They started against the only team in the East they had not defeated in the regular season, faced a team desperate to remain in the playoff race, and wrapped things up with a meaningless game against their old coach. Along the way, the Captain added to his career trophy take.
The Caps entered the week trying to hold off the New York Islanders in the race for the Metropolitan Division title. The first order of business was facing the Florida Panthers, to whom the Caps had already lost twice this season, once in extra time. It was part of a longer string of frustration against the Panthers, a 3-5-2 record over their previous ten meetings. The Caps started poorly, training at the first intermission, 1-0, were steamrolled in the second, falling behind 4-0 after 40 minutes, and then mounted a frantic comeback, coming within a shot off a post in the late stages of the third period before allowing an empty-net goal and losing, 5-3.
The middle game of the week against the Montreal Canadiens was a matter of facing down a team that was running out of time and chances to reach the postseason, sitting in the ninth spot in the Eastern Conference with eight teams advancing to the playoffs. The Caps scored late in the first period, endured a momentum changing goal to tie the game even later in the first period, before getting a goal from fourth-liner Nic Dowd in the second period and shutting the Canadiens down in the third period to grab a 2-1 decision.
That win clinched the Metro for the Caps and rendered the final game of the week and the regular season irrelevant but for final statistics. The Caps substituted freely, Dmitrij Jaskin, Jonas Siegtenthaler, Chandler Stephenson, and Pheonix Copley replacing Nicklas Backstrom, John Carlson, T.J. Oshie, and Braden Holtby in the lineup. The rearranged roster failed to score against the league’s best scoring defense, and the Caps dropped Game 82, 3-0. It was the fifth time in the last eight full seasons (not including the shortened 2012-2013 season) that the Caps were shut out in Game 82, the fourth time on home ice.
Offense: 1.67/game (season: 3.34/5th)
The Caps opened the week without a goal in the first 30:55, scored five goals in the next 52:43, and then went dark for the last 97:02. As it was, those five goals were scored by five different players – Backstrom, Dowd, Jakub Vrana, Lars Eller, and Evgeny Kuznetsov. The five goals in three games was the weakest three-game stretch of offense since January, when the Caps scored three goals in Games 45-47 in losses to St. Louis, Nashville, and the Islanders. That was part of a four-game run in which the Caps scored only four goals in four games, that streak started when the Caps lost a 2-1 overtime decision to Columbus.
Twelve different players had points for the week, but only one – Oshie – had a multi-point week. He had a pair of assists in the loss to Florida. It was his 17th multi-point game this season, tying him with Backstrom and Kuznetsov for third-most on the team. John Carlson had an assist in the 5-3 loss to Florida, giving him 70 points for the season, the first time in his career he reached that level. With the 68 points he posted last season, he joined San Jose’s Brent Burns as the only defensemen in the league to post at least 65 points in each of the last two seasons. Carlson finished fourth among defensemen in points this season.
One player who did not record a goal was Alex Ovechkin. Nevertheless, he won his eighth Maurice “Rocket” Richard Trophy as the league’s top goal scorer, his 51 goals holding off the fast-closing Leon Draisaitl of the Edmonton Oilers, who recorded his 50th goal in his team’s season finale. Ovechkin has won the trophy in six of the past seven seasons. His eight seasons as the league’s top goal scorer now stands alone in league history, surpassing the seven seasons in which Bobby Hull led the league in goals.
Defense: 3.00/game (season: 3.02/T-17th)
The Caps ran into a buzz-saw to start the week in the Panthers, who posted six goals in four of their previous ten games on home ice and averaged 4.3 goals per game on home ice over that stretch. That the Caps allowed five goals, four of them on 33 shots against a live goaltender, was not entirely a surprise. What was, was the mix. The Panthers managed only 24 shots at even strength for the game (including the shot that yielded the empty net goal), but they added seven power play shots and another three while shorthanded.
And then something happened that had not happened in almost six weeks. When the Caps allowed Montreal to post 34 shots on goal, it was the first time since late February – since the trading deadline, in fact – that the Caps allowed more than 30 shots on goal in consecutive games. Montreal’s shot volume was more conventional, 33 of them coming at even strength. The Habs recorded 70 shot attempts at 5-on-5 in that game, that total almost equal to that of the other two games of the week combined (71). Those 70 shot attempts at fives tied for the most allowed by the Caps this season, matching the 70 shot attempts that the Caps allowed on three other occasions, twice against Toronto and once against Pittsburgh (the only other time this season the Caps allowed that many on home ice).
That two-game total to begin and end the week included holding the Islanders to 38 shot attempts at 5-on-5. It was the second straight time that the Caps held the Isles under 40 shot attempts at fives after allowing 46 in each of the first two games the teams met this season. The Caps seemed to solve the Islanders in that regard, having posted more than 40 shot attempts in each of those two games while being held under 40 in their first two meetings.
Goaltending: 2.41 / .922 (season: 2.84/ .909 / 4 shutouts)
In a reversal of roles, it was Pheonix Copley’s turn to take most of the minutes in Week 27, starting the first and last games of the week. He was not much bad as he was inconsistent. He had a 24-minute stretch against Florida in which he allowed four goals on 18 shots, and that is what tanked his week. But for that unfortunate stretch, he stopped 36 of 38 shots, a .947 save percentage. He could not do much about the Islanders, given the lack of offense for the Caps, making his 21 saves on 23 shots a decent effort in a lost cause. The two losses for the week broke a personal six-game winning streak for Copley.
