an article of clothing. However, for the Washington Capitals the term took on a different meaning in Week 19, a week that might have gone better, might have gone worse, and in the end was something in-between.
Four games, four one-goal decisions. The Caps played as close the margin as they could in Week 19, extending their streak of one-goal games to five (they defeated Calgary, 4-3, in the last game of Week 18). That they went 2-1-1 in those games is not surprising. It is consistent with their one-goal decision profile going into the week: 11-3-6. Their 13-4-7 record in one-goal games at the end of the week might sound like a lot (24 decisions in 54 games), but the 36-decsion pace they are on is not close to their highest season totals since The Gimmick was introduced in 2005-2006. Twice they finished a season with 46 such decisions – 26-9-11 in 2010-2011 and 21-14-11 in 2014-2015. The 20 one-goal win pace they are on would fall far short of the 27 one-goal wins they posted in 2015-2016.
Another consistent thing about the one goal games this season is the outcome based on goals scored. There was the 1-0 loss to the Boston Bruins to open the week. That made the Caps 0-3-2 in one-goal decisions in which they scored one or no goals, hardly a surprising outcome. The Caps scored three or more goals in the other three games, going 2-0-1. That brought their record in one-goal games when scoring two or more goals of their own to 13-1-5.
The loss to Florida to end the week prevented the Caps from recording their first three-game winning streak on home ice since they did so to end November. They finished the week 3-3-3 in their last nine home games.
Offense: 2.75/game (season: 3.33/7th)
That the Caps could not score on 24 shots against Boston Bruins goalie Tuukka Rask was a bad sign. It was not bad enough that Rask recorded his second career win against the Caps (both of them shutouts) or bad enough that the loss on Sunday broke a 14-game winning streak against the B’s. Starting the week being shut out on home ice could have been considered a harbinger of bad things to come.
On offense, at least, those visions did not come to pass. The Caps scored three or more in each of the three games to end the week, and that should be enough for most good teams to win more than they lose (the Caps did, going 2-0-1). The flip side of that, though, is that the Caps should have been able to score against those three teams. Consider that at week’s end, Boston, the team against which the Caps did not score, was fourth in the league in scoring defense (2.58 goals per game). The other three teams – Vancouver (3.05/16th), Colorado (3.33/26th), and Florida (3.40/29th) – were in the lower half of the league scoring defense rankings.
Individually, there was a bit of an all-or-nothing quality to the goal scoring. More than half of the week’s 11 goals were recorded by two players, Brett Connolly and Evgeny Kuznetsov getting three apiece. Five other players recorded one apiece. Alex Ovechkin was not one of those five players, his four-game streak without a goal to end the week his longest in the new year (he had a six-game streak to end December). Ovechkin did have four assists, though, his assist on a T.J. Oshie goal in the Caps’ 3-2 win over Vancouver giving him his 1,180th career point, breaking a tie with Sergei Fedorov as the leading Russian-born career point-producer in NHL history. Kuznetsov had three assists to go with his three goals to lead the team with six points for the week. He had multi-point games against Vancouver (0-2-2) and Colorado (2-1-3) to give him 76 such games in his career, 14th in team history.
Defense: 2.75/game (season: 3.18/21st)
Things started well in the defensive end for the Caps and slowly deteriorated through the week. The one goal to which they held Boston was the third time in three games that they held the Bruins to two or fewer goals, the three total goals allowed to Boston in the season series tying the second fewest allowed by the Caps to Boston in a season series in franchise history (they allowed Boston three in three games in 1994-1995, but they shut out the Bruins completely in three games in 2014-2015).
But Boston is not among the best teams in the league in scoring offense, finishing the week ranked 19th (2.89 goals/game). Vancouver was even worse, a team that finished the week ranked 22nd (2.86), and the Caps allowed the Canucks just a pair of late goals. When Colorado came to town, there was the potential for some real fireworks, the Avs among the most potent offenses in the league (finished the week eighth in scoring offense – 3.31 goals/game). The Caps allowed a pair of late goals to the Avs, and this time it bit them, the latter of the two coming with less than three minutes left to send the game to overtime. The Caps emerged victorious on an Evgeny Kuznetsov overtime goal, but there were leaks in the defensive end that forced the extra time scenario.
