Sunday, March 31, 2019

Washington Capitals: That Was The Week That Was - Week 26

In Week 26, the Washington Capitals took care of business in style.  They swept the week, completed a sweep of two season series, avoided a sweep in another, and clinched a spot in the playoffs.  On the way, they celebrated some historic moments.

Record: 4-0-0

Week 26 was the first four-game sweep of a week for the Caps since they went 4-0-0 in Week 8, their only other four-win week this season.  They started the week with a 3-1 win over the Philadelphia Flyers and a sweep of the four-game season series.  It was the second time in the 44-season history of the Capitals-Flyers rivalry that the Caps had a clean sweep of the season series (that is, winning all four games without surrendering a standings point with an extra time win).  The other was in the 2006-2007 season.  The odd fact about both is that in each instance, the Caps won all four games by multi-goal margins.

The Caps then turned their attention to the Carolina Hurricanes for a home-and-home set to wrap up their season series.  The Caps won both games, picking up a second four-game season sweep.  This was also a second four-game clean sweep for the Caps in the 39 seasons of this rivalry, the other time being a 4-0-0 sweep ion 1997-1998.  It was the third four-game sweep of a season series this season, the other being against the New York Rangers, completed earlier this month.  Overall, including series of fewer games this season, the Caps have swept five season series against Eastern Conference teams (Detroit and Ottawa rounding out that list, in three games apiece) and another four series – all in two games – against Western Conference teams (Calgary, Colorado, Vancouver, and Los Angeles).

All that was left was avoiding a third consecutive loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning this season and finishing the year without a win against the Lightning for the first time ever in their 26-year series history.  The Caps got out fast against the Bolts in Tampa, cruised to a 6-3 win, and finished the year 1-1-1 against Tampa.  It was only the third time that the Caps were held to a single win against Tampa Bay over a season, going 1-0 with a tie in 1992-1993 (the first year of the series) and 1-1-1 last season.

Even with the four wins, though, the Caps failed to gain much ground against their closest pursuers.  The New York Islanders finished the week 3-1-0 and three points behind the Caps in second place in the Metropolitan Division, both teams with three games left to play.

Offense: 4.00/game (season: 3.40/5th)

If averaging four goals a game was not enough to give Caps’ fans a good feeling about the week, the fact that three of the games were played against two teams that finished the week in the top-ten in scoring defense made it even better.  The Carolina Hurricanes, against whom the Caps scored seven goals in two games, finished the week ninth in scoring defense, while the Tampa Bay Lightning, against who the Caps scored six goals, finished the week sixth in goals allowed per game.

The Caps spread things around nicely, too.  Three players finished the week with three goals – Nicklas Backstrom, T.J. Oshie, and Alex Ovechkin.  The three goals by Ovechkin pushed his total for the season to 51, the eighth time in his career that he topped the 50-goal mark.  Only Wayne Gretzky and Mike Bossy have more career 50-goal seasons (nine apiece). 

Comparing Ovechkin with Gretzky and Bossy is a study in comparing eras.  Consider that in ten seasons from 1980-81 thru 1989-90, 40 different players combined for 75 50-goal seasons.  Gretzky had eight of them, and Bossy had six for a total of 14, less than a fifth of the total.  Since Alex Ovechkin came into the NHL (14 seasons), 11 players combined for 21 50-goal seasons.  Ovechkin has 8 of them (no other player has more than two), almost 40 percent of the total.  With those three goals in Week 26, Ovechkin finished the week with 658 goals, pushing him ahead of Brendan Shanahan for 13th place, all-time.  His power play goal against Tampa Bay was his 247th career power play goal, tying him with Luc Robitaille for fourth place, all-time.

Backstrom’s three goals gave him 21, matching his total from last season and giving him his sixth 20-goal season in his 12-year career.  That also made for seven 20-goal scorers for the Caps this season.  Only the 1992-1993 team had more (nine).  Oshie’s three goals gave him 25 goals for the season, the third time in his career that he reached the 25-goal mark, all of them with the Caps.

Of the 19 skaters to dress for the Caps in Week 26, 17 recorded points.  Evgeny Kuznetsov led the club with six.  All of them were assists, giving him 51 helpers for the season, his second straight 50-plus assist campaign and third of his six-year career.  John Carlson led the defense with four points (1-3-4), giving him 69 points for the season and pushing him to a career high, one more than last season.  He and Brent Burns are the only defensemen in the league with 65-plus point in each of the last two seasons. 

Andre Burakovsky and Lars Eller were the only Capitals without a point in Week 26.  No Capital had a negative plus-minus rating for the week (Chandler Stephenson was even).  Ovechkin and Brooks Orpik led the way at plus-5 each.

Defense: 1.75/game (season: 3.03/17th)

It was something of an odd week for the Caps in this category.  They won four games in four tries despite being out-shots, 118-113.  This was not surprising, given that Carolina finished the week first in the league in shots per game.  But in their two games against Carolina, the Caps held the Canes to 28 and 26 shots.  Tampa Bay finished the week 14th in shots per game, but they were held to 28 shots, more than four below the average with which they ended the week (32.3 per game).  The Flyers were the outlier here, recording 36 shots on goal against the Caps, more than four above their season average (31.5 per game). 

The surprise here was how much larger the spread was in shot attempts.  The Caps were out-attempted at 5-on-5, 206-177, their minus-29 attempt differential being sixth-worst in the league for the week.  The good thing was that they improved with each game of the week.  The Caps were minus-21 in shot attempts at 5-on-5 against Philadelphia, minus-13 at home against Carolina, minus-2 against the Hurricanes in Carolina, and plus-7 against Tampa Bay.  It was only the tenth time this season that the Lightning were in minus territory in 5-on-5 shot attempts in 41 games on home ice this season.

Goaltending: 1.75 / .941 (season:  2.86/ .909 / 4 shutouts)

Braden Holtby got all the minutes in Week 26, and he did not disappoint with the heavy workload.  The 111 saves on 118 shots extended a run of fine performances for him lately.  It actually started with a loss.  Starting with a 25-save effort in a 2-1 loss to the Minnesota Wild on March 22nd, Holtby is 4-1-0, 1.82, .938 in five games.

Holtby started the week tied with Jaroslav Halak in wins among active goaltenders (252).  Hos four wins to Halak’s one left Holtby alone in 12th place on the active goaltender win list.  He closed to within two wins of Ken Dryden (258) on the all-time wins list.

Holtby was solid through the periods for the week, too.  He stopped 30 of 31 first period shots (.968) and 38 of 40 third period shots (.950), the two goals allowed to Tampa Bay, including one in the last minute, were as cosmetic as much as meaningful in the context of the whole week.  He did allow a goal in the second period of each of the four games this week, but his save percentage of .915 was still respectable.  The consecutive games in which he allowed one goal against Philadelphia and Carolina to start the week were his first such consecutive games in the 2019 portion of the year and his first since December 21st and 27th against Buffalo and Carolina.

Power Play: 2-for-10/20.0 percent (season: 21.2 percent/10th)

A 20 percent week is not bad, but it was almost a lost week for the Caps with the man advantage.  Over the first three games, the Caps were 0-for-5 and had only seven shots on goal in ten minutes of power play ice time.  They were shut out on shots on goal against the Hurricanes in Carolina in the third game of the week.  It was not as if the Caps were not getting shots from players who mattered; Alex Ovechkin had three of those seven shots, and Evgeny Kuznetsov also had three.

