Sunday, February 16, 2020

Washington Capitals: That Was The Week That Was - Week 19

For Washington Capitals fans, Week 19 ended with the need to take a deep breath, step back, and relax.  Yes, the Caps had a losing week.  Yes, it was their second losing week in a row, the first time this season they had that experience.  But it is not as if we have not been here before, and recently at that.

Record: 1-2-0

The Caps had a 1-2-0 week for the second week in a row.  That might actually be the good news, record-wise.  It is almost exactly where they were a year ago, when the Caps last had consecutive losing weeks, in Weeks 16 and 17.  In fact, the Caps were winless in those two weeks last season, compiling an 0-5-1 record in the six games played over those two weeks.

There are similarities between the two two-week slumps.  There is good and bad in comparing the streaks.  On the “good” side, these things being relative, last year the Caps were outscored, 34-17, in the six games, while this year, they were outscored, 23-16.  On the “bad” side, this year’s two-week slump included three losses to divisional opponents – Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, and the New York Islanders, the last of which opened Week 19.  Last year, the two-week slump included only one loss to a divisional opponent (Islanders).  Worse still, each of the three losses to divisional opponents in this year’s slump came on home ice.

But here is the thing.  After last year’s two-week slump, the Caps finished the season on a 21-9-2 run and won the Metropolitan Division.  This team certainly has it in them to finish in a similar fashion this season, but doing so will mean having to post a better record in the eight remaining games against Metro opponents than they have displayed so far this season through Week 19 (9-10-1).

Offense: 2.33/game (season: 3.50/4th)

The good part about the offense in Week 19 was its balance.  Six different players recorded goals for the week.  The bad part, only T.J. Oshie had more than one (he had two), the Caps posting only seven goals over the week’s three games.  And, Alex Ovechkin did not have one, leaving him stuck on 698 career goals.  The no-goal week extended Ovechkin’s streak without a goal to four games, his longest of the season and his longest since he went four games without a goal in late March last season.  Worse, he did not have a point for the week and was a minus-5, worst among the 20 skaters to dress in Week 19.

The Caps had 11 skaters record points for the week, led by John Carlson (1-3-4).  Carlson’s week was a bit odd.  Not the points, the four he had bringing his total to 69 for the season, 12 more than Roman Josi among defensemen and 20 more than Victor Hedman, who is third among defensemen.  The odd part for Carlson was that three of them came on power plays, one at even strength.  The one even strength point brought his season total to 46 even strength points for the season, extending his career high in that category, despite having played in only 58 games (he had 38 even strength points in 82 games in 2014-2015).

Lars Eller and Nicklas Backstrom added three points apiece for the week (both went 1-2-3), while Carl Hagelin and T.J. Oshie rounded out the number of Capitals with two or more points in Week 19.

Defense: 3.33/game (season: 3.02/17th)

The Caps were lit up pretty good in Week 19 as far as allowing shots on goal.  All three teams posted 30 or more shots on goal against the Caps, the first time since November that the Caps allowed teams 30 or more shots in three or more consecutive games.  What is more, the Caps were consistently leaky in allowing shots, giving up ten or more in seven of the nine periods of hockey for the week.  And it was not as if the three opponents had a season history of posting high shot volumes.  Yes, Colorado (34 shots on goal against the Caps) finished the week ranked tied for sixth in shots on goal per game (32.9), but Arizona (30, including an empty netter) finished 18th in the league (31.3), and the Islanders (32 shots) finished 28th in the league (29.3).

It was a similar story in 5-on-5 shot attempts.  The Caps allowed each of the three Week 19 opponents more than 60 shot attempts at fives.  It was small wonder that of 20 skaters to dress in Week 19, only four finished the week with plus ratings (Nick Jensen, Richard Panik, and Carl Hagelin all finished at plus-2; Travis Boyd was plus-1).

