Sunday, February 28, 2021

Washington Capitals: That Was The Week That Was - Week 7

If the Washington Capitals were marching in place in Week 6 with a 2-2-0 record, they advanced smartly in Week 7 with three wins and points in all four games on the schedule.  Just in time, too, for as the week ended, there were only three points separating the top-five teams in the East Division.  Three of the other four teams had multiple games in hand on the Caps, putting more pressure on the Caps to perform at the highest level.

Record: 3-0-1

The Caps had four games in Week 7, split between two teams, a pair of contests with the New Jersey Devils wrapped around a pair against the Pittsburgh Penguins. The games against the Devils – one each in Washington and Newark – were only the second and third meetings of eight matchups between these teams this season. Washington swept the first two games, out-scoring the Devils, 9-5.  On the other hand, the Caps and the Penguins, as if there were not familiar enough with one another, played their fifth and sixth games against each other in Week 7.  The Caps gave up a 2-1 second period lead but forced overtime in the first of their matchups this week before losing in overtime, 3-2.  Washington made up for that in the second of the two games, beating the Pens 5-2 in a game that featured two empty net goals.  The teams will not meet again to wrap up their season series until they meet to end the April and begin the May portion of their schedules.

Offense: 4.00/game (season: 3.45 / 4th)

The Caps posted 16 goals in Week 7, and the spread the cheer in doing so.  T.J. Oshie led the club with three goals in four games, and Lars Eller added a pair.  Eleven other Caps had a goal apiece.  In all, 12 forwards found the back of the net.  Only Evgeny Kuznetsov among the 13 forwards to dress for the week did not have a goal, and he missed Saturday’s game against New Jersey with an injury.  It was the opposite on defense, where John Carlson was the only defenseman to post a goal, that in the opening game of the week, a 4-3 win over the Devils. 

What Carlson dd not do on his own in lighting the lamp, he did for others.  His six assists led the team for the week, as did his seven points overall.  Oshie led the forwards in points with five.  What was noteworthy about the scoring overall was that 18 of 19 skaters recorded points.  Only Dmitry Orlov failed to put a crooked number on the score sheet.  Seventeen of 19 skaters had at least one even strengthe point.  Five skaters posted ten shots (Alex Ovechkin, Oshie, Carlson, Carl Hagelin, and Jakub Vrana).  Only one of the 19 skaters posted a minus rating (Garnet Hathaway, minus-1).  It might have been the most balanced offense the Caps displayed over a week’s worth of games in some time.

Defense: 2.50/game (season: 3.25 / 26th)

It was not a bad week for the defense, which held the two opponents under their season goals per game averages.  New Jersey posted five goals in two games (2.50 goals per game), while they finished the week at 2.69 goals per game for the season.  And, they allowed just 28.8 shots per game, ninth-fewest for the week.  They allowed 186 shot attempts at 5-on-5 over the four games, fifth-fewest of the 14 teams playing four games.  Their plus-14 on shot attempts at 5-on-5 ranked fifth-best as well among those 14 teams. 

Three Caps playing in all four games did so without having been on ice for an even strength goal scored against – Richard Panik, Conor Sheary, and Alex Ovechkin.  Another seven Caps played in all four games with only one goal scored against while they were on ice.  At the other end, Carl Hagelin had a bit of a round week, on ice for four even strength goals scored against, most on the team.

Goaltending: 2.48 / .913 (season: 2.91 / .902)

Craig Anderson got his first start as a Washington Capital, and while it was not the most efficient of efforts (23 saves on 26 shots/ .885 save percentage), he got the “W” in the Caps 4-3 win over New Jersey to start the week.

Vitek Vanecek continue to shoulder the heaviest workload burden, getting the last three games of the week, going 2-0-1, .2.31, .921 in 181 minutes of play.  Vanecek was consistent over the week, allowing two goals in each of the first, second, and third periods of play.  Those two third period goals he allowed, both in the 5-2 win over Pittsburgh, came on a total of 23 shots faced in the third period over the four games, the result being that his third period save percentage was considerably lower (.913) than in the other two periods (first period: .935; second period: .941).  Vanecek was over .900 in save percentage in all three games he played in Week 7, his longest streak of such games this season.