The Caps salvaged the week with a 2-for-5 effort against Tampa Bay.  Ovechkin scored a goal on four power play shots on goal, while Kuznetsov scored a goal on his only shot on goal with the man advantage. 

It was the seventh game this season in which the Caps recorded two or more power play goals (third time on the road), all of them in wins.  It was the tenth time that Washington had five or more power play chances, but it was just the second on the road, the first coming in October in Vancouver against the Canucks, also in a win.

Penalty Killing: 6-for-8/75.0 percent (season: 79.0 percent/23rd)

The Caps what was, for them, a rather typical week on the penalty kill.  They benefitted from having faced only eight shorthanded situations for the week, none in the home game against Carolina in the second game of the week.  It was the first instance this season that the Caps did not go shorthanded in a game.  They did pay, though, in that Christian Djoos was going to be sent off on a penalty when Carolina scored their lone goal with their goalie pulled and an extra attacker on the ice.  Parenthetically, the odd thing about that play was that Djoos had made his way off the ice by the time Dougie Hamilton scored, thus avoiding a minus on the play.

Things were not as bad as all that, though.  While the Caps did allow a Flyer power play goal that allowed Philadelphia to close to within a goal in the second period of the game to start the week, the Caps killed off a third period power play in that game and then pitched a shutout until the last minute of their 6-3 win over Tampa Bay to end the week when Nikita Kucherov scored a power play goal to complete the scoring.  All in all, allowing two goals on 13 shots in 12:33 of shorthanded ice time for the week was not a great result, but it was not terrible, either.  It is an area that would not suffer from some improvement.

Faceoffs: 99-for-228 / 43.4 percent (season:  percent/31st)

Another week, another performance in the mid-40’s in the circle.  The Caps might have finished under 40 percent but for a 33-for-61 performance against Tampa Bay to end the week (54.1 percent).  In the first three games of the week, the Caps failed to top 50 percent in all three zones in each of the three games ((they were 50.0 percent in the defensive zone in the game in Carolina).  The Caps had a particularly difficult time in the offensive zone, only hitting 50 percent against Tampa Bay (11-for-22) and finishing the week at 35.4 percent (29-for-82).

Of the four Caps to take at least ten draws for the week, only Nic Dowd finished over 50 percent (22-for-34/64.7 percent).  Nicklas Backstrom (29-for-81/35.8 percent), Lars Eller (24-for-50/48.0 percent), and Evgeny Kuznetsov (20-for-50/40.0 percent) were all under water for the week.

Goals by Period:

The Caps went against trend in Week 26.  Over most of the season, it has been the second period that was strongest for the Caps.  This week, the Caps started strong (plus-5 goal differential) and finished better (plus-6).  The only two goals they allowed in the third period for the week came against Tampa Bay, after they went out to a 4-0 lead after two periods. 

It was in the second period where the Caps fell short, but they spread the pain thinly, allowing one goal in each of the four games.  But the Caps do remain a front-heavy team, finishing the week tied for third in the league in first period goals (86) and second in second period goals (102).  The third period could use work, the Caps finishing Week 26 ranked 17th in goals scored (76) and 26th in third period goals allowed (89).


The Caps inched ahead of last year’s pace in standings points in Week 26.  The difference is in the losses, this year’s club salvaging a standiings point in one game where they did not last year at this point (think the Tampa Bay game on March 20th when the Caps scored in the last minute to send that contest to overtime, where they lost, 5-4).

This year’s club remains more than ten percent of last year’s in scoring (10.2 percent), but this year’s team is also a bit behind last year’s in scoring defense.  Where the Caps have made strides is in shooting.  Shot on goal differential are positive in a big way (plus-145 over last season), as are shot attempts at 5-on-5 (plus-156).

Special teams continue to track closely with last season, but in the “gritterhip” categories (hits, blocked shots, takeaways), the Caps are running substantially ahead of last year.

In the end…

The Caps look a lot like last season’s team.  And, what makes the recent performance especially encouraging is that they swept Week 26 despite missing defenseman Michal Kempny, an important cog in last year’s champion, to injury.  This was a particularly satisfying week, sweeping a season series against two teams that are rivals of long standing, one from the Patrick Division days and the other from the Southeast Division years.  Add to that the fine performances up and down the roster, the history-making week for Alex Ovechkin, and the Caps go into the last week of the regular season in a good place.

Three Stars:
  • First Star: Alex Ovechkin (3-2-5, plus-5, posted his eighth 50-goal season (third all-time), one game-winning goal, 23 shots on goal, 42 shot attempts, seven hits, five takeaways)
  • Second Star: Braden Holtby (4-0-0, 1.75, .941)
  • Third Star: Nicklas Backstrom (3-1-4, plus-2, game-winning goal, six shots on goal, 12 shot attempts, five blocked shots)

Friday, March 29, 2019

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 79: Capitals at Lightning, March 30th

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

Fresh off a win over the Carolina Hurricanes on the first game of a three-game road trip, their last trip of the regular season, the Washington Capitals head to Florida to take on the Tampa Bay Lightning Saturday night in the last game of their regular season series.

The Caps, who swept a home-and-home set against the Hurricanes, go to Tampa with a 14-4-1 record over their last 19 games and a current three-game winning streak.  Tampa Bay will be wrapping up the home portion of their schedule with this game.  The Lightning are the only team in the league to have reached 30 wins at home this season, going 32-6-2.  A win in their home finale would tie the Lightning for third-most home wins in a season in NHL history and would be the most by any team since the Detroit Red Wings won 36 home games in 1995-1996.

Since February 1st, the Lightning are 12-1-2 on home ice.  In that span, Nikita Kucherov leads the club in goals (eight), assists (14), and points (22) on home ice.  Not that he has been especially dependent on home cooking this season.  Overall, Kucherov is tied for the league lead in points on home ice (61, with Brad Marchand and Connor McDavid), and he leads the league outright in points on the road (60, seven ahead of Chicago’s Patrick Kane and McDavid).  He has set a blistering pace on home ice of late.  In his last 12 contests at Amalie Arena, he is 8-13-21, including two four-point games and seven multi-point games.  He is, perhaps, an extreme exception, but he does serve as evidence that it is not only in the first round that elite players are found.  He was taken in the third round, 58th overall, in the 2011 entry draft, right between Tyler Wotherspoon (by Calgary) and Rasmus Bengtsson (by Florida). Neither of those players have yet recorded an NHL goal, and Bengtsson has yet to dress for a game in the NHL.  Kucherov leads his draft class in career goals (185), assists (270), and points (455); and he is second overall in plus-minus (plus-99) to fellow Lightning draftmate Ondrej Palat (plus-106), himself taken with the 208th overall pick in that draft.  Kucherov is 10-7-17, plus-3, in 16 career games against Washington.

