The Caps started the week and each of the three games on their schedule slowly, but they closed with a rush in the second and third games of the week to maintain their commanding lead in the Metropolitan Division and the best record in the league.
Another winning week for the Capitals. That makes nine times in 11 tries that the Caps grabbed more than half of the standings points available, twice earning half. Yes, it was only the sixth time in 11 weeks that the Caps recorded a loss at all, but that in itself is a rather amazing fact. The loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets was equal parts surprising and not. The Caps have generally done well in their first game back from a trip that included a visit to California. As we noted in the prognosto for this game, “In each of the last five seasons in the Caps’ first home game following a road trip that included the California trip, they won, twice against Winnipeg, once each against Carolina, Minnesota, and the Islanders.” So, in that respect, the loss was a bit of a surprise. On the other hand, it was the first home game after a road trip, and these can be a problem, especially against a motivated divisional opponent. In that respect it was less surprising.
But the Caps recovered smartly, continuing their spooky dominance of the Boston Bruins, beating the B’s for the 16th time in 17 tries, dating back to October 2014, on Wednesday. Then, the Caps wrapped up the week with a chance to extend their unusual dominance on the road, and they did just that, beating Tampa Bay for their 15th win in 18 road games (15-2-1), those 15 road wins being as many or more than ten other teams have in total.
Offense: 3.33/game (season: 3.59/2nd)
Even with the relatively weak effort against Columbus to open the week, it was a good week on offense for the Caps. With three goals against Boston and five against Tampa Bay, the Caps finished the week having scored three or more goals in eight of their last nine games. And, while they might have slipped a notch in their scoring average for the season with ten goals in three games in Week 11, they still have the seventh-highest scoring average per game since the dark 2004-2005 season. The Caps have done it be being unfriendly guests. The five goals scored in Tampa against the Lightning was the eighth time in 18 road games this season that the Caps scored five or more goals in a game.
Individually, T.J. Oshie led the team with three goals, giving him 14 for the season and pushing him within one of Jakub Vrana for second place on the club. Nicklas Backstrom was the other Capitals with a multi-goal week, posting a pair, one in the 5-2 loss to Columbus to open the week and the game’s first goal in the Caps’ 5-2 win over Tampa Bay to end the week. In all, seven Caps shared in the ten goals that were scored over the three games.
Backstrom led the team in points for the week (2-3-5), posting points in all three games to extend his points streak to six games. At week’s end, Backstrom was 4-10-14 in his last 13 games. Oshie had four points for the week (1-3-4), and Evgeny Kuznetsov had three (all assists). In all, 13 of the 18 skaters to dress for the week had at least one point.
Defense: 3.00/game (season: 2.79/11th)
That Columbus posted five goals on the Caps to open the week should not be surprising. The 38 shots on goal the Blue Jackets had was the third highest shot total allowed on home ice by the Caps this season (they allowed 40 to both Montreal and Florida in November). To their credit, they returned to more disciplined play in this category as the week wore on, allowing 32 shots on goal to Boston in the middle game of the week and only 28 to Tampa Bay to wrap up the week. Those 28 shots the Lightning managed was the second-lowest shot total they recorded on home ice so far this season (they had 28 against Anaheim on November 23rd in a 6-2 win).
The shot attempts allowed pattern followed their win-loss success pattern as well. They allowed Columbus 46 shot attempts at 5-on-5, the ninth time in 15 home games to that point in which they allowed at least 45 shot attempts at fives. They followed that up with holding Boston to 39 shot attempts at 5-on-5, the fifth time in 16 games on home ice that they held an opponent under 40 attempts. The 41 attempts allowed to the Lightning might not appear particularly impressive, but the Caps never trailed in the game and spent just under 23 minutes of the contest tied with the Lightning. They spent most of the game with a scoreboard advantage, and the shot attempts appear to reflect this somewhat. The Caps finished a minus-4 in shot attempt differential in that game, but it was the tenth time in 18 road games that the Caps were even or better in shot attempt differential at fives when leading, suggesting that they could still clamp down on defense when holding a lead.
Goaltending: 2.68 / .918 (season: 2.67 / .913)
The Caps continue to improve in this category, if only marginally in Week 11. Although the save percentage overall was not quite as good as it has been in weeks leading up to Week 11, it is worth noting that at the end of the week, 18 goalies logging at least 300 minutes Since November 1st had save percentages of .922 or better, and the Caps had two of them – Braden Holtby (.926) and Ilya Samsonov (.922).
Holtby got the call in the first two games of the week, and it was the last 40 minutes of the game against Columbus that kept him from having a better week. He had already stopped 19 of 20 first period shots against the Blue Jackets, but he allowed three goals on 17 shots over the last two periods in the loss. He followed that up with his usual mastery of the Bruins, stopping 30 of 32 shots in the 3-2 win. It was the 15th time in 21 appearances that Holtby allowed two or fewer goals to the Bruins, the 13th time the instance ended in a win. Overall, Holtby extended his career record against Boston to 18-3-0, 1.82, .944, with four shutouts of the Bruins.
The last game of the week belonged to Samsonov, and he was superb, stopping 26 of 28 shots in the 5-2 win over the Lightning. Keep in mind, this was a team that, while they have had struggles winning on home ice, they have not had trouble scoring. Six times in their previous 15 home games, Tampa Bay posted five or more goals, and they had been held to two or fewer only four times. But here is the kicker. Samsonov became the first visiting goalie to beat the Lightning at Amalie Arena this season. OK, it was the first appearance by a rookie goalie against the Lightning against Tampa Bay this season.