Power Play: 4-for-11 / 36.4 percent (season: 30.8 percent / 4th)

Washington had the second best power play in Week 7 (New York Islanders: 2-for-5/40.0 percent), quite an improvement over their 14.3 percent mark in Week 6. But it is that inconsistency that has plagued the Caps with the man advantage this season.  They have faithfully alternated weeks over 35 percent and weeks under 15 percent this season, four of the former and three of the latter. 

T.J. Oshie had two of the four power play goals the Caps recorded for the week, Alex Ovechkin and Tom Wilson getting the others.  Oshie also led the Caps in point with the man advantage (three); Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, and John Carlson getting a pair apiece.  Ovechkin and Carlson led the Caps in total power play ice time, the only Caps logging more than ten minutes for the week (15:06 and 10:25, respectively).

On the one hand, the Caps were very efficient on the power play in Week 7, as their 36.4 percent conversion rate suggests. But beneath that, the Caps were 3-for-4 against the Devils to open the week, 1-for-7 in the last three games of the week. And, the Caps managed only nine power play shots on goal in 17:43 of power play ice time. Going without a shot over 6:31 of power play ice time in two games (the first game against Pittsburgh and Saturday’s game against the Devils).

Penalty Killing: 9-for-12 / 75.0 percent (season: 79.1 percent / 15th)

Penalty killers were not as successful as their power play counterparts in Week 7.  The penalty kill has not been very impressive this season, but in three of the last five weeks it was under 80 percent.  The 75.0 percent mark for the week was tied for 19th in the league.

The Caps did limit shots on the penalty kill for the week, holding opponents to 14 shots in 19:33 of shorthanded ice time.  Four Caps logged more than ten minutes on the penalty kill: Carl Hagelin (11:07), Zdeno Chara (10:52), Nick Jensen (10:49), and Nic Dowd (10:11).

Faceoffs: 126-for-240 / 52.5 percent (season: 47.6 percent / 25th)

The Caps did something they rarely do in this category.  They finished the week second in faceoff win percentage, trailing only Carolina (56.4 percent).  Washington was 50 percent or better in all three zones for the week, 50.0 percent in the offensive zone, 53.2 percent in the defensive zone, and 54.9 percent in the neutral zone.

The fine performance was largely the product of Nic Dowd dominating the faceoff circle.  In four games he was 38-for-60 (63.3 percent), 59.5 percent or better in all three zones.  He did get some help, though.  Lars Eller and Nicklas Backstrom each finished within a faceoff win of being over 50 percent for the week, although Backstrom’s 38.9 percent mark in the offensive end was disappointing.  

Goals by Period:

The third periods of games were where the action was for the Caps in Week 7, the nine third period goals they scored being more than half their total for the week.  Part of that was posting three empty net goals – two against Pittsburgh in a 5-2 win and another in the 5-2 win over New Jersey to close the week.  Those three empty net goals left the Caps tied with three other teams for second in the league in that category (five), trailing only Tampa Bay (seven).  The nine third period goals for Week 7 doubled the Caps total (from nine to 18) for the season.

The Caps managed to hold back the second period demons in goals against for the most part, but allowing the tying goal in the middle frame to Pittsburgh in their first meeting of the week proved important in the 3-2 overtime loss, the only blemish on the Caps’ record for the week.


Comparing year-over-year numbers at this stage of the season is comparing those of a streaking team (last year’s 14-2-4 team though 20 games) with a team that is grinding out wins despite absences and getting to a comfort level under a new coach’s systems and philosophies.  This accounts for the Caps of last year having far and away the better numbers at this stage of the season than this year’s version.  Even where this year’s Caps are better (fewer shorthanded situations faced), they give the advantage back (lower penalty kill rate).

In the end…

The Caps did what they had to do in Week 7 – put some distance between themselves and teams beneath them in the standings.  The bonus is that they ended the week two points clear of the team closest their rear view mirror in the standings, the Boston Bruins.  A good thing, too, for the Caps open Week 8 with a pair of games against the Bruins in Boston.