As if Tampa Bay is not deep enough in veteran skill, they have one of the top rookie producers in the league as well, Anthony Cirelli. He is a top-five producer in goals (18) and points (37, tied with Ottawa’s Colin White) in this year’s rookie class.  Cirelli was another third round draft pick, taken 72nd overall by the Lightning in the 2015 entry draft, between Jean-Christophe Beaudin by Colorado and Vili Saarijarvi by Detroit, neither of whom have yet to appear in an NHL game.  Cirelli got off to a slow start at the top of the season, going 2-2-4, minus-2, in his first 16 games, while averaging under 14 minutes per game.  Since then, however, he is 16-17-33, plus-26, in 61 games while averaging over 15 minutes per game.  He goes into this game on a six-game points streak (4-3-7, plus-2), and he has gone consecutive games without a point only once over his last 23 contests (9-9-18, plus-14).  Cirelli is 1-1-2, even, in two career games against the Caps.

Victor Hedman gets the Norris Trophy attention, Ryan McDonagh is the veteran influence brought in to provide depth and stability on the blue line.  The future, though, might belong to Mikhail Sergachev among the Lightning defensemen.  Not yet 21 years old and in his third NHL season, the former ninth-overall draft pick (in 2016, by Montreal) is third in goals, assists, and points among defensemen on the club (5-22-27).  He is running behind last year’s pace in each category (9-31-40 in 79 games), but he is already on the brink of jumping into the top-ten in scoring among defensemen in franchise history.  His next point will tie Filip Kuba at 68 points for tenth place.  Sergachev’s 14 career goals with the Lightning is already tied for tenth place in team history with Matt Carle.  He broke out of a six-game streak without a point when he recorded a pair of assists in a 5-4 win over the Boston Bruins on Monday.  In five career games against the Caps, Sergachev has yet to record a point and has an “even” plus-minus rating.

1.  Nikita Kucherov has not won a faceoff this season.  OK, he has taken only three draws.

2.  Tampa Bay has a plus-66 goal differential in 40 home games this season, 20 goals better than Boston in second place (plus-46 in 39 home games).

3.  Tampa Bay has the best special teams goal differential in the league on home ice, plus-25 (36 power play and 10 shorthanded goals for, 16 power play and three shorthanded goals allowed).

4.   The Lightning are the only team with three players with 90 or more points – Nikita Kucherov (121), Steven Stamkos (93), and Brayden Point (90).  Only Edmonton has as many as two (Connor McDavid (114) and Leon Draisaitl (101)).

5.  Tampa Bay has dressed only 24 skaters all season, their fewest since the dark 2004-2005 season.  No team in the league has dressed fewer skaters this season (Toronto: 25).

1.  Alex Ovechkin has gone two straight road games without a goal.  He does not have a streak of three games without one this season.

2.  John Carlson is third among defensemen in points on the road this season (33), trailing only Brent Burns (45) and Morgan Rielly (35).

3.  A win in this game would tie the Caps for the second-most road wins in team history at 24.  The 2009-2010 team also had 24 road wins.  The 2015-2016 team holds the record with 27 wins on the road.

4.  This Capitals team is on a pace to finish the season with 320 penalties.  That would make it the least penalized team over a full season (not including the shortened 2012-2013 season) in team history.  The 2015-2016 team was called for 322 penalties.  The 9:03 in penalty minutes per game is currently lowest in team history (2016-2017: 9:08 per game).

5.  The Caps have five losses by one goal in regulation this season.  Only two teams in franchise history had fewer: the 1985-1986 team (four) and the 1978-1979 team (two).  That 1978-1979 team did have 39 other regulation losses.

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

Tampa Bay: Steven Stamkos

If Steven Stamkos records three goals over his last five regular season games, he will finish with 44 goals, which would be his highest total since he recorded 60 goals in the 2011-2012 season.   While he has not threatened the 50-goal mark over the past seven seasons, he has been among the most consistent goal scorers in the league.  He is one of ten players over that span with at least 200 goals (he has 210/ninth in that group).  That total would be much higher had he not missed 65 games of the 2016-2017 season to a knee injury.  The 41 goals he has this season is a considerable improvement on the 27 he had in 78 games last year, only the second time in his 10 seasons to that point in which he recorded fewer than 30 goals while dressing for more than 70 games.  This year, that goal scoring has been a reliable indicator of team success.  Stamkos’ goal scoring might get a bit lost in the noise of the big season Nikita Kucherov is putting up in points, but the Lightning are 29-2-1 in the 32 games in which he has goals, and they unbeaten at home when he scored at least one goal (15-0-0).  Stamkos will go into this game on a five-game goal streak, six goals in all.  He is 16-17-33, minus-16, in 40 career games against the Caps.

Washington: Christian Djoos

Since Michal Kempny went out with a lower-body injury on March 20th, Christian Djoos has once more been a regular fixture on the Capitals blue line.  He has not wowed with offensive numbers in five games since he returned to the lineup (0-2-2), but he is a plus-1 and has contributed almost 16 minutes of ice time per game, over which the Caps are 4-1-0.  Of note for this game, while he went just 0-2-2 in his first 18 road games this season, Djoos has an assist in each of his last three road games.  He has only one goal this season, but his eight assists have kept him at the 0.22 points per game pace he had last season as a rookie when he went 3-11-14 in 63 games.  And, he has made quite a comeback after suffering a compartment syndrome injury to his leg that caused him to miss 24 games.  Despite his relative inexperience and intermittent play this season, he has not been a liability for the club, the Caps going 24-13-4 in the 41 games for which he has dressed (22-11-4 in the games in which he was absent).  Djoos has one career appearance against Tampa Bay without a point and has a minus-1 rating.

In the end…

The Capitals have never finished a season series against the Lightning without winning at least one game.  In fact, last season was the first time they won only one game against Tampa Bay in a season series (1-1-1) since they went 1-0 with a tie in two games in the Lightning’s inaugural season in 1992-1993.  This is, however, the best Lighting team that the Caps have faced in 26 seasons.  Getting that first win would be – will be – an achievement.

Capitals 4 – Lightning 3

Thursday, March 28, 2019

A TWO-Point Night: Washington Capitals -- Game 78: Capitals 3 - Hurricanes 2

The Washington Capitals swept the home-and-home series with the Carolina Hurricanes and swept the season series, four games to none, with a 3-2 come from behind win on Thursday night.  The win clinched a playoff spot for the Caps, the fifth straight season they made it to the big show.

First Period

The scoring started early in this contest.  Carolina broke the ice in the fifth minute.  The Caps got caught chasing the Hurricanes’ cycle on the left side of the offensive zone, and they lost track of Nino Niederreiter in the middle of the ice.  Justin Williams found him all alone cruising down the slot, and while Niderreiter got caught deep, below the goal line trying to stuff the puck past goalie Braden Holtby, he was able to follow up his initial shot off the side of the post and stuff it behind Holtby at the 4:31 mark to make it 1-0.

Less than a minute later, the Caps tied the game.  Taking advantage of Carolina players running into one another in the offensive zone, the Caps broke out, Brooks Orpik chipping it off the glass to Brett Connolly heading up the right side. Connolly and Jakub Vrana on a 2-on-1 break.  Connoly skated in, curled the puck around defenseman Trevor van Riemsdyk, and wristed it past goalie Curtis McElhinney 5:13 into the period.  That would do it for the first period scoring.

-- It was a period of misfires.  The Caps had 19 shot attempts, nine of which were missed shots, while Carolina had 20 shot attempts, 10 of which were missed shots. 

-- Alex Ovechkin had five shot attempts to lead the club; John Carlson’s two shot attempts led in that category.

-- Carolina was credited with ten hits in the period.