Goaltending: 3.09 / .905 (season: 2.85 / .904 / 1 shutout)

The silver lining here is that Braden Holtby had an excellent week.  In two starts and an appearance in relief of Ilya Samsonov to start the week, Holtby stopped 71 of 75 shots overall (.947 save percentage), including 52 of 54 second and third period shots faced (.963).  He posted save percentages over .900 in all three games in which he appeared for the week, the first time he went three games over .900 since he posted a four-game streak with save percentages over .900 in mid-November.  The difference is that he earned wins in the four decisions with a combined .942 save percentage in those games, while he split two decisions and had a no-decision in the three games this week.

For Ilya Samsonov, the question is whether the shot he took off his mask in practice earlier this month has had lingering effects, or the reality of being a rookie goaltender in the NHL is settling in on him.  Whatever, after winning 11 straight decisions from November 30th through January 31st, he has lost his last two decisions in three appearances (one no-decision) and has stopped just 45 of 54 shots on goal (.833 save percentage).  That includes allowing five goals on 20 shots in 30 minutes of work in a 5-3 loss to the Islanders to start the week.  It was another first in Samsonov’s young career, the first time he was pulled after starting a game.

Power Play: 3-for-11/27.3 percent (season: 20.5 percent/14th)

One could argue that the power play saved the week, and it killed it.  After going 1-for-3 in a 5-3 loss to the Islanders to open the week, the Caps posted two power play goals in five chances to come from behind and defeat the Colorado Avalanche, 3-2, in the middle game of the week.  It was the first time since January 3rd, in a 4-3 win in Carolina over the Hurricanes, that the Caps posted two power play goals in a game.  But the Caps have been getting more consistently productive with the man advantage.  After that two-goal power play effort against Carolina, the Caps went three games without a power play goal.  But since that drought, the Caps posted at least one power play goal in nine of 12 games (they had three three-game streaks in that span), ending with the two-goal game against Colorado. 

The latest run of good fortune on the power play ended in the Caps’ 3-1 loss to Arizona to end the week.  It was not for lack of effort, the Caps posting eight power play shots on goal in the loss.  On the tother hand, the Caps allowed Arizona three shorthanded shots on goal, suggesting that the matter of allowing chances on their own power play has not yet been completely resolved.  Overall, the Caps finished the week with three power play goals on 25 shots in 18:47 of power play ice time.  The effort was there, and the results were good, if unbalanced.  But with as much shooting pressure as the Caps managed to apply, it might have ended better.

Penalty Killing: 7-for-9/77.8 percent (season: 83.7 percent/4th)

The penalty kill was, in some respects, the mirror image of the power play.  The good part was that the Caps allowed only ten power play shots on goal in nine shorthanded situations over 14:03 in shorthanded ice time.  On the other hand, opponents scored twice on those ten shots on goal. 

Closing the week by allowing power play goals in consecutive games, the Caps have allowed a least one power play goal in six of their last ten games, killing of 29 of 36 shorthanded situations (80.6 percent).  That the Caps fell under 80 percent in Week 19 is something to watch, the team looking to prevent an extended penalty killing slump of the sort they suffered in Weeks 13-15 in which they were under 80 percent in each week.

Faceoffs: 92-for-198 / 46.5 percent (season: 48.6 percent/26th)

It was an odd week in the circle for the Caps.  In the first and third games of the week, the ice was tilted in the Caps favor, based on zone faceoffs, the Caps having 28 offensive zone faceoffs and 14 defensive zone faceoffs against the Islanders, and 28 offensive zone and 18 defensive zone faceoffs against Arizona.  Despite the advantages, those are the games the Caps lost.  Against Colorado, in a win, the Caps had 26 offensive zone draws and 30 defensive zone draws.  Go figure.

What was, and has been a constant is the Caps not being very efficient in this area.  They did finish over 50 percent against the Islanders to start the week (53.3 percent), breaking a four-game streak of games under 50 percent.  But the Caps were under 50 percent against the Avalanche and the Coyotes to end the week.  It was even worse when broken down by zones, the Caps finishing over 50 percent only in neutral zone draws. 

Individually, Nic Dowd had a good week, but even here one should not make too much of it. Although Dowd won 20 of 30 draws overall, that was fueled in part by his going 7-for-8 in neutral zone faceoffs. 

