Sunday, October 20, 2019

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

Week 3 for the Washington Capitals might be summed up with the punch line, “Other than that, how was the play, Mrs. Lincoln?”  The reference is, of course, to the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln at Ford’s Theater in Washington, and while no week in hockey compares to the assassination of a head of state, Week 3 did have that “except for that” quality to it.  Specifically, but for the first ten minutes of the week, how did you like the week Caps fans?

Record: 2-1-0

There is much to scratch one’s head about so far this season for the Caps, but the fact is that they opened the season with three straight .500 or better weeks in standings points earned.  Through nine games the team is on a 110-point pace, which would eclipse last season’s 104 point total.  The Caps faced an odd assortment of teams on home ice in various stages of rebuilds.  They opened with the Colorado Avalanche, a team with considerable skill that is looking to find the consistency to merit being considered a true contender. 

If anything, that contest was more a reflection of the state of the Avs than it was of the Caps, Colorado jumping all over the Caps in the first ten minutes before hanging on for a 6-3 win that was much closer than it needed to be or that the score would indicate by the time the game ended.  Against Toronto in the middle game, the Caps faced a club furthest along the rebuild curve, a club that is deep in skill, young, but has played enough together as a group to be thought of as a possible contender.  The Caps were able to exploit holes in that squad in the defensive end that still remain to get their first win of the week.  In the final game of the week against the New York Rangers, the Caps faced off against a club that has taken its first steps in rebuilding what was once, but is no longer for the time being, a reliable contender for the postseason.  It went as one might expect, the Caps dominating a young team with their own depth and experience to carve out their second winning week in three this season.

Offense: 4.00/game (season: 3.44/T-9th)

The Caps expressed a certain week-to-week consistency in the offensive end – 12 goals in three games in Week 2 and 12 goals in three games in Week 3.  They recorded a three-goal, a four-goal, and a five-goal game in Week 2, and they duplicated that effort in Week 3.  The 24 goals that the Caps scored over the last two weeks is tied with the Pittsburgh Penguins for second most in the league. 

What the Caps got in Week 3 that was uncommon was balance.  Ten different Capitals recorded a goal.  T.J. Oshie had three of them, two in the win over the Rangers, and nine other Caps had one apiece.  What is not in balance among individuals are the point totals.  John Carlson assisted on half of the goals in Week 3 (six of 12) and had a hand in seven of them with the goal he added.  With 17 points through nine games, he has had a hand in almost 55 percent of the total goals scored by the Caps so far this season (31).  And, he is the first defenseman in 30 years to record 17 or more points in his team’s first nine games, the first since Paul Coffey had 18 points in his first nine games of the 1988-1989 season with the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Alex Ovechkin had an oddly lopsided week of his own.  He had four points in the three games, but three of them came on assists, that assist total tops among forwards for the week and second only to Carlson.  He shot in a bit of bad luck, recording just the one goal on 16 shots (tops on the team) for a 6.3 percent shooting mark.  The surprise in shots, though, might have been Jakub Vrana, who was second in shots for the week (11), signaling perhaps that he is emerging from a mini-slump in which he had only four shots on goal over four games before this week without a goal.

Defense: 3.67/game (season: 3.11/16th)

More consistency – 11 goals allowed in three games in Week 2 and 11 goals allowed in three games in Week 3.  What was something to hang their helmets on, despite the 3.67 goals allowed per game average, was allowing only six non-empty net goals in the last 170 minutes of the week.  That goals allowed total was reflected in the shot totals, as well, the Caps allowing only 81 shots in the last 170 minutes of the week (28.6 per 60 minutes) after allowing three (and three goals) in the first ten minutes of the week.

What was not particularly consistent, or even especially that good in Week 3 were the 5-on-5 shot attempts.  The Caps opened the week allowing Colorado 43 shot attempts at 5-on-5, second most of the season to that point.  It became the third-most shot attempts at fives when the Caps allowed Toronto 53 shot attempts at 5-on-5 in the middle game of the week, the most the Caps have allowed through nine games.   What was disconcerting about that game was taking the foot off the gas with a lead, when the Caps had a minus-16 shot differential against the Maple Leafs. 

The Caps redeemed themselves, albeit against a young Rangers team, in the week’s finale.  They doubled up on the Rangers, 44-22, in shot attempts at 5-on-5, the 22 attempts allowed tying the fewest allowed by the Caps this season (22 against Dallas in a 4-3 overtime loss on October 8th).

Goaltending: 3.40 / .881 (season: 2.99 / .892)

Goaltending was another case of Week 3 resembling the previous week – a 3.40 goals against average versus 3.71 in Week 2 and a .881 save percentage versus .976 in Week 2.  What it meant was that the goaltending situation, if not a full blown “controversy” between Braden Holtby and Ilya Samsonov, was muddled.

Holtby opened the week in as ghastly a fashion as might be imagined, facing off against his former backup, Colorado’s Philipp Grubauer, and allowing three goals on three shots in 7:54 before he was relieved in favor of Samsonov.  It would be the only action Holtby saw until week’s end, when he got the call against the New York Rangers.  He was solid, if not spectacular, stopping 26 of 28 shots, and holding the Rangers at bay in the last period, stopping all nine shots he faced while his teammates built a one-goal lead after 40 minutes into a three-goal win.

It was Samsonov holding up his end of things to make muddled the goaltending situation.  He stopped 19 of 21 shots in relief of Holtby against Colorado, one of those goals being the unfortunate product of his lack of experience in handling the puck behind his own net, his turnover resulting in an Avalanche goal.  Against the high-powered Toronto offense, he stopped 29 of 32 shots, including 20 of 21 over the last 40 minutes when the Caps came back from two goals down to grab a 4-3 win.  At the end of the week, Samsonov had a goals against average almost two full goals better than Holtby (1.84 to 3.83) and had more than 70 points on Holtby’s save percentage (.933 to .862), and Caps fans were left to ponder if Holtby’s troubles signaled a change in his career arc after almost a decade of excellence. 