The Caps ended the week facing a Florida Panther team that had not been especially productive on the road, scoring more than one goal only three times in their previous six road contests. The Panthers had more than that less than 14 minutes into the game when they scored goals 35 seconds apart. By the time they were done, 91 seconds into overtime, they had their first five-goal game on the road in more than six weeks (a 6-3 win in Chicago over the Blackhawks on December 23rd), and the Caps had their fifth game on home ice this season allowing five or more goals in the 5-4 overtime loss.
Goaltending: 2.70 / .921 (season: 3.03 / .905 / 3 shutouts)
Braden Holtby owns the Boston Bruins, even when losing. He stopped 38 of 39 shots (.974 save percentage) in a 1-0 loss, making it the first time in the post-2005-2006 era that a Capitals goalie lost a game in regulation when playing the full game and posting a save percentage of .970 or better. It was the highest save percentage in franchise history for a full game loss in regulation.
The second game of the week would not go quite so well for Holtby. The Vancouver contest started fine, with Holtby stopping all 18 shots he faced over the first two periods. He allowed two goals in the third period, though, and he suffered what looked to be a tweak to his hamstring on the latter of the two, when Bo Horvat was pushed into Holtby by Brooks Orpik.
Holtby was held out of Thursday’s game against Colorado in favor of Pheonix Copley. It might have been one of those games where a decision is sacrificed to a back-up goalie in the long term interest of keeping their top goalie healthy. However, Copley had a decent game against a potent offense, stopping 34 of 37 shots. He did allow a pair of third period goals that allowed the Avalanche to push the game to extra time, but he stopped both shots he faced in overtime before Kuznetsov won it with less than a minute left. Holtby returned for the last game of the week, and he was not particularly sharp, allowing five goals on 31 shots in the overtime loss.
Overall, what stood out about Week 19 was how poor the late game netminding was compared to early game performance. Holtby and Copley combined for a .947 save percentage in the first periods of games and a .944 save percentage in the second periods. Third periods were another story, though, the two netminders combining for a .881 save percentage, and they stopped four of five shots in two extra time sessions (.800).
Power Play: 1-for-11/9.1 percent (season: 21.0 percent/13th)
It just was not a good week for the Caps with a man advantage. There was the unevenness of it. Twice (against Vancouver and Florida), the Caps were awarded a single power play, and they converted neither. They had three against Boston, but the last of them was cut short (36 seconds) when T.J. Oshie took a penalty late in the third period of a 1-0 game. They failed to convert on any of those opportunities.
Washington had more than half of their power play chances for the week (six) in the 4-3 overtime win over Colorado. Perhaps not coincidentally, that was the game in which they had their only power play goal for the week, courtesy of Evgeny Kuznetsov, his eighth power play goal of the season. That is a new career high, topping the seven he posted last season. But even that performance came with a couple of asterisks. The Caps could not convert three minutes of a man advantage mid-way through the third period after Ian Cole was charged with a five-minute interference penalty (Tom Wilson served the first two minutes of that on the Caps’ side for instigating a fight with Cole, who decked Kuznetsov in open ice). Instead of capitalizing and taking at least a two-goal lead into the late stages of the contest, the Caps were left to nurse a one-goal lead that they gave up late to force overtime.
The other asterisk was the frustration component. Washington recorded but one goal on 15 power play shots against the Avalanche. When the Caps went 0-for-1 shooting on the power play in the Florida game to end the week, it left the Caps 1-for-24 shooting the puck with a man advantage. Alex Ovechkin had six of those shots on goal, but he failed to connect, leaving him with just three power play goals in his last 34 games.
Penalty Killing: 10-for-11/90.9 percent (season: 78.3 percent/23rd)
As bad as the power play was, the penalty kill was the opposite. What made it more impressive was the quality of opponent. The Caps were 8-for-9 (88.9 percent) against the second (Boston), third (Florida), and sixth (Colorado) ranked power plays in the league at week’s end. And, until the Florida game, in which they allowed the Panthers four chances, the Caps had done a good job of holding down the volume of opportunities. That game broke a four game streak in which the Caps allowed three or fewer power play chances, their longest such streak of the season.
