance of Evgeny Kuznetsov.  He has had a season-long antagonistic relationship to faceoffs, it seems, but in Week 16 he was 50 percent in the offensive end and 54.5 percent in the defensive end.  That is progress.  But he did finish the week under water (42.4 percent overall) one of four skaters taking at least ten draws to do so.  Only Nic Dowd (9-for-15/60.0 percent) among that group finished at 50 percent or better.

Goals by Period:

When a club scores only three goals and allows 13, the goals by period will not look good, and for the Caps they do not in Week 16.  The most troubling aspect of the week is that they were weakest in what was their strongest period this season.  They were outscored, 7-1, in the second periods of games, all of the goals allowed coming against St. Louis (three) and Nashville (four), blowing open what were (at least on the surface) competitive games.

That the Caps allowed 11 of their 13 goals allowed for the week in the second and third periods continues one of the more disturbing trends in this area.  They have been unable to finish well.  They have allowed only 38 first period goals this season (tied for sixth-fewest) and have a plus-10 goal differential.  But they have allowed 49 goals in each of the second and third periods of games (ranking tied for 12th and tied for 14th, respectively, in those categories), and only their impressive second periods to date (63 goals, third-most in the league) is keeping them from looking even worse as finishers.


The winless week slipped the Caps behind their 47-game points pace of last year, albeit be a single point (one fewer win, one more loss in extra time).  Otherwise, as has been the case for some weeks now, the Caps are tracking this year’s performance with last year’s in many categories.  They remain virtually unchanged on a year to year basis in wins (27 this year, 28 last season), points (59/60), power play goals (30/28), shot attempts at 5-on-5 (2064/2060), shot-attempts against at 5-on-5 (2225/2222).  However, while the Caps opened the 2018 portion of last season with a 4-2-1 record, they are just 3-4-2 so far in the 2019 portion of this season.  That is not the kind of divergence the Caps want to continue.

In the end…

There are really few good things to say about Week 16, fewer that have much meaning to explain the current state of the club.  The Caps are not playing well, either in their performance numbers (wins, losses, goals scored and allowed) or their production numbers (shots, shot attempts taken and allowed).  Individually and collectively they look slow, sluggish, and distracted, almost what you or I might look like at work two weeks before we embark on an eagerly anticipated vacation.  The Caps cannot afford to coast into the All-Star Game, though.  At week’s end they find themselves looking up at the Islanders for the top spot in the Metro, but lurking under the surface is the fact that they are only five points ahead of (and with a game in hand on) the Buffalo Sabres who occupy the first non-playoff qualifying position.  It is not the best place to be for the defending champs.

Three Stars:
  • First Star: Brooks Orpik (0-0-0, even, the only player to dress for all three games to finish the week “even;” appeared in his 1,000th career game)
  • Second Star: Alex Ovechkin (1-1-2, minus-4, the only Capital with more than one point for the week)
  • Third Star: Braden Holtby (23 saves on 25 shots returning in goal from injury)