Sunday, November 03, 2019

A TWO-Point Night: Washington Capitals -- Game 16: Capitals 4 - Flames 2

The Washington Capitals took to the ice on Sunday night to wrap up their season series with the Calgary Flames.  The Capitals fell behind early, but they came back on a career night by Jakub Vrana and won the season series against the Flames with a 4-2 win.

First Period

Calgary, at the end of a long road trip, opened the scoring in the sixth minute of the period when Andrew Mangiapane took a feed from Matthew Tkachuk and skated through the low slot, wrapping the puck around the right pad of goalie Ilya Samsonov to give the Flames a 1-0 lead, 5:40 into the period.

Washington tied it when Evgeny Kuznetsov picked up a loose puck along the wall in front of the players’ benches and led a 2-on-1 with Jakub Vrana.  Kuznetsov put the puck into space to allow Vrana to collect it, and Vrana did the rest, beating goalie Cam Talbot cleanly over his blocker to make it 1-1 at the 11:01 mark.

Vrana got his second of the game four minutes later.  The Caps executed some deft passing in deep, Dmitry Orlov feeding Kuznetsov, who dropped the puck to Vrana at the edge of the left wing circle for a snap shot that beat Talbot 15:08 into the period to make it 2-1, Caps.

Calgary scored with 1.6 seconds left on a pinballing puck that Elias Lindholm deflected out of mid-air from between the hashmarks past goalie Ilya Samsonov to send the teams to their respective locker rooms tied at 2-2.

-- Washington out-shot the Flames, 10-8, but Calgary had the edge in shot attempts, 24-18.

-- The Caps were weak in the faceoff circle, winning only six of 18 draws.

-- Jakub Vrana led the team in shots (three) and attempts (four).

-- The Caps had a 15-5 edge in credited hits, Tom Wilson leading the team with four.

-- Jonas Siegenthaler had three blocked shots to lead all players for both teams.

Second Period

The teams were relatively quiet for the first nine minutes until Alex Ovechkin had a chance on a breakaway, but his attempt to sneak the puck under Talbot’s pads was foiled by the Calgary netminder.

It took almost half the game to go by, but the teams took their first penalties of the evening when Siegenthaler and Mangiapane were sent off for coincidental roughing calls at the 9:43 mark.

Vrana put the Caps in front with his third goal of the game, taking advantage of a Calgary turnover from inside the Flames’ blue line to head off on a breakaway.  In behind the Calgary defense after collecting the puck in the neutral zone, Vrana’s first shot was stopped by Talbot, but the rebound lay in front in the blue paint, and Vrana followed up smartly before Talbot could reset, and the Caps were up, 3-2, 15:05 into the period.  That goal would open and close the scoring for the period

-- The Caps had a narrow 13-11 edge in shots on goal for the period, but Calgary had a 20-19 advantage in shot attempts.

-- Jakub Vrana led the team through two periods in shots on goal (five) and shot attempts (seven).

-- Tom Wilson was credited with five hits through 40 minutes; three other Caps had four.  Washington had a 25-12 edge in this category.

Third Period

The Caps got a power play chance in the first minute of the period when Mikael Backlund took a tripping call.  Washington converted the chance when Tom Wilson stepped out from the corner to Talbot’s right and fed the puck across the slot to Lars Eller all alone in the right wing circle.  Eller had time and space to make a play, and he chose snapping a shot over Talbot’s glove to make it 4-2, 2:20 into the period.

Calgary had a chance shortly thereafter when a shot rang the post to Samsonov’s right.  Samsonov spun all the way around to deny Mark Jankowski on a follow up shot from in close to keep the margin at two goals.

The Flames got their first power play of the evening 7:39 into the period when Evgeny Kuznetsov was called for tripping.  The Caps killed off the penalty with two shots on goal allowed.

Washington went to the man advantage when Alan Quine was sent off for interference at the 15:32 mark.  The Caps had excellent zone time, controlling the puck in the Calgary zone for the first 80 seconds of the power play, but they could not convert either of the two shots they managed on Talbot.