Power Play: 3-for-11/27.3 percent (season: 25.0 percent/T-9th)

For a second consecutive week, the Caps elevated their power play game.  After going 18.3 percent in Week 1 and 21.4 percent in Week 2, the Caps jumped over 25 percent in Week 3 and jumping into the top ten overall in the league.

It was a bit of an odd week with the man advantage in that Alex Ovechkin neither led the team in power play goals, nor in power play shots.  Both categories were topped by T.J. Oshie, who had two power play goals on four shots (two of three against the Rangers).  When Oshie scored on the power play 2:24 into the game, it was the 200th power play goal scored by the Caps in the all-time series against the Rangers.

While the Caps were effective with the man advantage, they were not quite as efficient.  In 17:17 of power play time they posted 12 shots on goal, Oshie (four) and Ovechkin (two) being the only Caps with more than one power play shot on goal for the week.  On the down side, the Caps did allow a shorthanded goal in Week 3, Kasperi Kapanen doing the deed for Toronto to open the scoring in the Caps’ 4-3 win over the Maple Leafs.

Penalty Killing: 7-for-9/77.8 percent (season: 83.3 percent/11th)

Week 3 was a considerable improvement over Week 2 in an important respect on the penalty kill.  The Caps found themselves shorthanded only nine times for the week compared to 14 times in Week 2.  And, after the Caps allowed a power play goal on the first power play they faced against the Avalanche, they skated off the last eight with one getting through, a first period man advantage strike by the Rangers in the last game of the week.

The penalty killers did a good job of limiting shots.  For the week the Caps defended only ten shots on goal in 14:06 of shorthanded ice time.  The odd part of that was that after holding the dangerous Avalanche and Maple Leafs to just three shots in 7:31 of shorthanded ice time, the Caps allowed the Rangers seven shots (one goal) in 6:35 of shorthanded ice time.

Faceoffs: 92-for-178 / 51.7 percent (season: 52.1 percent/8th)

It was a good, if an odd and uneven week in the circle for the Caps.  Overall, the Caps were over 50 percent in Week 3, the third consecutive week the Caps were over 50 percent.  What was odd about it, though, was the difference in the ends of the ice.  Washington was just 34-for-75 in the offensive end (45.3 percent), 14-for-46 (30.4 percent) against the Maple Leafs and the Rangers, the two wins for the week.  Meanwhile, in the defensive end, the Caps were 27-for-48 (56.3 percent) and were especially dominant in the defensive end against Toronto (11-for-17/64.7 percent).

Individually, Nicklas Backstrom might have had the oddest week of all, going 9-for-24 in the offensive end (37.5 percent) while going 9-for 11 (81.8 percent) in the defensive end while finishing the week at 50.9 percent overall.  Two other Caps taking at least ten draws for the week finished over 50 percent – Lars Eller (60.0 percent) and T.J. Oshie (54.5 percent).

Goals by Period:

The Caps stopped the third period bleeding of goals allowed in Week 3, allowing three overall but only two of the non-empty net variety.  It was the first period against Colorado that did them in, four of the seven first period goals allowed for the week given up in the first period of that game. 

It was in the second periods of games in which the Caps were dominant, holding a 6-1 edge in goals scored and finishing the week with a 14-3 edge in middle period goals.  Only Pittsburgh finished Week 3 with more second period goals scored for the season (16), while only Arizona allowed fewer middle period goals (2).


Perhaps surprisingly, the Caps are slightly ahead of last year’s standings pace, earning one extra win in nine games to date and one fewer loss in regulation.  At the simplest level, what one might have expected with the personnel moves the Caps made over the summer is having an effect, although at the moment it is marginal.  Scoring is down (from 35 to 31 goals), but goals allowed are down even more (from 33 to 28).  Giving up offense for better two-way play might yield fewer goals scored but a better goal differential.  This is also reflected in shots and shot attempts, where the “for” side of the equation is down year-over-year, but shots and shot attempts allowed are down even more.

The Caps have flipped the script on special teams chances, power play opportunities being up this year over last and penalty killing instances being down year over year.  The result, even if the power play and penalty killing rates are very different on a year to year basis, is that the differential of power play goals to power play goals allowed this season (plus-4) is better than last season (plus-2).

In the end…

Through nine games, the win-loss results are largely the same this year as last, although how the Caps got there looks different.  One thing in which this season mirrors last is that the Caps played five home and four road games through nine contests, both this year and last.  Where they differ is that last season the Caps had already embarked on their western Canada tour, having already split games in Vancouver and Edmonton before heading to Calgary.  The Caps will begin that tour this season in the week ahead, the middle three games on a season-long five game road trip that begins in Chicago on Sunday against the Blackhawks and ends in Toronto against the Maple Leafs on October 29th.  The Caps have weathered an important early-season challenge with their first eight games of nine played to date against opponents that made the playoffs last season.  The next challenge, a long road trip, is different, but no less daunting.

Three Stars:
  • First Star: John Carlson (1-6-7, plus-1, 1-1-2 on power plays, one game-winning goal, 26:17 in average ice time, most points scored by a defensemen through nine games in 30 years).
  • Second Star: T.J. Oshie (3-1-4, plus-1, 2-0-2 on power plays, 54.5 percent on faceoffs, played in his 300th game as a Capital against the Rangers)
  • Third Star: Radko Gudas (0-0-0, plus-2, 14 hits (led defensemen), 9 blocked shots (tied for team lead))

Captain rates the week…

Three puppers

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