last week that Week 22 was an odd week for the Washington Capitals, and that was on the ice. Week 23 was odd plus bizarre, and that was not limited to the ice. The Caps lost their only game of the week in a Gimmick to what had been the 14th-ranked team in the Eastern Conference, and then they packed their things away, as did every other team in the NHL, going on a “pause” to await how the Coronavirus situation plays out.
Yes, it was only one game, and yes, the Capitals did squeak out a point that technically qualifies as a “.500” week in terms of standings points earned as a share of standings points available. But it did not feel that way, playing a struggling team and falling behind, 2-0, before mounting a third period comeback.
The Caps went into their hiatus with only four winning weeks in their last 11 weeks of play, posting a record of 15-14-3. The 33 standings points earned in that span (from December 22nd through this week) are tied for 22nd in the league, and their .516 points percentage ranks 21st. Over that span, the Caps rank seventh of eight teams in the Metropolitan Division, only the New York Islanders (12-15-7/31 points/.456 points percentage) ranked worse.
Offense: 2.00/game (season: 3.42/2nd)
One game, two goals. It happens. But the Caps did it against a club that was on a six-game streak of allowing three or more goals (all of them losses) and had allowed three or more in five of their previous eight home games. Until Alex Ovechkin scored in the third period, the Sabres were on their way to their second shutout on home ice this season and first since October 14th, back when the Sabres might have been entertaining playoff dreams (that shutout brought their record to open the season at 5-0-1).
The two goals extended a run of feast-or-famine for the Caps who, over a nine game span up to the season pause, scored five or more goals three times and scored two or fewer four times. In that 15-14-3 run leading up to the pause, the Caps averaged 3.28 goals per game, eighth in the league over that span.
Defense: 2.00/game (season: 3.07/18th)
The Sabres are not an especially prolific offensive club, averaging 2.80 goals per game overall at week’s end (21st in the league), 3.09 goals per game on home ice (19th in the league). But the two goals allowed by the Caps was an improvement over recent performance in which they allowed five or more goals in two of their previous three games overall. It was the first time that the Caps allowed two or fewer goals in consecutive games (they beat Pittsburgh, 5-2, in the game preceding that against Buffalo) since Game 47 and 48 (a 2-0 win over Carolina and a 5-2 win over the New York Islanders) in January.
The 26 shots on goal allowed by the Caps was also the second consecutive game allowing fewer than 30 shots and third time in four games after a streak of four games allowing more than 30 shots. The Caps allowed the Sabres only 34 shot attempts at 5-on-5, the second consecutive game allowing an opponent fewer than 40 5-on-5 shot attempts (they allowed Pittsburgh 39 attempts). It was the first time the Caps allowed fewer than 40 5-on-5 shot attempts in consecutive games since games against New Jersey (38 attempts) and Carolina (29 attempts) in January.
Goaltending: 1.85 / .923 (season: 2.92 / .903 / 1 shutout)
Braden Holtby had a good game/week. The 24 saves on 26 shots would be enough to win most games, and the .923 save percentage was the third game in four, and sixth time in seven road games, in which he was over .920 for a game (he did have that stinker against the Flyers, allowing five goals on 29 shots to drag his save percentage down). Nevertheless, Holtby went into the hiatus with his first career goals against average over 3.00 for a season (3.11) and first save percentage under .900 (.897).
Power Play: 0-for-1/0.0 percent (season: 19.4 percent/17th)
One power play, two shots, no goals. It was the 12th time this season that the Caps had one or no power play chances and the second time in two games against the Sabres. Oddly enough, it was only the Caps’ third loss in those 12 games (9-1-2) and first instance on the road (3-0-1). It is part of a season-long series of disappointments on the power play. The 19.4 percent conversion rate for the season to date is the first time that the Caps have been under 20 percent since they finished the 2011-2012 season at 16.7 percent.
Penalty Killing: 2-for-3/66.7 percent (season: 82.6 percent/6th)
It was just one game, but the wheels have been coming off the penalty kill for a little while now. Allowing one goal in three shorthanded situations, the Caps went into the hiatus having allowed power play goals in five straight games, going 16-for-23 (69.6 percent) over that span. Buffalo was not a particularly efficient power play squad (18.9 percent/20th at week’s end), but one goal on six shots in 4:35 of power play ice time made for a bad night for the Caps’ penalty killers.
Faceoffs: 29-for-63 / 46.0 percent (season: 48.3 percent/28th)
If there was one thing that was noteworthy about the lone game of Week 23 in the faceoff circle, it was that the Caps did little with the chances they had. They had 25 offensive zone draws (21 in the defensive end) and won only ten of them (40.0 percent). Seven of the ten wins were accounted for by Nic Dowd (3-for-5) and Evgeny Kuznetsov (4-for-10).
Goals by Period:
Not a lot to say here. It was the first time in four games that the Caps did not score first and the first time in five games that they failed to post a first period goal. On the other end, it was the third straight game in which the Caps posted a pair of third period goals, but they still lost their second extra time game in three outings in doing so (1-0-2). A better sign was that the Caps did not allow a third period goal, breaking a streak of nine games in which they allowed at least one, and they allowed two in five of those games.
At the hiatus, the Caps are almost exactly where they were at the same point last season. Both teams had 41 wins through 69 games, and the clubs are separated by one standings point. The goals for and against are barely different, as are the special teams indices (102.0 this season, power play plus penalty kill percentages, 101.5 last season). The improvements in this team over last are in managing shots, with related improvements in hits and blocked shots, which are indicators of possession success.
In the end…
Last season, the Caps were riding a seven-game winning streak through Game 69 of the season. Through 69 games this season, the Caps are 7-9-3 in 19 games since the last time they won consecutive games in regulation in late January. But here might be the strangest part of the Caps’ recent performance. In their last 25 games have played 16 different teams and have a record of 11-11-3. They have two wins against only one team in that span… the Pittsburgh Penguins.
- First Star: Alex Ovechkin (1-1-2, plus-2, six shots on goal, eight shot attempts)
- Second Star: Dmitry Orlov (1-0-1, plus-1, 26:40 ice time)
- Third Star: Tom Wilson (0-1-1, plus-2, 21:22 ice time)
Captain rates the week…