Calgary emptied their net as the clock ticked past two minutes remaining, and then they got an additional man advantage when Dmitry Orlov was sent to the box for delay of game, clearing the puck over the glass in the defensive zone.  The Flames could not convert on the 6-on-4 advantage, though, and the Caps skated off with a 4-2 win.

Other stuff…

-- The Caps scored in the second period again.  That makes them 16-for-16 in second periods this season in having at least one goal scored.

-- Jakub Vrana’s three goals was his first career hat trick.  He is the 45th player in Caps history to record at least one hat trick.

-- Evgeny Kuznetsov had three assists, the 44th multi-assist game of his career, tying Sergei Gonchar for 17th all time for the Capitals.

-- The win made it four in a row for the Caps, their second four-win streak this season.  It was their ninth consecutive game earning points (8-0-1).

-- The win was the Caps’ fourth in a row on home ice after opening the season with three losses (0-1-2).

-- Washington finished the game with a 32-27 edge in shots, but Calgary had a 58-52 advantage in shot attempts.

-- The Caps’ top line of Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, and T.J. Oshie was minus-2 across the board.

-- Tom Wilson had his tenth career two-assist game.  It was his 24th career multi-point game.

-- John Carlson led the club with six shots on goal, but he went without a point for a second straight game, the first time this season he went consecutive games without a point.

-- Ilya Samsonov got the win, stopping 25 of 27 shots.  He is now five-for-five in winning starts this season.

In the end…

Good win.  Solid Win.  The Caps were sound in all three zones for the most part, keeping the Flames from establishing any momentum and rarely allowing them to apply pressure.  Calgary looked like a team at the end of a five-game road trip, but the Caps knocked off a club that won their last two games of that trip coming into this one.  Still, the Caps did what they had to in taking advantage of a team playing the back half of back-to-back games.  That is what successful teams do, and the Caps certainly can lay claim to being one at the moment.

Washington Capitals: That Was The Week That Was - Week 5

The Washington Capitals wrapped up one month and started another in Week 5.  It was a light week of workload, two games on the schedule, but a successful one with a pair of wins.  And when it was over, the Caps were atop the league standings. 

Record: 2-0-0

The Caps wrapped up a very successful road trip with a 4-3 overtime win in Toronto to open the week.  That was a see-saw affair in which the Maple Leafs opened the scoring, followed by the Caps scoring a pair of goals by John Carlson to take the lead, falling behind on a pair of goals by Auston Matthews, and tying the game in the third period on an Alex Ovechkin goal before Ovechkin won the contest four minutes into the extra period.  The win gave the Caps a 4-0-1 record on what will be their longest road trip of the season.

There was no such suspense in the game to end the week.  The Caps scored four goals in a span of 4:27 in the first period to end the competitive portion of the game against Buffalo, skating off with a 6-1 win to give them ten wins on the season, the first team in the NHL to reach double digits in victories.  In an odd scheduling quirk, November 1st is the earliest date on the calendar by which the Caps completed 15 games on the schedule.  The previous earliest date was November 2nd, 1990, when the Caps completed 15 games with an 8-7-0 record.  The nine wins tied a team record for October, originally set in 1991-1992 when the Caps got off to a 9-3-0 October start.

Offense: 5.00/game (season: 3.93/1st)

The Caps are on a roll in the offensive end of the ice.  They scored five goals in both games in Week 5, bringing their total of five-goal games to five in their most recent seven contests and six for the season, tied with Nashville and Vancouver (coincidentally teams that have both scored and allowed five goals in a game against the Caps this season).

Seven different Caps recorded goals in Week 5, John Carlson, Jakub Vrana, and Alex Ovechkin each with a pair.  When Carlson scored his pair of goals in the overtime win in Toronto to start the week, he ended the month with one of the best Octobers by a defenseman in league history.  His seven goals was one short of the league record for defensemen in October, held jointly by Al McInnis (1991), Phil Housley (1988), and Al Sims (1981).  His 16 assists were two short of the record set by Paul Coffey in 1989.  And, he 23 points were two short of McInnis’ record of 25 in 1991.

