They picked up in Week 17 where they left off, able to beat most teams and unable to beat the Nashville Predators with a club.
After a pair of weeks in which the Caps won half the standings points available in each, they put their second straight winning week in the books in Week 17 with a pair of wins against Canadian teams -- Montreal and Ottawa – sandwiched around a loss to Nashville. It was a study in dominance, for and against. The 4-2 win over the Canadiens in Montreal on Monday gave Washington a 14-1-1 record at Bell Centre over their last 16 games there. The 5-3 win in Ottawa over the Senators on Friday gave the Caps a 15-1-1 record over the Senators over their last 17 games and the Caps’ eighth win in a row over Ottawa. The flip side of that was the middle game of the week, a 5-4 loss to the Nashville Predators that extended the Caps’ losing streak to the Predators to eight games (0-7-1).
Offense: 4.33/game (season: 3.60/4th)
The Caps spread things around fairly well on offense in Week 17. Nine different players shared in the 13 goals scored, led by the three off the stick of Alex Ovechkin, despite his having to sit out the first game of the week against Montreal due to his suspension for abstaining from the All-Star Game. Those three goals, giving him 695 in his career, enabled Ovechkin to pass Mark Messier for eighth-place all-time on the NHL career goal scoring list. Richard Panik had a pair of goals against Nashville for his week’s contribution, that being his first multi-goal game as a Capital. Tom Wilson had a pair of power play goals, one each against Montreal and Nashville. He had a three-game goal streak stopped when he was blanked by the Senators to end the week.
The points were spread around liberally as well. Thirteen players posted points for the week, a trio of Caps at the top of the board with four apiece: Ovechkin, Wilson, and Jakub Vrana. Another trio of Caps posted three points apiece for the week: Carl Hagelin, Lars Eller, and T.J. Oshie. John Carlson had a pair of assists against Ottawa to lift him past Calle Johansson into first place in franchise history in career assists by a defenseman (362). It was Carlson’s third two-assist game in his last five contests.
The all-around balanced offensive effort allowed the Caps to finish the week tied with Toronto and Florida for the best scoring offense since the start of the new year in the Eastern Conference (4.00 goals per game). Only Edmonton in the Western Conference has a higher average (4.11 goals per game).
Defense: 3.33/game (season: 2.92/T-10th)
On balance, it was a bit of a disappointing week on the defensive side of the puck. The Caps allowed ten goals to three teams ranking 15th (Nashville), 20th (Ottawa), and 24th (Montreal) in scoring offense at the end of the week. The problem did not appear to be a matter of shot volumes, the Caps allowing the three opponents a total of 85 shots for the week (28.3 per game).
What did have an odd air about it were the shot attempts at 5-on-5. The Caps opened the week allowing Montreal 95 shot attempts at fives, the sixth-highest volume of 5-on-5 shot attempts allowed by the Caps this season and the second most they allowed in a road game (they allowed Chicago 108 shot attempts in a 5-3 win on October 20th). The special teams problems the Caps had against Nashville masked the fact that the 42 shot attempts allowed a 5-on-5 on Wednesday tied for the third-fewest 5-on-5 shot attempts allowed by the Caps in a game this season. Then, to close the week, the Caps allowed Ottawa 76 shot attempts at 5-on-5, a healthy volume for the opponent, but not much more than half of the attempts the Caps allowed against the Senators earlier this month – 126 in a game on January 7th, the most the Caps have allowed to any opponent in a game this season.
Goaltending: 3.37 / .882 (season: 2.75 / .906 / 1 shutout)
What began as a curiosity, then became a pleasant surprise, has become a head-scratching issue for the Caps. Rookie Ilya Samsonov has been a consistent force in goal since he won his first NHL start against the New York Islanders last October. He now has 16 wins in 20 appearances (most wins by a rookie goaltender), and his goals against average (2.12) and save percentage (.925) are near the top of the rookie goaltending rankings. Meanwhile, Braden Holtby is struggling, coming into the week with a 1-5-0, 4.53, .830 over his most recent six appearances.
Holtby got the nod in the first two games of the week, and the work settled nothing on his end. Holtby has been a dominating presence against Montreal over his career, especially in Bell Centre, so when he stopped 31 of 33 shots in a 4-2 win, bringing his career record at Bell Centre to 10-1-1, 1.69, .940 with two shutouts, it was not a surprise. On the other hand, Holtby has had little career success against the Nashville Predators, and when presented with a chance to improve on his career numbers, he did not. He stopped just 19 of 24 shots in a 5-4 loss, bringing his career record against the Preds to 3-5-1, 4.29, .860, and leaving his situation in the uncertain state it was to open the week.
Meanwhile Samsonov kept plugging along, wining his 11th consecutive decision in the 5-3 win over Ottawa to wrap up the week. Since last losing a decision, back on November 15th to Montreal, Samsonov has appeared in 12 games an posted an 11-0-0, 1.73, .936 record with one shutout. What started for him as the final stage of his apprenticeship, serving as backup to veteran Braden Holtby, has become a subplot for the Caps as they head into their last 30 games – who will be the number one netminder?