Power Play: 1-for-8/12.5 percent (season: 23.5 percent/5th)
It would be hard to find a silver lining in the power play in Week 11. The Caps did avoid being blanked for the first time this season over a week with the man advantage, but the 12.5 percent conversion rate was their second worst of the year (1-for-9/11.1 percent in Week 7). Boston was the only team they faced for the week that finished the week in the top half of the penalty kill rankings (tenth). Tampa Bay and Columbus, against which the Caps went 0-for-5 combined, finished ranked 18th and 20th, respectively. It was worse as the week went on, at least from a shooting standpoint. After posting seven shots on goal in 4:38 of power play time against Columbus, the Caps managed a single shot against Boston (their only goal for the week) in 4:47 with the man advantage and a single shot in 2:36 in power play time against Tampa Bay.
T.J. Oshie, who had the lone power play goal for the week, led the team with three power play shots on goal. Alex Ovechkin (2), Evgeny Kuznetsov (2), Jakub Vrana, and John Carlson had the others.
Penalty Killing: 14-for-15/93.3 percent (season: 85.1 percent/5th)
If the power play had an off week, the penalty kill was having nothing of the sort. Columbus finished the week as a mediocre power play squad (19th in the league), but Tampa Bay and Boston (second and third at the end of the week) are what pass for elite power play teams in the league this season, and the Caps were 9-for-10 combined against them.
The bad part was having to skate off 15 shorthanded situations, five in each game. It was the first time this season that the Caps faced five or more shorthanded situations in three consecutive games and the first time they did so since Games 8-10 of the 2017-2018 season when they faced five against Detroit (an overtime win) and six each against Florida and Vancouver (both in regulation losses). As it was, no team spent more time killing penalties than the Caps in Week 11 (25:56), and it meant that by week’s end, only San Jose had spent more time shorthanded for the season (218:22) than had the Caps (211:22). The takeaway, though, was that the penalty kill allowed the Caps to be the only team in the league to rank in the top five in both power play and penalty kill.
Faceoffs: 88-for-173/50.9 percent (season: 49.6 percent/19th)
It was a pretty good week for the Caps in the faceoff circle. In addition to winning the week, they were over 50 percent in both the offensive (52.0 percent) and defensive (52.1 percent) zones. On the other hand, perhaps it should have been a good week here, given the nature of the opposition. Tampa Bay finished the week as an above-50 percent team (51.2 percent), and the Caps’ 28-for-53 performance against the Lightning could be seen as a bright spot. However, Columbus finished the week ranked 26th in the league (48.3 percent), so going 37-for-64 (57.8 percent) was not unexpected. The odd part of the week was the game against Boston. A team usually thought of as being very efficient in this part of the game, the Bruins are a below-50 percent team this season. Still, they owned the Caps, holding the Caps to 23 wins in 56 draws (41.1 percent).
Individually, three of the four Caps taking at least ten faceoffs finished over 50 percent. However, it was the Capital finishing under 50 percent for the week – Nicklas Backstrom – who was the only one of the four Caps to finish over 50 percent in both the offensive (53.3 percent) and defensive (63.2 percent) zones.
Goals by Period:
In the “it’s how you finish” theme, the goals by period certainly reflect strong finishes, for the most part. The Caps did allow three goals to Columbus in the third period of their contest, but they scored two themselves. To that, the Caps added the game-winner in the third period of their 3-2 win over Boston, and they broke open a close game with four third period goals against Tampa Bay in a 5-2 win. The strong performances in the third periods of games allowed the Caps to move into second place in third period goals scored this season (45), one goal behind Bowton (46). Their two second period goals gave them 40 on the season, allowing them to join Pittsburgh as the only teams in the league with at least 40 goals scored in both the second and third periods of games through Week 11.
A mere “year-over-year" comparison is becoming insufficient to illustrate how well the Caps have performed. They continue to outpace almost all former editions of the club in performance. The 24 wins and 53 points earned through 34 games is the second best start in team history, trailing only the 2015-2016 club that had 26 wins and 54 points at the same point of the schedule.
However, the year-over-year numbers to paint the picture of a solid team in each end of the ice. The goals scored is identical to last season, so the effort to build a better two-way squad has not diminished production in that end of the ice to this point. However, a seven-goal improvement on defense is more than a fifth of a goal per game, which goes a long way to explaining an eight-point improvement in the standings. The improvement is more than explained by the penalty kill, which is more than nine percentage points better this year over last and, more important, 12 goals better.
Not that the Caps have been slouches at even strength, at least in limiting opponents in attempts. The Caps have shaved more than two shot attempts per game off their attempts allowed at 5-on-5 while increasing attempts on offense slightly. The net of the two result in almost a three-attempt improvement per game – one per period – at 5-on-5, this year over last.
In the end…
When the worst you can say is that the Caps had a “good” week, not a “great” week, things are going pretty well. Through 34 games, the Caps are on a pace to match the point total that Tampa Bay finished with last season (128). That would be a point total exceeded only three times in NHL history, only once since the Montreal dynasty days in the 1970’s when they did it in consecutive years, 132 points in 1976-1977 and 129 points in 1977-1978 (Detroit had 131 points in 1995-1996). It would be tough to maintain this pace for another 48 games, but it is an impressive feat nonetheless to have reached this point in the season with a record as remarkable as this.
- First Star: Nicklas Backstrom (2-3-5, plus-2, 58.8 percent faceoff wins in offensive/defensive zones, led forwards in ice time (58:17))
- Second Star: T.J. Oshie (3-1-4, even, one power play goal)
- Third Star: Garnet Hathaway (1-0-1, even, game-winning goal, ten credited hits, five blocked shots (led forwards))
Captain rates the week…