Goals by Period:

This is, if not the most disturbing area, than one that causes concern.  The Caps were outscored, 5-1, in the first periods of games and allowed the game’s first goal in all three games for the week.  Worse, the Caps fell behind by a pair of goals to start games.  While they did come back to beat Colorado, 3-2 after allowing the game’s first two goals, this is not what one would think is a recipe for sustained success.

That negative first period goal differential put the Caps into negative territory in the first period overall for the season.  It makes one wonder how the Caps would be faring if their third period goals scored (80) wasn’t leading the league and their goal differential (plus-20) wasn’t ranked third overall.


The Caps, despite the second straight losing week, still maintain a healthy advantage overall on last year’s club on a year-over-year basis.  They remain on a pace to hit the 50 win mark for the sixth time in franchise history (52) and the third time in the last five seasons.  At their current points pace they would finish with 11 points, fourth best in team history.

The improvement is consistent with that in goal differential, from plus-11 through 58 games last season to plus-28 so far this season, and shots on goal differential (a net plus-255 shots on goal).  In this context, the recent slump by the Caps, especially in how it resembles a slump at a similar point in the season last year, might be thought of as one of those weak points any team is likely to suffer over an 82-game, six-month regular season.  The key will be in making sure that the slump is as brief as was last year’s at a similar point, and that the Caps use the stretch run as a springboard for the postseason.

In the end…

Week 19 was not good.  In fact, there were elements of it that were quite disturbing at the team and individual level.  As to the former, the Caps struggled to beat Colorado on the road and lost in Arizona to end the week.  Despite splitting the road games and finishing the week with a league high 21 road wins, one cannot help but think the Caps are entering a phase in which road games, typically, will be harder to come by.  At the individual level, one might be concerned about Ilya Samsonov, who has not been up to the earlier version of himself over his last few appearances.  Fortunately, Braden Holtby, at least for now, has shaken off his own recent iffy results (even if much of it can be attributed to the play in front of him).  And, there is the matter of the record that is still sitting out there.  Getting past 700 goals for Alex Ovechkin might be just the thing to ease the stiffness with which this team is playing lately.  With another three-game week coming up in Week 20, the Caps will have their chances to right themselves.

Three Stars:
  • First Star: T.J. Oshie (2-0-2, minus-1, one game-winning goal, eight shots on goal, 14 shot attempts, ten credited hits)
  • Second Star: Braden Holtby (1-1-0, 1.67, .947)
  • Third Star: Lars Eller (1-2-3, even, four shots on goal, 13 shot attempts)

Captain rates the week…

One pupper

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 59: Capitals at Golden Knights, February 17th

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

The Washington Capitals end their three-game road trip on Monday night when they visit T-Mobile Arena to face the Vegas Golden Knights.  The Caps will be trying to reverse their “February Fade” of late, going 3-5-0 in their last eight games.  Vegas will be skating in the third game of a five-game home stand having won the first two of those contests, one-goal decisions over St. Louis (6-5 in overtime) and the New York Islanders (1-0).

Then and Now…

This will be just the sixth meeting of the Caps and Golden Knights in the all-time series, the Caps posting a 2-3-0 regular season record against Vegas.  The Caps have lost both of their previous regular season visits to Vegas, 3-0 in the first ever meeting of the clubs in December 2017, and 5-3 in December 2018.

Active Leaders vs. Opponent…

Noteworthy Opponents…

Mark Stone has been a hand-in-glove fit for the Golden Knights since he was obtained in trade from the Ottawa Senators last February with Tobias Lindberg for Oscar Lindberg, Erik Brannstrom and a 2nd round pick in the 2020 Entry Draft.  In 77 games with Vegas to date, Stone is 25-43-68, plus-14, while averaging just over 14 minutes per game.  With 57 points in 60 games to date, Stone is on a pace to set a career high in points with 78, which would eclipse the 73 he posted last year, split between Ottawa and Vegas.  The 57 points he has put in the ledger for this season makes it six seasons in a row that Stone topped the 50-point mark, and he seems a sure bet to make it five seasons in six to post 60 or more points.  Stone is also a force on the other side of the puck, finishing second in voting for the Selke Trophy last season as the league’s top defensive forward, his first time as a finalist for that award.  He is one of four Vegas forwards this season to average at least two minutes per game on penalty kills, and he and Reilly Smith are the only Golden Knight forwards to average at least two minutes per game on both penalty kills and power plays.

