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)