But even here, there was a bad taste left in the mouth. The Caps killed the first ten shorthanded situations they faced in Week 19. It would not be until Brett Connolly took a slashing call in the dying seconds of regulation against Florida that the Caps would fail to kill a penalty. The Panther power play that carried over into the extra session converted, a goal by Mike Hoffman 1:35 into the man advantage sealing the Caps' fate.
It was an efficient penalty kill, too. Well, right up until the end. The Caps allowed only 17 shots in 20:11 of shorthanded ice time for the week.
It was not a bad week for the Caps, given their standard this season. That they fared as poorly as they did against Boston (36.5 percent) was not surprising, given that Boston is a top-ten team in taking draws this season (51.2 percent/eighth). The other three games were played against teams in the bottom third of the league rankings, and the Caps were 50 percent or better in two of them (52.8 percent against Vancouver and 50.0 percent against Colorado). They were one faceoff loss under 50 percent (49.2 percent) against Florida to end the week. But even there, a dark cloud hovered. Florida won the only faceoff of the overtime period and recorded six shot attempts in 91 seconds without the Caps getting so much as a single shot attempt before the Panthers won the contest.
Individually, Lars Eller had a superb week, winning 65 percent of the 40 draws he took, including nine of ten in the offensive zone. Nicklas Backstrom, on the other hand, had a more difficult time in the offensive end, winning just eight of 24 draws (33.3 percent) on his way to a 46.1 percent week. Nic Dowd was the only other Capital taking at least ten draws to finish over 50 percent (10-for-16/62.5 percent).
Goals by Period:
As the Caps closed the two-thirds mark of the season, a disturbing fact has come into clearer focus. This is not a team that finishes games well, and Week 19 was no exception. If it was not the inability to find a way to get the tying goal against Boston to open the week, it was the two goals they allowed Vancouver to twice shrink a two-goal lead to one and make a game a lot more interesting than it had to be (even if the latter goal came with under ten seconds left). The Caps allowed two third period goals to Colorado to push a game to overtime, and they allowed an overtime goal to a team that had not scored one on the road in two and a half months (October 24th against the New York Islanders in a 3-2 win).
The Caps do have a 23-3-1 record when leading after two periods this season, tied for fifth in wins and 13th in winning percentage, but only three teams in the league have allowed more third period goals than the Caps (64): Detroit (65), Ottawa (68), and Florida (74). The Caps need to clean this up in the last third of the season.
The Caps now lag last year’s pace in wins and standings points, the product of a poor start to the new year (6-7-3 since January 1st). in other respects, numbers this year compared to last are largely up, good (goals for, shots, 5-on-5 shot attempts) and bad (goals allowed, shots allowed, 5-on-5 shot attempts allowed). Faceoff are down markedly, largely the effect of losing Jay Beagle in free agency and an inability of others to step up and fill that void.
If there is a concern, it is that record since January 1st. Compare the 6-7-3 record over that span this year with the Caps’ 8-4-4 record through the first 16 games of 2018. That the Caps are 3-1-1 since the All-Star Game break/bye is a good sign that they might be emerging from their winter slumber.
In the end…
When a team plays as close to the margin as the Caps did in Week 19, there is little room to be found between bliss and despair. A 2-1-1 record could have been a 4-0-0 week with a bounce or two against Boston and Florida. It could have been 0-4-0 if the Caps’ third period woes weren’t worse in the games against Vancouver, Colorado, and Florida.
A 3-1-1 home stand is good, but not quite good enough when you are chasing a team for postseason seeding. With the Caps trailing the New York Islanders by three points and the Islanders with a game in hand, it makes the last game of the six-game home stand on Monday against the struggling Los Angeles Kings important. Because after that, the Caps move up in weight class as far as quality of opponent is concerned with a six game road trip coming up that features a game against the Columbus Blue Jackets, the annual trip to California, a trip to Toronto, and then a game against a Buffalo Sabres team that might show some desperation in trying to claw their way back into playoff eligibility.
February is often the most boring part of the hockey regular season calendar. It does not make the games unimportant.
- First Star: Evgeny Kuznetsov (3-3-6, plus-5, game-winning goal, 11 shots, 27.3 shooting percentage)
- Second Star: Brett Connolly (3-1-4, plus-1, seven shots, 42.9 shooting percentage)
- Third Star: Jakub Vrana (1-2-3, plus-2, game-winning goal, 12 shots on goal)