Three Stars:

  • First Star: John Carlson (1-6-7, plus-3, two power play points, six credited hits, three takeaways, ten shots on goal, 22:00 in average ice time)
  • Second Star: T.J. Oshie (3-2-5, plus-2, two power play goals, three power play points, ten shots on goal, 30.0 percent shooting percentage, 50.0 percent on faceoffs)
  • Third Star: Vitek Vanecek (2-0-1, 2.31, .921 (11th in save percentage of goalies playing in three or more games)

Saturday, February 27, 2021

A TWO-Point Afternoon: Washington Capitals -- Game 20: Capitals 5 - Devils 2

The Washington Capitals started their weekend getaway in Newark, New Jersey, with the first to two matinee matchups at Prudential Center.  The Caps entered the game on a three-game points streak (2-0-1), while the Devils were on a four-game streak not having won a game in regulation (1-3-0, the win coming in overtime in Buffalo against the Sabres on Thursday).  The Caps got out to a big lead early – 3-0 less than 14 minutes into the game – held on when the Devils made a push in the middle minutes of the contest, then score a pair of goals to win, going away, 5-2.

First Period

Washington drew first blood in the fourth minute of the game.  With the Caps advancing with speed through the neutral zone, Carl Hagelin fed Justin Schultz on the right wing.  Schultz skated the puck down the right side and from the circle fed the puck across to Garnet Hathaway for a one timer into the short side of the net before goalie Mackenzie Blackwood could scramble across the crease.  It was 1-0, Caps, 3:36 into the game.

Just over 90 seconds later, the Caps struck again. Brenden Dillon’s floater from the left point struck defenseman P.K. Subban, who was tying up Daniel Sprong, and the puck sailed past Blackwood, off the neat post, and in at the 5:07 mark to make it 2-0.

Lars Eller made it 3-0, finishing a 3-on-1 rush made possible when Will Butcher mishandled the puck just inside the offensive blue line.  Eller led them out, feeding Conor Sheary when the trip reached the offensive blue line.  Sheary looked left, then fed the puck to his right where Eller deposited it behind Blackwood at the 13:40 mark.

New Jersey got the game’s first power play when Conor Sheary was sent off for tripping at 18:09.  It took the Devils seven seconds to convert.  Off a set play, P.K. Subban fired a puck past the post and off the end boards. It caromed out onto the stick of Nico Hischier, who stuffed it inside the post to goalie Vitek Vanecek’s right, and it was 3-1, 18:16 into the period.  That would be how the teams went off for the first intermission.

-- Fourteen of 18 skaters had plus ratings for the Caps in the period, John Carlson the only one at plus-2.

-- Washington led the Devils in shots on goal, 14-8, and they had the edge in shot attempts, 22-19.

-- The teams split 20 faceoffs down the middle, ten wins apiece; Nic Down was the only Capital over 50 percent (3-for-4/75.0 percent).

-- Carlson and Nicklas Backstrom had two takeaways apiece to lead the Caps.

-- Nick Jensen led the Caps in ice time with 7:23.

Second Period

The Devils got the first power play of the second period, Alex Ovechkin going off for holding at 1:35.  Washington killed the penalty, holding the Devils without a shot, and they held onto their two-goal lead.  They did halve the lead, though, when Vitek Vanecek was knocked down in his crease, lost his stick, and then after scrambling to his feet, Pavel Zacha wristed the puck past him at the 6:09 mark to make it a 3-2 game.

Washington got their first power play or the contest at the 15:59 mark when Travis Zajac went to the penalty box to ponder his previous 1,001 NHL games, called for a holding penalty. The Caps failed to convert, recording no shots in the two minutes.  The teams went to their respective locker rooms after 40 minutes with the Caps holding onto their 3-2 lead.

-- The Devils out-shots the Caps, 5-4, in the second period but were out-attempted by the Caps, 14-8.

-- Every Capital skater had at least one shot attempt through 40 minutes.

-- Garnet Hathaway led the team in credited hits through two period with three.

-- Giveaways can be awarded in arbitrary fashion, but Washington had only two in 40 minutes, while the Devils had 12.