Stone has been a more efficient producer on offense on home ice this season, posting 12 of his 20 goals on home ice and shooting to a 15.8 percent mark, compared to 10.0 percent on the road.  When he was held without a point in Vegas’ 1-0 win over the New York Islanders on Saturday, it was just the fourth time in 14 home games he did not record a point, going 4-12-16 over that stretch, including a four-assist game against St. Louis in a 6-5 overtime win last Thursday.  Stone is 4-4-8, plus-4, in 15 career games against the Caps.

Former Capital defenseman Nate Schmidt has had a challenging season for Vegas.  After skating in the season opener on October 2nd against San Jose, he missed the next 12 games with a lower-body injury.  Since coming back from that injury on Hallowe’en, Schmidt is 7-21-28, plus-1, in 47 games, tied with Shea Theodore for the team lead in goals for defensemen over that span and second to Theodore in points (34).  Not that there is a lot of history with this franchise so far, but Schmidt is second among 14 defensemen to dress in Vegas’ three seasons in goals scored (21), second in assists (73), second in points (94), first in plus-minus (plus-43), third in blocked shots (296), and second in takeaways (131).

Schmidt has been putting up points in pairs lately.  He is 3-7-10, plus-3, over his last 11 games, posting a pair of points three times in that span. 

Schmidt has been a minutes eater in the games he has played in so far, too.  He logged at least 20 minutes in 38 of the 48 he skated so far, second on the team this season.  His 157 games with at least 20 minutes in three years with the Golden Knights are most of any skater with the franchise.  Schmidt has only one goal in his last 18 home games and eight points in that span.  Scmidt is 2-2-4, plus-1, in four career games against the Capitals.

When Marc-Andre Fleury took the ice on February 8th against the Carolina Hurricanes, he passed Jacques Plante for 13th place on the all-time list of career games played by a goaltender in the NHL with his 838th career game.  He and Henrik Lundqvist are staging their own battle in their respective climbs up the goalie wins ladder, Fleury holding a two-win lead (461 to 459) over Lundqvist for fifth place on the all-time wins list.  When he came over to the Golden Knights from Pittsburgh in 2017-2018, he immediately became the face of the franchise, bringing the credibility and gravitas of a Stanley Cup winner, and inspiring fans and canines alike. 

This has not been one of Fleury’s best seasons, his 2.80 goals against averge ranking 20th among the 38 goalies logging at least 1,500 minutes, and his .905 save percentage ranking 27th in that group, both numbers well off the pace of the 2.51 GAA he posted last season with a .913 save percentage, and further off the 2.24/.927 season he had in his first as a Golden Knight two years ago.  At age 35, one has to entertain the idea that Fleury is beginning to yield to age, as every player of long service does eventually. 

It has been feast or famine for Fleury lately.  Over his last six appearances he was under .860 in save percentage three times, but he also has two shutouts in that span, including a 19-save effort in a 1-0 win over the New York Islanders on Saturday.  In 41 career games against Washington, Fleury is 23-14-2, 2.63, .911, with four shutouts.

1.  Even with Saturday’s shutout of the Islanders, Vegas has struggled on defense on home ice.  Their 3.20 goals allowed per game is sixth-worst in the league on home ice through Saturday’s games.

2.  The Golden Knights offset that weak scoring defense with a powerful power play.  They are one of three teams in the league with a home power play of 30 percent or better.  Their 30.0 percent home power play is topped only by Tampa Bay (31.6 percent) and Edmonton (32.6 percent).

3.  Vegas gets the jump on opponents at home.  Their 37 first period goals on home ice rank second in the league (Montreal has 38).