Braden Holtby got the call in the middle game of the week and was superb. He allowed one goal on 34 shots, the third time in five games he allowed only one goal. In those last five appearances, Holtby stopped 144 of 152 shots (.947), winning all five. Holtby finished the season allowing one or no goals in 16 games, the tenth-highest total by a Caps goaltender in team history and the fourth time he posted more than 15 such games.
Power Play: 0-for-5/0.0 percent (season: 20.8 percent/12th)
The Caps are heading into the postseason struggling on the power play. Week 27 was perhaps their worst performance of the season. Five chances in three games was a low for a three-game week this season. It was the first time since Week 14 that they went without a single power play goal and only the third time this season they did so.
It was even worse. The Caps did not record a power play shot on goal on any of their three power plays in six minutes over the first two games of the week. The did record four shots on goal on the man advantage against the Islanders, but with a revamped lineup, the shots from Matt Niskanen, Tom Wilson and Lars Eller (two) were not quite as effective as they might have been coming from the sticks of Alex Ovechkin (who did not record a power play shot on goal in that game), Nicklas Backstrom, or John Carlson.
For the Caps, it was the culmination of a five week spell in which the power play dried up. They went 7-for-48 over 17 games in those five weeks (14.9 percent). They did not post a week over 20 percent in that span, hitting 20 percent once (Week 26 on 2-for-10 conversions).
Penalty Killing: 3-for-4/75.0 percent (season: 78.9 percent/24th)
The Caps almost made up for their poor power play performance with a decent penalty killing effort. Of course, with only four shorthanded situations faced, it could be said that the best penalty kill is the one not taken. Four shorthanded situations faced in three games was the team’s low for a week of three or more games this season.
It started in sketchy fashion, though. Florida managed seven shot on goal in four minutes of power play time, but Pheonix Copley turned all of them aside. The team was more disciplined as the week went on, although Montreal needed only 35 seconds to score the week’s lone power play goal against on their only power play shot on goal.
The Caps shut down the Islanders in the last game of the week, allowing only one unsuccessful shot on goal in four minutes of shorthanded ice time.
Faceoffs: 79-for-158 / 50.0 percent (season: 45.7 percent/31st)
By the Caps’ standards this season, Week 27 was a good one in the faceoff circle overall. They finished at 50 percent for the week. However, in the detail things were not as good. They topped 50 percent only once in three games, that being against Florida to open the week (32-for-61/52.5 percent). And, they won only the defensive zone (35-for-63/55.6 percent) and the neutral zone (27-for-53/50.9 percent). Their winning percentages dropped in each of the last two games of the week (to 49.0 and then to 47.8 percent), and they were weak in the offensive end (17-for-42/40.5 percent).
Individually, Lars Eller had a fine week, going 50 percent or better in all three zones and one of only two Caps to take at least ten draws in each zone for the week. The other player to take at least ten draws in each zone did not fare as well. Evgeny Kuznetsov did hit 50 percent in defensive zone draws (5-for-10), but he was under 35 percent in the offensive and neutral zones and finished just 12-for-34 for the week (35.3 percent).Nicklas Backstrom led the team in overall winning percentage for the week (60.6 percent; minimum: ten draws taken), although he was underwater in the offensive end.
Goals by Period:
When you score five goals in three games, chances are that this category is not going to have a good look to it. It did not. The Caps lost both the first and second periods for the week, and that they broke even in the third period was entirely a product of desperation after falling behind Florida, 4-0, after two periods of their game.
If there is a concern in this area, it is in the drop-off in goals scored by period. The Caps finished the season fourth in the league in first period goals (87), second in second period goals scored (103). However, they were 18th in third period goals scored (79). Making that last number worse is that the Caps allowed 92 third period goals, seventh-most in the league, and leaving them with a minus-13 third period goal differential for the season.
Given how closely this year’s team tracked with last year’s on a year-over-year basis over the course of the season, it is no surprise that as the season comes to a close, this one closely resembles last year’s in a number of categories. One fewer win, one more extra time loss, and one fewer standings point is a thin margin of difference in results. Over 82 games, the difference probably comes down to one second, that being the goal scored by San Jose’s Evander Kane on January 22nd to tie a game the Caps had well in hand half-way through the third period. The Caps lost that game in overtime. Had they held on in that game, they could have finished this season with precisely the same record they had last year.
Overall, the team did better at even strength than last season, in goals scored and shot attempts. It was on special teams that this year’s team slipped a bit from last season. In other areas, particularly in the edgier areas – hits, blocked shots, turnovers, penalties – this year’s team was an improvement over last year’s squad, if only a slight one.
In the end…
So far, so good. The Caps got through the regular season phase of the season in good shape, although the season-ending injury to Michal Kempny will present a challenge going forward. This team has good offensive balance with seven 20-goal scorers and eight players with at least 40 points. On that note, Alex Ovechkin will have a chance to do something that has not been done in a long time. He recorded his eighth 50-goal campaign, an historic achievement. But no 50-goal scorer has played for a Stanley Cup champion since Joe Sakic scored 54 goals in 2000-2001 for the Colorado Avalanche, who won the second Cup in franchise history that season. At the other end of the ice, Braden Holtby looks to have adopted his playoff focus, which is going to be essential to maintain as the team goes forward. Unlike last season, there is no doubt as to his readiness going into the postseason. This team looks as ready as it can be to open its defense of the Stanley Cup championship in earnest.
- First Star: Braden Holtby (1-0-0, 1.00, .971)
- Second Star: Nic Dowd (1-0-1, plus-1, game-winning goal, 56.0 percent faceoff wins)
- Third Star: Lars Eller (1-0-1, even, six shots on goal, 54.9 percent faceoff wins, six hits)