Second Period

The teams skated back and forth over the first half of the period without damage, but it was the Hurricanes who broke through first in the second half of the period.  Warren Foegele skated the puck down the right side into the Caps’ zone, slithered the puck through the skates of defenseman Nick Jensen, deked Holtby to ice, and ripped it into the back of the net to make it 2-1, 12:30 into the period.

The Caps got a power play, courtesy of a Justin Williams tripping call 16 minutes into the period, but the Caps managed to exert no pressure with the man advantage, recording no shots on the power play.  The period ended without any further scoring.

-- Carolina out-shot the Caps, 11-9, in the period, and they out-attempted them, 18-17.

-- Alex Ovechkin had nine shot attempts through two periods, four on goal…no goals.

-- Carl Hagelin had four shot attempts through two periods, all missed shots.

Third Period

The Caps wasted little time getting the game-tying goal in the third period.  The Caps broke out of their end smartly, Christian Djoos sending the puck up to Evgeny Kuznetsov as the latter was exiting the defensive zone.  Kuznetsov skated to the red line and then sent the puck across to Jakub Vrana skating down the left side.  Vrana kicked in the afterburners and curled around Micheal Ferland, breaking in alone on McElhinney.  Vrana backhanded the puck between McElhinney’s pads as he was skating through the low slot, and the game was tied, 2-2, 1:35 into the period.

The Caps took the lead with less than five minutes in regulation.  Nick Jensen collected the puck along the right wing boards and flung a shot at the Carolina net.  Nic Dowd was curling around the paint and got the blade of his stick on the puck just enough to redirect it past McElhinney on the short side to give the Caps a 3-2 lead at the 15:04 mark.

It would be the only scoring of the period, although Alex Ovechkin almost got an empty netter for his 50th, barely missing into an empty net in the last minute of play.

Other stuff…

-- With the win, the Caps hit the 100-point mark for the fifth straight season, extending their team record for consecutive 100-point seasons.

-- The win also put the Caps into the postseason for the fifth straight year and 11th in the last 12 seasons.

-- The win was the Caps’ 46th of the season, putting this club into the top-ten all time in season wins, tied with the 1984-1985 team (46-25-9) for ninth place in season wins.

-- Carolina out-shot the Caps, 26-20, and they out-attempted them, 57-48.

-- Each of the three players on the top line – Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, and Tom Wilson – were minus-2.

-- Three different players had one goal; seven different players had one point.

-- Brooks Orpik led the team with six credited hits.  No other Capital had more than two.

-- Each team had 18 missed shots.

-- Ovechkin had 11 shot attempts, four on goal.  Both led the team.

-- With 24 saves on 26 shots, Braden Holtby is 111-for-117 over his last four games (.949 save percentage).

In the end…

The Capitals took care of business.  They spotted Carolina a one-goal lead twice, but they never let the Hurricanes get any space – on the scoreboard or on the ice.  The Caps had balance, an especially welcome development since the first line did not have a point and was on the ice for both Carolina goals.  In an odd way, it was an entirely forgettable game, but in a good way.  It was the sort of game in which players filled their lanes and did their jobs.  It is that kind of seamless effort, top to bottom, that the Caps are finding more of as they head into the last few games of the regular season.  In that regard, it was the perfect sort of game to clinch a playoff spot.

Tuesday, March 26, 2019

A TWO-Point Night: Washington Capitals -- Game 77: Capitals 4 - Hurricanes 1

The Washington Capitals opened up their home-and-home series with the Carolina Hurricanes on Tuesday night at Capital One Arena.  The Caps went into the game with the possibility of clinching a playoff spot with a win and losses in regulation by both the Montreal Canadiens and Columbus Blue Jackets.  That would not happen, even as the Caps held up their end of the bargain, besting Carolina, 4-1.

First Period

The teams went back and forth in the first ten minutes, the Hurricanes generally enjoying a territorial advantage, but the Caps were awarded a power play in the eleventh minute, Sebastian Aho whistled for hooking Carl Hagelin.  The Caps did not convert and did not record a shot on goal with the man advantage.

The teams retreated to their back-and-forth ways waiting for a break.  The Caps made their own break late in the first period.  T.J. Oshie fought off defensemen Justin Faulk long enough to allow Carl Hagelin to collect the puck and move it to Evgeny Kuznetsov along the right wing wall.  Kuznetsov walked the puck below the goal line and threaded a pass between the sticks of Faulk and goalie Petr Mrazek to Oshie backing his way through the left wing circle. Oshie one-timed the feed into the open short side of the net, and the Caps had a 1-0 lead 16:29 into the period.  That would be all for the first period scoring.

-- The teams split 20 shots down the middle, ten apiece, but Carolina out-attempted Washington, 24-17.

-- Each team had nine credited hits, Brooks Orpik leading the Caps with three.

-- Nicklas Backstrom…0-for-6 on draws.  Evgeny Kuznetsov….1-for-6.…yeesh.

Second Period

The teams started the second period much like the first, Carolina having a edge in territorial play, but neither team converting.  Evgeny Kuznetsov had a chance for a wrap-around attempt but was hooked by Mrazek mid-way through the period.  Just like in the first period, the Caps could not convert.  They did, however, manage to get two shots on goal on this power play.

Failing to take advantage of the opportunity came back to bite the Caps late in the period.  Christian Djoos was going to be called for a holding penalty, but the Hurricanes maintained possession of the puck, and the play went on.  The Caps made a ghastly line change, swapping out both defensemen on the delayed penalty call, giving Carolina even more time to wreak havoc.  A loose puck finally made its way to Dougie Hamilton at the top of the offensive zone, and he beat goalie Braden Holtby on the blocker side to tie the game at the 15:38 mark.  That would be the start and the end of the scoring for the period.

-- The Caps out-shot Carolina, 11-7, in the period, and they out-attempted them, 24-11.

-- Alex Ovechkin had four shots and seven attempts through two periods, both leading the team (the latter tied with Evgeny Kuznetsov).

-- Carolina had 15 missed shots through two periods, almost as many as they had on goal (17).

Third Period

The Caps did not allow Carolina to dominate the early going in the third period as they did in the first two periods.  Tilting the ice the other way paid dividends in the fifth minute.  Evgeny Kuznetsov fed the puck to Tom Wilson at the offensive blue line, and then made a bee line for the net.  Curling behind Kuznetsov, Alex Ovechkin took a feed from Wilson and one-timed the puck, but seemed to take just a bit off the shot and slid it low on the ice.  Kuznetsov jumped over the puck as it came through, and it beat Mrazek past his right pad to make it 2-1, 4:31 into the period.

The Caps doubled their lead seven minutes later.  Dmitry Orlov had an open lane from the left point, but he had to deal with a rolling puck.  Nevertheless, he showed “shot,” but it was a slap pass to John Carlson darting to the net from the right wing circle.  Carlson got just enough wood (or composite) on the puck to redirect it over Mrazek and into the top of the net to make it 3-1 at the 11:16 mark.

The Caps ended the competitive portion of the contest with less than three minutes left when Nicklas Backstrom scored into an empty net, making it 4-1 at the 17:33 mark.

Other stuff…

-- T.J. Oshie’s first period goal was his 100th as a Capital.  He is the 29th player in team history to reach 100 goals with the club.

-- Ovechkin’s goal, in addition to being his 49th of the season, was his 656th in his career, tying him with Brendan Shanahan for 13th place, all-time.