4.  The Golden Knights could do a better job managing the rule book on home ice.  Their net of minus-8 of penalties drawn to penalties taken is tied for third-worst on home ice in the league.  Only San Jose (minus-9) and the Islanders (minus-16) are worse.

5.  Vegas exacts a physical price for skating on their ice sheet.  They have been credited with 991 hits on home ice so far, second only to Pittsburgh (993).

1.  John Carlson leads the Caps in points (39), even strength points (26), power play points (13), and plus-minus in road games for the Caps.

2.  The Caps have an odd collection of players in the plus-minus category in road games.  Six of 25 skaters to take the ice in road games are “minus” players, and that includes: Alex Ovechkin (minus-6), Evgeny Kuznetsov (minus-2), T.J. Oshie (minus-2), Tom Wilson (minus-1), and Nicklas Backstrom (minus-1), five-sixths of the top-six forward corps.

3.  Carlson and Michal Kempny are the only Capital skater with an on-ice even strength goal differential of plus-10 or better (plus-22 and plus-10, respectively).

4.  Richard Panik has dressed for 23 road games and been on ice for only four even strength goals against, the fewest of any Capital appearing in at least 15 road games.

5.  Alex Ovechkin leads all Capital skaters in credited hits in road games so far (84).

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

Vegas: Chandler Stephenson

Since December 3rd, 784 skaters have dressed for NHL games.  Only ten of them have a better plus-minus rating than Chandler Stephenson.  Why does the date matter?  December 3rd was the date of Stephenson’s first game with the Vegas Golden Knights after being traded by the Caps for a fifth-round pick in the 2021 Entry Draft.  Stephenson also has two shorthanded goals scored for the Knights, a number topped by only five other players since his arrival in Las Vegas.  But what screams off the page in his 31 games with Vegas to date are his eight goals.  He had only 14 in 168 games over four-plus seasons with the Caps.  Almost as impressive is his 1.13 shots on goal per game.  He never averaged more than 0.96 shots per game as a Capital and averaged only 0.57 shots per game in his 168 games with Washington.

Stephenson has been particular effective on home ice recently in the context of his role.  In his last 12 games on the T-Mobile Arena ice sheet, he is 4-5-9, plus-10, posting points in eight of the 12 games and suffering only one game with a minus rating.  This will be Stephenson’s first career game against the team that drafted him in the third round (77th overall) in the 2012 Entry Draft.

Washington: Lars Eller

Yes, Lars Eller will always be remember for scoring the game-winning, series-sealing, Stanley Cup clinching goal on this ice sheet in June 2018.  But time goes on.  And in the here and now, Lars Eller is poised to make this his best regular season as a Capital since he arrived in exchange for a pair of second round draft picks from Montreal in June 2016.  With 14 goals and 21 assists in 58 games, he is on a pace to finish the season 20-30-50, which would make this season the first of his career in which he posted 20 goals, 30 assists, and 50 points in a season (he had 18 goals in 2017-2018, 23 assists last season, and 38 points in 2017-2018 as current career bests).

After a slow start in the road portion of this season’s resume, Eller has picked up the pace.  After going six straight road games without a point from October 29th through November 30th, he is 3-9-12 in his last 14 road games.  He has also become more disciplined.  In his first ten road games this season he logged 12 minutes in penalties.  In his last 18 road games, though, he has just ten minutes in penalties, although six of them have come in his last two road games, against Colorado (four) and Arizona (two).  Given that he logs an average of 2:29 in shorthanded ice time per game, second among Capital forwards, his absences on the penalty kill are something the team would rather he avoid.  Eller has yet to record a point and has a minus-2 rating in five career games against Vegas.

In the end…

The Caps played a reasonably good road game against Colorado last Thursday.  They followed it up with another one against Arizona and just couldn’t finish what chances they had.  You get the feeling that the dam is about to break for the Caps, who seem to be climbing out of the “February Funk,” and as Alex Ovechkin bears down on getting that 700th career goal.  A win and a milestone would be a good way to celebrate on the scene of the Caps’ biggest triumph.

Capitals 4 – Golden Knights 3