Ovechkin’s two goals gave him 669 for his career, passing Luc Robitaille for 12th place all-time.  Next in his sights will be Teemu Selanne in 11th place with 684 goals.  Ovechkin finished October with 11 goals, tied for third in the league and the fourth time he recorded 10 or more goals in October.  It was the most he recorded for the month since he started the 2010-2011 season with 14 goals in October. 

Ovechkin also led the team in points for the week (five), but it was Michal Kempny that set a personal record with his first career three-point game, all assists, in the 6-1 win over Buffalo to close the week.  Jakub Vrana (2-1-3), Tom Wilson (1-2-3), and Nicklas Backstrom (0-3-3) also had three-point weeks.

Defense: 2.00/game (season: 3.13/18th)

It was an unremarkable week in the defensive end of the ice for the Caps.  They allowed Toronto 31 shots on goal in the 4-3 overtime win and 30 to Buffalo in the 6-1 win.  Those totals were squarely in line with the Caps’ average of 30.9 shots on goal allowed at the end of Week 5.  The spread between opponents in shot attempts allowed at 5-on-5 was bigger – 31 to Toronto and 41 to the Sabres, but these were wrapped around the average of 37.1 the Caps compiled through Week 5, and the 41 allowed to the Sabres might reflect score effects as much as anything.  But those 41 shot attempts allowed at 5-on-5 to the Sabres does point to an odd feature about this statistic on home ice.  The Caps have been either very stingy or very gracious in this category.  In six home games through Week 5, the Caps allowed 41 or more shot attempts at fives three times (twice in wins), and they allowed 30 or fewer three times (twice in losses, both in overtime).

Goaltending: 1.94 / .934 (season: 3.03 / .901)

A superb week from Braden Holtby brought the Caps’ overall goaltending over the .900 save percentage mark for the season.  Holtby started and won both games in Week 5, stopping 57 of 61 shots (.934).  It brought his personal streak to 5-0-1, 2.63, .923 since he gave up three goals on three shots in a 6-3 loss to Colorado on October 14th.

Holtby’s week featured games that were mirror images of themselves in terms of shots faced.  Against Toronto he faced only seven first period shots, stopping six of them, while he was challenged with 14 third period shots, stopping 13 of them.  Against Buffalo, he was pounded for 16 first period shots as his teammates were building a 4-0 lead, and he stopped all of them.  He would face only five shots in the third period of a game long decided, again stopping all of them.  For the week he had excellent first (22-for-23/.957 save percentage) and third (18-for-19/.947) periods, while he was off this pace in the middle period (17-for-19/.895). 

As a result of his sparkling week, Holtby is now roughly on last year’s opening pace.  Through the Caps’ first 15 games he is 6-1-3, 3.30, .895 in 11 starts.  After 15 games last season, he was 5-4-2, 3.26, .903 with one shutout in 12 starts.

Power Play: 2-for-8/25.0 percent (season: 25.0 percent/4th)

The Caps are nothing if not consistent on the power play recently.  They were 2-for-8 last week, and they duplicated that performance in Week 5.  Where the consistency fell apart, though, was in the game-by-game opportunities.  There were the seven chances the Caps had in the opening game of the week against the Maple Leafs, converting twice, including the game-winning goal from Alex Ovechkin (his 251st career power play goal, four short of Teemu Selanne for third place all-time).  The seven opportunities is the Caps’ high for the season to date and the most they had in a single game since they had eight (converting three) in a 6-3 win over the New York Islanders on March 16, 2018.

At the other end, the Caps had a single man advantage against Buffalo to end the week.  It was the fewest chances they had through six games of their home schedule (they had one in Chicago against the Blackhawks on October 20th) and the fewest they had in a home game since they had a single chance in last season’s regular season penultimate home game, a 2-1 win over the Montreal Canadiens.

The Caps had a reasonably efficient power play for the week, recording 14 shots on goal in 14:29 of power play ice time.  Alex Ovechkin finished with half of the 14 shots, scoring once.  John Carlson and Jakub Vrana finished with two power play shots apiece, Carlson getting the other goal.