-- Ovechkin added an assist, making this the 27th time he recorded a multi-point game against Carolina, tying Ray Bourque for second place all-time in multi-point games against the Hurricanes.  Jaromir Jagr leads with 36 games.

-- John Carlson had a goal and an assist to give him 400 career points, the fifth defenseman in Caps history to reach that mark with the club.  He joins Sergei Gonchar (416), Kevin Hatcher (426), Scott Stevens (429) and Calle Johansson (474).

-- Dmitry Orlov was a plus-3, making him plus-13 in his last 11 games.

-- Evgeny Kuznetsov had his second three-assist game of the season and the first since October 10th against Vegas.  Both instances were on home ice.  It was his 13th career game with three or more assists, tying Adam Oates for fifth place all time with the Caps.

-- Brooks Orpik did Brooks Orpik things… five hits, four blocked shots.

-- Lars Eller, Carl Hagelin, and Christian Djoos did not have a shot attempt.

-- The teams finished with 28 shots on goal apiece, but Carolina had 63 shot attempts to 53 for the Caps.

-- Braden Holtby allowed one goal on 28 shots.  That makes four goals allowed on 91 shots (.956 save percentage) over his last three games, his lowest goals allowed over any three-appearance stretch for him in the new calendar year.

In the end…

The Caps played the kind of game they need to have for the postseason.  They avoided any temptation to put on a show for the home crowd and paid close attention to their responsibilities in all three zones.  It might not have made for the sexiest or most exciting kind of game, but it was one a purist would love.  As much as any game recently, it resembled the sort of game the Caps displayed last spring on their way to a Stanley Cup.  The timing is good, but the trick will now be to do it again, against the same team, on their rink on Thursday.

Monday, March 25, 2019

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Games 77/78 Capitals vs. Hurricanes, March 26th/28th

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

For the first and only time in the regular season, the Washington Capitals will play a home-and-home set of games against an opponent.  It might be fitting that the opponent for these two games will be the Carolina Hurricanes, against whom the Caps have played 86 home and 86 road games since the teams first met, Carolina in their previous incarnation as the Hartford Whalers, back in 1979 (in keeping with the balanced history of these teams, that first game ended in a 3-3 tie).

When the Caps beat the Philadelphia Flyers on Sunday, it brought the Caps even over their last seven games (3-3-1) and allowed them to retain their lead in the Metropolitan Division, albeit by the thinnest of margins, a single point ahead of the New York Islanders. 

Meanwhile, the Carolina Hurricanes are one of the best teams in the league at the moment.  The ‘Canes last lost consecutive games in regulation in mid-January, and since dropping a 4-1 decision to the Ottawa Senators for a second straight loss on January 18th, Carolina is 20-6-2.  That is the third-best record in the league over that span, trailing only the St. Louis Blues (20-6-3) and the Tampa Bay Lightning (22-4-2).

It might be coincidental, but the Hurricanes’ good fortune with this 28-game run seems to coincide with the acquisition of forward Nino Niederreiter from the Minnesota Wild for Victor Rask on January 17th. Over the 20-6-2 run, Niederreiter leads the team in goals (12) and is third in points (24).  He is tied with Justin Williams for the team lead in power play goals over that span (three), and his six power play points ranks third.  He has even shown a talent for pilferage, ranking second to Sebastien Aho among forwards in takeaways over those 28 games (22).

Niederreiter might have found a home in Carolina.  A former fifth-overall draft pick of the New York Islanders (2010), he played in only 64 games for the Isles over two seasons and managed only two goals and three points.  He was traded to the Minnesota Wild in June 2013 for forward Cal Clutterbuck and a 2013 third round draft pick.  In five-plus seasons with the Wild, he was a durable player (three games missed) and a productive one (110 goals and 228 points in 434 games), but ultimately, he was an expendable one who made his way to Carolina in that January trade with the Hurricanes.  Niederreiter already holds a place in NHL history as the all-time leading goal scorer among players born in Switzerland (124).  In 13 career games against the Caps, he is 5-2-7, minus-1.

Another player from somewhere else who might have found a home in Carolina is forward Teuvo Teravainen.  He leads the team in points over the 20-6-2 run (32) and in power play points (nine).  Teravainen is another first-round pick of another team, having been drafted 18th overall by the Chicago Blackhawks in the 2012 entry draft.  Caps fans might remember that Washington passed over Teravainen to take Tom Wilson with the 16th overall pick in that draft.  He spent parts of three seasons with the Blackhawks and never seem to find a fit. In 117 games with Chicago, he managed only 17 goals and 44 points in 115 games, somewhat disappointing given his widely thought of skill level.  He was traded to Carolina in June 2016 with Bryan Bickell for a 2016 second-round draft pick and a 2017 third-round pick.

Teravainen has found the Hurricanes more to his liking, posting a career-high 15 goals and 42 points in his first season in Carolina, and then besting both last season (23 goals, 64 points).  He is on a pace to challenge for another career high in goals (he has 19), and he already has new career highs in assists (51) and points (70).  Teravainen is 4-8-12, plus-2, in 12 career games against Washington.

It would appear that after six seasons toiling largely as a backup in Detroit and a brief, unimpressive stint with the Philadelphia Flyers to end last season, goalie Petr Mrazek has (yes, him too) found a home, or at least an accommodating environment in Carolina.  Currently in the walk year of his contract, a one-year/$1.5 million deal with the Hurricanes, Mrazek might be in the best stretch of his career.  In the Hurricanes’ 28-game run, he has had 15 starts and has posted a record of 11-3-1, 2.07, .927, with three shutouts.  He has not allowed more than three goals in any of his last 11 appearances, going 9-2-0, 1.63, and those three shutouts.

But don’t discount Curtis McElhinney.  He has had 12 starts in this 28-game stretch and is 8-3-1, 2.57, .915, with two shutouts.  But here is the thing.  Mrazek seems to be “Mr. Home,” while McElhinney is “Mr. Away.”  In the Hurricanes’ last 28 games, Mrazek is 5-1-0, 1.65, .943, with one shutout at home, and McElhinney is 4-0-1, 1.97, .933 with two shutouts on the road.  Mrazek is 3-4-2, 2.46, .920, with one shutout in nine career appearances against the Caps, while McElhinney is 1-4-0, 3.76, .868 in eight career games against Washington.

1.  In their 20-6-2 run, Carolina has been a better team on the road (11-2-2/24 points/2nd in the league) than at home (9-4-0/18 points/13th).

2.  Carolina’s home power play in this 28-game stretch (6.7 percent/2-for-30) is second-worst in the league.  Their road power play over that same span (11-for-49/22.4 percent) ranks 12th.

3. The Hurricanes are 36-for-40 killing penalties on the road in this stretch (90.0 percent/fourth), but just 29-for-35 (82.8 percent/tied for 12th) on the road.

4.  Carolina’s goal differential at home in the 28-game run is plus-11.  On the road, it is plus-21.

5.  One area where Carolina has been consistent between home and road is shot attempts.  Their shot attempts-for at 5-on-5 is 55.06 percent on the road in their 28-game run, best in the league.  At home over the same stretch, the Hurricanes are 53.50 percent, 11th.