Power Play: 3-for-13/23.1 percent (season: 20.5 percent/12th)
If it was just the power play, the Caps had a pretty good week. The had a power play goal in each of the three games and now have power play goals in six of their last seven contests. They recorded 29 shots on goal in 24:34 of power play ice time, a respectable shots-per-minute mark of 1.18. They got the shots from a variety of players, nine in all, led by Alex Ovechkin with six, followed by Evgeny Kuznetsov with five, and Nicklas Backstrom and Tom Wilson with four apiece.
But the power play is more than just the offense, and this is where the Caps have a lingering problem. They allowed shorthanded goals to both Nashville and Ottawa, bringing the total of shorthanded goals allowed in their last eight games to five. When the week was over, the Caps had allowed nine shorthanded goals for the season, tied with the Detroit Red Wings for most in the league. What is means that the Caps “net” power play, accounting for shorthanded goals scored against, ranks just 22nd in the league (15.2 percent), an odd place to be with a team with as much fire power as the Caps.
Penalty Killing: 8-for-10/80.0 percent (season: 84.0 percent/3rd)
The Caps have been in the upper levels of the league penalty killing rankings for a while now, but some chips were evident in the façade in Week 17. Nashville and Ottawa nicked the Caps for a power play goal apiece, bringing the total to power play goals in three of the Caps’ last four games over which they are 11-for-14 (78.6 percent). Week 17 was rather bizarre in that the Caps held the three opponents to a total of seven shots on goal in 18:18 of power play ice time. That included holding Ottawa to a single power play shot on goal in 4:28 of power play ice time. They scored on it.
The Caps managed to offset the goals against with a shorthanded goal of their own, Carl Hagelin scoring for the Caps. It was their first shorthanded goal since Nic Dowd scored one on December 21st in a 3-1 win over Tampa Bay. It broke a 14-game streak without a shorthanded goal.
Faceoffs: 87-for-182/47.8 percent (season: 49.3 percent/22nd)
The Caps had another less than inspiring week in the circle. They were under 50 percent in the games against Montreal and Ottawa, and they were under 50 percent in each of the three zones for the week. It was not entirely unexpected, since the three teams the Caps faced finished the week ranked fifth (Nashville), 11th (Montreal), and 12th (Ottawa) in faceoff winning percentage.
Individually, the Caps had five players take at least ten draws for the week, and only Nicklas Backstrom (56.0) and T.J. Oshie (56.3) finished over 50 percent. Backstrom had a good week, finishing at 50 percent or better in all three zones.
Goals by Period:
The Caps had a good week in terms of spreading out the goals among the periods. And having a positive goal differential in two of the periods was a good result. But there was that third period. Specifically against Nashville. The Caps took a one-goal lead into the third period of that game and gave it up with a pair of goals in the last 17 minutes. It bore an eerie resemblance to the first time the teams met in October, when the Caps took a lead into the third period and had a 5-4 lead with less than five minutes left and allowed two goals in 28 seconds to lose the lead and the game.
It was a bit of an odd result in that the Caps finished the week with a plus-19 goal differential in the third periods of games and led the league in third period goals scored (72).
The Caps continue to outpace last year’s club in most respects, and rather significantly in places, on a year-over-year basis. This year’s club has a seven-win gap over last year’s club and has an outside shot of matching the franchise record for wins in a season (they would need 21 wins in their last 30 games to match the 56 wins the 2015-2016 team posted). The net goal differential of plus-28 (plus-15 in goals scored, minus-13 in goals allowed) is a remarkable statistic in that it represents an improvement of about half a goal per game.
The other noteworthy difference, last year to this, is in penalty killing, where both last year’s team and this year’s squad have faced 181 shorthanded situations through 52 games, but this year’s team has allowed 11 fewer power play goals for an improvement of more than six percentage points in penalty killing.
In the end…
It would be easy to make more of the loss to Nashville than it merits. Yes, giving up the lead they had going into the third period, and on home ice, is a matter deserving of attention. But the Predators are not a team the Caps are likely to see until next season at this point. The games against Montreal and Ottawa were a bit disconcerting for other reasons, the Caps letting inferior teams, especially Ottawa, hang around too long. Part of that was the difficulty the Caps are having with their power play, giving up too many goals when they have a man advantage. Those are the things that can make a big difference in games against teams of equal skill and ability when those games take on greater importance. It is something that the Caps need to address as much as they need to bring some more clarity to their goaltending situation.
- First Star: Alex Ovechkin (3-1-4, even, 16 shots on goal, 32 shot attempts, passed Mark Messier for eighth place on the all-time career goal scoring list)
- Second Star: Carl Hagelin (1-2-3, plus-3, shorthanded goal, nine shots on goal, 11 shot attempts, led all skaters in shorthanded ice time (10:35))
- Third Star: Tom Wilson (2-2-4, plus-1, two power play goals, 11 shots on goal, 19 shot attempts, only Capital to average more than three minutes per game on power plays (3:49) and more than two minutes on penalty kills (2:22))
Captain rates the week…