Penalty Killing: 9-for-10/90.0 percent (season: 85.7 percent/T-6th)

The Caps had a fine week, efficiency-wise, in penalty killing with nine kills in ten shorthanded situations.  On the other hand, there were those ten shorthanded situations faced.  But here too, the Caps had an odd week in the next level of detail.  They surrendered eight power play chances to Toronto to open the week, the most they gave up in a single game since New Year’s Eve 2016, when they went shorthanded nine times (killing all of them) in a 6-2 win over the Devils in New Jersey.

The Caps were taking it from all angles against Toronto.  In the eight Maple Leaf power plays, eight different players recorded a total of 11 shots on goal in 13:28 of ice time.  Auston Matthews led the Leafs with three and had the only goal with the man advantage.  It was the reverse against Buffalo, who could manage only a single shot on goal in two minutes of power play ice time.

Faceoffs: 72-for-151 / 47.7 percent (season: 49.7 percent/17th)

The Caps dropped under 50 percent for the season in faceoff winning percentage in Week 5.  They split the week, finishing 40.0 percent against Toronto (32-for-80) and 56.3 percent against Buffalo (40-for-71).  As it is, the Caps have not posted consecutive games over 50 percent in their last eight games, finishing over 50 percent only twice in that span.

At the top end level, the Caps were consistent by zone for the week, finishing 23-for-47 in the offensive end (48.9 percent), 27-for-60 in the defensive end (45.0), and 22-for-44 (50.0) in the neutral zone.  But as was the case last week, that tilt toward the defensive end (60 draws versus 47 in the offensive end) was noticeable, if not as pronounced.

At the individual level, Lars Eller was the only Cap taking at least ten faceoffs who finished the week over 50 percent (58.5).  Nicklas Backstrom (43.2) and Evgeny Kuznetsov (43.8) finished under 45 percent for the week.

Goals by Period:

Washington did not dominate the second periods of games as they have over much of the early season.  The broke even in the middle frame over the two games, but still maintained a plus-13 goal second period goal differential for the season, second best in the league (Buffalo is plus-12).  The four-goal explosion against the Sabres on Friday allowed the Caps to win the first period for the week (pulling the Caps into positive goal-differential territory for the season), and the three goals they scored in the third period and overtime, while allowing only one, made for the successful week.


The Caps are off to a much better start than last season’s 7-5-3 record through 15 games.  There is little mystery why – goal scoring is up (plus-7 over last season), and goals allowed are down by four (a plus-11 year over year change in goal differential).  It is the defensive change that is most noteworthy here.  Shots allowed are down by 37 (7.4 percent), and shot attempts at 5-on-5 are down a whopping 181 from last year’s 15-game total (24.6 percent).  The total shot attempts at fives are down considerably (from 1,406 through 15 games last season to 1,129 this season), which might be a reflection of the nature of the changes the Caps made to balance their game, sacrificing some offense in departed players for better defense at the other end.

Both categories of special team scoring are down.  Power play goals are down four from last season at this point, but the seven-goal reduction in power play goals allowed more than offsets that reduction.

In the end…

It was a big week in Washington, with the Nationals winning their first World Series and the District’s first in 95 years, and the Caps won both games on their schedule.  The Caps wins were not as big, but you have to have weeks like this in the regular season to have celebrations of the sort the Nationals had at the end of it.  In that respect, the players the Caps count on produced, they played good team defense, for the most part, and they have a goaltender who seems to have found his game once more.  It would be hard to find a lot wrong with where the Caps find themselves at the moment.

Three Stars:
  • First Star: Braden Holtby (2-0-0, 1.94, .934)
  • Second Star: Alex Ovechkin (2-3-5, plus-2, 1 power play/overtime/game-winning goal, 12 shots on goal, 22:03 average ice time, passed Luc Robitaille for 12th place all-time in career goals scored)
  • Third Star: Michal Kempny (0-3-3, plus-4, six shots on goal, 19:42 in average ice time, recorded first career three-point game)

Captain rates the week…

Four puppers