1.  The Caps did some fine-tuning at the trading deadline with the acquisitions of defenseman Nick Jennsen and forward Carl Hagelin.  Since the deadline, the Cap shave been almost equally successful at home (9-2-2/20 points/third in the league) as on the road (8-5-0/16 points/tied for seventh).

2.  The post-deadline offense has been more successful at home (48 goals) than on the road (40), as has the scoring defense, which has 34 goals allowed at home (tied for 12th fewest) and 38 on the road (18th fewest).

3.  The Caps have been less powerful at home than on the road on the power play since the deadline.  At home they are 7-for-41 (17.1 percent/18th), but they are 8-for-35 on the road (22.9 percent/tied for tenth).

4.  Penalty killing for the Caps follows that same weak-home/strong-road patter since the deadline – 32-for-40 at home (80.0 percent/17th) and 32-for-37 on the road (86.5 percent/eighth)

5.  It extends to shot-attempts, too.  At home, Washington is 50.20 percent (20th) since the trading deadline, but they are 51.33 percent (fifth) on the road.

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

Carolina: Justin Faulk

It might seem like only yesterday that Justin Faulk was a 19-year old rookie battling against the Caps in the Southeast Division in 2011-2012 and finishing seventh in the Calder Trophy voting for top rookie that season, but now he is an eight-year NHL veteran, all of it with Carolina, and he is climbing the rankings of all-time franchise defensemen.   Only two defensemen in team history have dressed for more games than Faulk (552): Glen Wesley (913) and Adam Burt (626).  He is the all-time leader among defensemen in goals scored (82), by a large margin over second-place Wesley (51).  His 254 points is tops among defensemen to play for the franchise, as are his 38 power play goals and 17 game-winners. 

The blemish on his record as a Hurricane is that he is a minus-100, the worst plus-minus ranking among any skater in team history.  In that context, this is one of, if not his best season of his career.  His scoring is a bit down, his 8-23-31 line to date matching precisely his scoring line of last season, and he does not carry quite the load of ice time he did with weaker teams (a second straight season of 22 minutes per game after five straight seasons averaging more than 23 minutes per game).  But he is a plus-9 this season, the best of his career, after going minus-85 over the previous four seasons.  Faulk has not gone consecutive games without a point in more than a month, and since the last time he did, he is 3-8-11, plus-5, in 17 games.  He is 4-8-12, minus-3, in 30 career games against the Caps.

Washington: Brooks Orpik

At this stage of his career, and especially with the Caps, there are no numbers that are likely to impress the faithful with respect to Brooks Orpik.  He is not much of an offensive player (and never has been), and his underlying numbers (shot attempt-for percentage at 5-on-5, ratio of takeaways to giveaways) are not impressive.  However, much as it pains the empirical crowd, there is another element that cannot be entirely discounted.  The Caps added a defenseman at the trading deadline (Nick Jensen), they have lost one to injury, perhaps until the postseason (Michal Kempny), and to others have had intermittent struggles this season (the Matt Niskanen/Dmitry Orlov pair).  John Carlson has had another strong season, especially in the offensive end, but there is something to be said for a veteran defensive defenseman who seems to have an ability to manage a locker room. 

And it is not as if he has been entirely silent in the offensive end, at least by his standards.  He has two goals, his first two since he posted his career high of three in 2015-2016 with the Caps.  He has eight points in 47 games, almost matching the total he had in 81 games last season.  He is a plus-3, an improvement on the minus-9 he had last season.  However, he does seem to be in a bit of a difficult stretch.  He does not have a point in his last nine games and is plus-1.  Orpik is 1-11-12, plus-6, in 48 career games against Carolina.

In the end…

These games come at an interesting time for both teams.  If the Caps sweep them, it gets the Caps to 100 points, and it would put them in a decent position to cement their divisional lead.  If Carolina sweeps, it would all but clinch a postseason spot, even if Columbus keeps winning.  A split, and things remain murky for both teams as they head into the last days of the regular season.  Much of the season in Washington has been the carryover of a celebration of the Stanley Cup champion, while in Carolina it has been marked by “surges,” both in performance on the ice and in post-game antics.  Leave the choreography for the game against the Flyers on Saturday, 'Canes fans.

Capitals 4 – Hurricanes 2 (Tuesday)
Capitals 3 – Hurricanes 1 (Thursday)

Sunday, March 24, 2019

A TWO-Point Afternoon: Washington Capitals -- Game 76: Capitals 3 - Flyers 1

The Washington Capitals hosted the Philadelphia Flyers in the last meeting in their four-game season series on Sunday afternoon.  The Caps won each of the first three games, each time scoring five goals.  This time, the Caps failed to record five, but they did get three, and that was enough in a 3-1 win to sweep the season series.

First Period

Washington got off to a good start in the first period.  In the fourth minute, Alex Ovechkin tried to feed the puck from low in the right wing circle to Tom Wilson low on the left side.  Claude Giroux, who was near the end of a long shift, slid across and muffled the pass, but the puck slid out to the top of the offensive zone, where Nick Jensen gathered it.  Jensen backed off to the left point and sent the puck toward the net, but Tom Wilson got the blade of his stick on it and redirected it past goalie Brian Elliott to make it 1-0, 3:52 into the period.

The Caps enjoyed two power plays in the period, but they failed to convert either of them.  The teams went to the first intermission with the Caps holding that one-goal lead.

-- The teams split 22 shots on goal down the middle, 11 apiece, but Philadelphia enjoyed a thin 16-15 edge in shots on goal, despite the Caps having two power plays to the Flyers’ none.  Alex Ovechkin led the Caps with three shots on goal and four shot attempts.  Brooks Orpik was next with two shots on goal (tied with Evgeny Kuznetsov) and three shot attempts.

-- The shot profiles were oddly different for each team, the Caps with six even strength and five power play shots on goal, while Philadelphia had 10 even strength shots and one shorthanded shot on goal.

-- The Caps’ power play went 0-for-2 in the period, bringing their performance to 3-for-23 over their last seven games plus one period (13.0 percent).

Second Period

It took less than a minute for the Caps to take a penalty, Alex Ovechkin sent off on a slashing call, and put the Flyers on a power play.  The Flyers managed one shot and failed to convert, and the teams played on.

The Flyers started mounting pressure, but they could not solve goalie Braden Holtby.  The opportunities lost came back to bite the Flyers just past the half way point of the period.  Andre Burakovsky hounded Sean Couturier off the puck in the corner to the left of Elliott. The puck then worked its way to Matt Niskanen at the right point.  His drive was redirected by Travis Boyd under the right arm of Elliott, and it was 2-0, 10:47 into the period.

The Flyers got one back on a power play with less than three minutes left in the period.  Off a scramble in front, Matt Niskanen tried to sweep the puck out of the low slot from one knee and managed only to put it on the stick of Jakub Voracek.  From the low right wing circle, Voracek snapped a shot that beat Holtby through the pads to make it 2-1 at the 17:10 mark.  That would be how the teams went to the second intermission.

-- That probably qualified as one of the worst, if not the worst, periods of the year for the Caps in terms of shot production.  They were out-shot in the period, 20-7, but they were out-attempted, 44-10.

-- The Caps had six players without a shot attempt through two periods: Nick Jensen, Jakub Vrana, Lars Eller, Christian Djoos, John Carlson, and T.J. Oshie.

-- Travis Boyd and Andre Burakovsky, arguably the best two players for the Caps over the first 40 minutes, had a combined ice time of 12:02.

Third Period

The Caps took a penalty in the first minute of the second period, and they took a penalty in the fourth minute of the third, a roughing call to Brooks Orpik.  It was the fourth straight call against the Caps after they got the first two, back in the first period.  The Caps skated this one off to make it three kills in four instances.

Washington took advantage of the Flyers’ inability to get a puck deep into the offensive zone in the ninth minute.  Philippe Myers was the Flyer who failed to get the puck in deep, and it ended up on the stick of Brett Connolly.  From the defensive blue line, Connolly sent the puck into space in the neutral zone, and Jakub Vrana skated it down before going offside.  He broke in on Elliott and snapped a shot under his right pad to make it 3-1, 8:07 into the period.

Vrana almost made it 2-for-2 in breakaways, but his attempt that beat Elliott chipped the outside of the post with just over six minutes left.

The Caps had chances with an empty net late, but could not convert, skating off at game’s end with a 3-1 win and a 4-0-0 sweep of the season series with the Flyers.

Other stuff…

-- This was the second time in the history of this rivalry that the Caps swept the Flyers.  The first time was in 2006-2007.

-- Washington was out-shot, 36-30, for the game, but they did narrow the deficit in the third period, out-shooting the Flyers, 12-5.

-- The Caps were out-attempted, 74-47, but again, they narrowed the gap in the third period, out-attempting the Flyers, 22-14.

-- Travis Boyd snapped a 25-game streak without a goal.  Until he scored against the Flyers, he had not scored since he got one in a 3-2 win in Detroit over the Red Wings on January 6th.  It was his first goal on home ice since December 11th, also against Detroit, in a 6-2 win.

-- The Caps had goals from three different players and one point apiece from eight different players.

-- Tom Wilson gets the buffet coupon.  In 19:44 of ice time, he had a goal, a penalty, three shots on goal, five shot attempts, five hits (led the team), a giveaway, a takeaway, and won his only faceoff.  Guess that whole James van Riemsdyk submarining his legs in the first period didn’t quite work out as planned.

-- Nick Jensen… plus-2, five blocked shots, two hits, three shot attempts, and an assist in 20:45.  Just a solid, solid game.

-- Alex Ovechkin has only two goals in his last seven games as he continues to pursue a 50-goal season, but he has points in six of those games, including an assist in this one (2-5-7).

-- Braden Holtby was the story with 35 saves on 36 shots, including 30 saves on 31 shots over the first 40 minutes.  It was the 18th game this season in which he faced more than 35 shots.  He is 8-7-3 in those games, and this was the third instance among those games in which he held an opponent to one goal.

-- At no point this season did the Caps ever trail the Flyers.

In the end…

The Capitals extended their lead in the Metropolitan Division to three points, and they probably ended the flickering playoff hopes for the Flyers, who find themselves seven points behind Montreal for the last playoff spot with six games to play.  And, they would have to climb over the Columbus Blue Jackets as well as the Canadiens. 

That said, it was not a particularly good game for the Caps.  Winning is the object, and the Caps fulfilled that objective, but truth be told, this probably captures the quality of the contest…

Washington Capitals: That Was The Week That Was - Week 25

We started last week's installment by saying that "Week 24 was a roller coaster of a week with ups and downs and twists and turns against rivals old and new.  In the end, the ride came to a stop right where it started with a two-win two-loss week and the Caps still in charge in the Metropolitan Division."  Well, here we are again, in same place, taking the same trip, in Week 25.

Record: 1-1-1

For the first time since Weeks 20 and 21 last season, the Caps finished with consecutive non-winning weeks.  As they did in that instance, they finished consecutive weeks earning half of the available standings points.  The odd thing about the week, perhaps, was that the win came on the road.  The 4-1 win in New Jersey against the Devils was the Caps’ 22nd road win of the season, tying for the fifth-most road wins in a season in team history (the 2015-2016 team has the most: 27).

Having lost both home games in Week 24, the Caps failed to match the 22 road wins for the season, finishing the week stuck on 21 wins at Capital One Arena.  That means that this team cannot work its way into the top ten in team history in road wins for a season, the most they could finish with being 25.  The two losses at home for the week snapped a five-game home winning streak and were the first instances of losing consecutive games on home ice in more than two months (January 18th and 22nd, the end of a four-game home losing streak).

Offense: 3.00/game (season: 3.37/5th)

If it was not a prolific week for the Caps, it was balanced.  Seven players shared the nine goals scored; Evgeny Kuznetsov and Brett Connolly the only Capitals with two.  Connolly, T.J. Oshie, and Carl Hagelin shared the team lead in points with three apiece.  Kuznetsov had the late game-tying goal in the 5-4 overtime loss to Tampa Bay in the middle game of the week, giving him eight goals in eight home games and goals in three of four games overall before he was kept off the board against Minnesota to close the week.  Connoly’s first goal of the week, in the Caps’ 4-1 win in New Jersey over the Devils, was his 20th of the season, giving him the first 20-goal season of his eight-year career.  Oshie’s three points for the week gave him 15 points in his last 18 games (6-9-15) and 48 points for the season, surpassing his total for last year (47).

The Caps were a productive team on home ice over the past six weeks, posting 36 goals in their previous eight home games going into the week.  They managed to add to their string of games on home ice with three or more goals when they put up three against Tampa Bay in the first game of the week.  However, the streak came to an end at nine games when the Caps dropped a 2-1 decision to the Minnesota Wild on Friday night.

Defense: 2.67/game (season: 3.09/20th)

It was a good week defending for the Caps.  They held all three opponents under 30 shots on goal and allowed a total of 76 in the three games.  It is part of a larger trend lately.  From January 1st through February 24th, they Caps allowed 836 shots in 25 games, an average of 33.4 shots per game, and held opponents under 30 shots eight times.  They had a record over that span of 11-10-4.  Since then, the Caps have allowed 322 shots in 12 games, an average of 27.7 shots per game, and have held opponents under 30 shots eight times.  The Caps have a record of 8-3-1 in those 12 games.

The trend extends to shot attempts at 5-on-5.  The Caps had a positive shot attempt differential at 5-on-5 in all three games in Week 25, extending their streak to six games, and making it 11 out of 12 games in which they had a positive shot attempt differential.  Over those 12 games, the Caps have a shot differential of plus-150, which is fourth-best in the league over that span.  Compare that to the 25 games from January 1st through February 24th.  The Caps had only eight games with a positive 5-on-5 shot differential, and overall they were minus-147, third-worst in the league over that span.

It might be too facile to conclude that the difference is the trading deadline acquisitions of Nick Jensen and Carl Hagelin, but that is the demarcation point between the poor performance in this category and the fine performance since.  It is at least coincidental that those under-the-radar pick-ups have paid dividends in areas where the Caps were weak earlier this season.

Goaltending: 2.68 / .895 (season: 2.92 / .907 / 4 shutouts)

And the backup shall lead them.  Well, for one week, anyway.  Pheonix Copley had a fine game in New Jersey against the Devils to start the week, stopping 20 of 21 shots on goal in the Caps’ 4-1 win.  It was Copley’s sixth straight win, over which he has a goals against average of 2.61 and a save percentage of .913.  He has benefitted from good goal support in that stretch, the Caps scoring 26 goals in the six games (4.33 per game).

Braden Holtby drew the difficult opponent for the week, the league-leading Tampa Bay Lightning in the first of the two games he played for the week.  He was a perfect 15-for-15 in the combined first and third periods of that game.  Unfortunately, he allowed four goals on 11 shots in the second period, and after the Caps crawled back late in the third period to force overtime, he was victimized by some leaky defense that allowed Victor Hedman to hold the puck…and hold it…and hold it, until he snapped a shot past Holtby to deny the Caps and Holtby the win.  Holtby was stout in the third game of the week, allowing only two goals on 27 shots to the Minnesota Wild.  The Caps could manage only one shot on 22 shots, though, and Holtby was a loser for a second consecutive game.  It was his third loss in a row (0-2-1), the first time he suffered losses in three consecutive appearances since he dropped three in a row (0-2-1) to Edmonton, Montreal, and Dallas in late October and early November.

Goal support has become a minor issue with the goaltenders.  Since January 1st, in games in which he earned the decision, Copley has backstopped a team that averaged 3.42 goals per game, going 7-3-2 in the process.  IN the 25 games in which Holtby earned the decision, the Caps averaged 3.08 goals per game.  This is not unusual on its face, since Copley was more likely to draw an easier opponent.  Seven of his games were against teams not currently playoff eligible, while 11 of the 25 games in which HOltby earned a decision were against teams not playoff eligible through Week 25.

Power Play: 1-for-10/10.0 percent (season: 21.3 percent/9th)

It might have been expected that the Capitals’ power play would struggle some with a pair of top-ten penalty killing teams in New Jersey (83.9 percent/ninth at the end of the week) and Tampa Bay (88.3 percent/second).  And they did, going 1-for-7 against those teams.  The Caps did not manage so much as a single power play shot on goal on their lone power play against the Devils.  They went to the other end of the spectrum against the Lightning, to little avail, scoring their lone goal on 16 shots.

The headscratcher was the game against Minnesota, a team that finished the week ranked 25th in the league in penalty killing 77.9 percent).  The Caps came up empty on three power plays against the Wild and managed only a single shot on goal, that one from John Carlson.

The Caps have had trouble getting into any rhythm on their power play lately.  They have alternated games with power play goals with games without one over their last eight contests and are 4-for-26 over that span (15.4 percent).  The truth is, the Caps have been a rather middle-of-the-road power play team since January 1st, posting a 19.0 percent conversion rate, 15th in the league.

Penalty Killing: 3-for-6/50.0 percent (season: 79.1 percent/23rd)

It might have been a “moldy meat sandwich” on the penalty kill in Week 25.  Between two slices of artisanal bread in which the Caps allowed only three power plays overall and blanked the Devils and Wild on them in the process, the Caps allowed three power play goals on three Tampa Bay power play chances in the middle game of the week.

The three power play goals scored by the Lightning were the most by an opponent at Capital One Arena this season and only the second time this season that the Caps allowed an opponent three power play goals (December 14th at Carolina in a 6-5 Gimmick win).  It was the first time that the Caps allowed three power play goals on home ice since the New York Islanders pinned three on the Caps in a 6-3 Caps win on March 16, 2018.

The Caps’ inconsistency in their penalty killing for the week extended to their efficiency in limiting shots.  They held the Devils and Wild to no goals on two shots (both by New Jersey) in six minutes of power play ice time, but they allowed Tampa Bay three goals on four shots in 2:51 of power play ice time.

Faceoffs: 90-for-181 / 49.7 percent (season: 45.7 percent/31st)

So close.  The Caps came within a single faceoff – the last one against the Wild in the last second of Friday’s contest, in fact – of being 50 percent for the week.  Odd thing about that; it was former Capital Eric Fehr who won the last three faceoffs of that contest that put the Caps underwater for the week.

The Caps were over 50 percent in faceoff wins against Tampa Bay and Minnesota.  If you don’t think that is a big deal, it is the first time this calendar year that the Caps were over 50 percent on faceoffs in consecutive games.  In fact, it was the first time that the Caps were over 50 percent in faceoff wins in consecutive games since they had three straight games over 50 percent against Columbus, Arizona, and Minnesota, November 9-13.

However, the Week 25 results were built on performance in the neutral zone, where the Caps were 30-for-54 (55.6 percent).  They were 50.0 percent in the defensive end and 45.8 percent in the offensive zone.  The good thing there, though, if not the faceoff performance, was the faceoff volumes.  The Caps took 83 offensive zone draws for the week and only 44 faceoffs in the defensive end.

Individually, it was a good week for players taking at least ten draws.  Three of the five – Nicklas Backstrom, Lars Eller, and Nic Dowd – were 50 percent or better.  Only T.J. Oshie and Evgeny Kuznetsov won fewer than half of their draws.

Goals by Period:

It was a deceptive week in that while the Caps won the second periods of games for the week, it was the four-goal second period against Tampa Bay that put them in a hole out of which they had to scramble to earn a standings point.  And, while they scored and allowed a single goal in the third period, it was that third period goal allowed that was the game-winner for the Wild in the Caps’ regulation loss for the week.

The Caps hit the 100 goals scored mark in the second periods of games this season, tied with Pittsburgh for most in the league.  Only Tampa Bay has a better second period goal differential (plus-36) than the Caps (plus-25).  The Caps also have a fine plus-17 first period goal differential. However, those 87 third period goals allowed is fourth-most in the league, and they have a minus-19 goal differential in the third period overall.


The loss to the Wild to close Week 25 caused the Caps to slip, ever so narrowly, behind the record of last year’s club, the difference through 75 games being a game won by last year’s club and an extra time loss by this year’s team to account for the one-point difference.  This club is better in other respects and rather significantly in a few.  For example, the Caps have an eight-goal improvement in goal differential, year-to-year (form plus-13 to plus-21).  They have a positive change in shot differential of plus-237, year-to-year (minus-222 to plus-15).  Shot attempts differential is plus-186 (from minus-290 to minus-104).

Special teams remain almost unchanged, although there is some change in the spread in both power play and penalty kill from last year owing the recent struggles of the power play and a better penalty kill.

In the end…

The Caps are going through a rough patch at the moment, 2-3-1 over their last six games and two straight weeks of treading water in standings points, and three of the last five weeks.  They have managed to avoid suffering outright losing weeks, running to eight the number of consecutive weeks without one.  It has been that ability to grind out points than has kept them ahead by a razor-thin margin in the Metropolitan Division.

That division lead will be challenged as the team head into the last two weeks of the regular season, the Caps having to contend with injury (Michal Kempny) and illness that seems to be running through the locker room.  But the schedule is unforgiving with a Sunday game against the desperate Philadelphia Flyers, a home-and-home with the surging Carolina Hurricanes, and the last game of the season series against Tampa Bay over the next four games.  Splitting the eight points available might not be the worst of outcomes, under the circumstances, but it might not be enough for the Caps to maintain their hold on the division lead. 

Three Stars:
  • First Star: Brett Connolly (2-1-3, plus-5, game-winning goal, recorded 20th goal of the season for first time in his career)
  • Second Star: Carl Hagelin (1-2-3, plus-2, led all forwards in shorthanded ice time (4:53), despite appearing in only two games)
  • Third Star: Pheonix Copley (1-0-0, 20 saves on 21 shots, sixth straight win)