Third Period

The teams circled one another around the rink like Rocky and Apollo Creed in the last round of their first fight, but then the Devils ramped up their game.  They could not find the equalizer, though, and it cost them. Jakub Vrana gave Washington a two-goal leadat 11:49 when Jakub Vrana got behind the Devils defense, took a lovely chip pass into space from the left wing boards by John Carlson, and scored though Blackwood’s pads on a breakaway.

New Jersey got a change to get closer with under five minutes left when Brenden Dillion went off for delay of game/puck over glass at the 15:29 mark.  The Devils power play was wiped out when Kyle Palmieri went off for hooking at 16:00, putting the teams a 4-on-4.  Neither team could score in that instance, but with the Devils’ net empty in the last two minutes, Nic Dowd iced the matter with an empty net goal at 19:06, the Caps winning by a 5-2 margin.

Other stuff…

-- The five goals scored by the Caps made it five in consecutive games, the first time they did that this season and the first time since Game 66 and 67 last season when the Caps lost in overtime to the New York Rangers, 7-6, and followed that up with a 5-2 win over the Pittsburgh Penguins.

-- Eleven different Capitals had points, Carl Hagelin and John Carlson each with a pair (assists for both).

-- For Hagelin, it was his first multi-point game of the season and first since February 23rd last season when he had a pair of goals against Pittsburgh in a 5-3 win.

-- It was Carlson’s 113th multi-point game of his career, extending his lead among defensemen in Capitals history and tying Dale Hunter for eighth-place among all skaters since 1979-1980.

-- Fifteen Caps skaters finished with plus ratings, none with a minus.  John Carlson was best at plus-3.

-- Carlson led the team in ice time (21:36); Dmitry Orlov led in even strength ice time (20:32), the only player on either team to top 20 minutes at evens.

-- The teams tied in shots on goal with 24 apiece, while the Devils out-attempted Washington, 47-45.

-- Jakub Vrana, Tom Wilson, and John Carlson led the team with three shots on goal apiece.  Carlson led the club with six shot attempts.

-- Nic Dowd and Nicklas Backstrom each had ten faceoff wins for the Caps.

-- Vitek Vanecek stopped 22 of 24 shots (.917 save percentage); it was the third straight game in which his save percentage was over .900, a season high streak.

In the end…

The Caps had a great first 15 minutes, a good last dozen minutes, and an iffy middle, sort of like a sandwich made with two slices of artisanal bread and no filling.  It was enough in this game because Vitek Vanecek did a lot to keep the Devils from establishing any momentum, especially at even strength (21 saves on 22 shots, and the goal scored after he was knocked down in his crease).  That said, now the question is who the Caps start in goal on Sunday.  Ride Vanecek in the back half of a back-to-back set of games?  Give Craig Anderson his second start? Or activate ilya Samsonov?  This is why they pay the head coach the big bucks.  But that’s for Sunday.  Saturday was a good day.


Friday, February 26, 2021

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Games 20/21: Capitals at Devils, February 27/28

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

The Washington Capitals open a five-game road trip with a visit to Newark, New Jersey, where they will face the New Jersey Devils on Saturday and Sunday at Prudential Center.  The Caps head out having taken three of four available standings points in two games against the Pittsburgh Penguins to extend their recent run of success to 4-1-1 and tie the Boston Bruins in standings points at the top of the East Division.  Meanwhile, the Devils are treading water and slowly sinking under the waves, going 1-3-0 in their last four games, although the win came in their last outing, a 4-3 overtime win over the Buffalo Sabres.

The Devils are a team in transition, but there are signs that they are making progress toward becoming a team t be reckoned with.  Looking at the team’s February scoring, it is evident that the youngsters are taking over.  Sure, there is Kyle Palmieri, who turned 30 on February 1st, tied for the team lead in goals for the month (three), but the other goal scorers for the month are sprinkled with players in their mid-20’s or younger.

Pavel Zacha is in that group and tied with Palmieri for the lead in goals scored this month and leading the team in points (eight). Now in his sixth season, Zacha is finally showing the skills that made him the sixth-overall pick of the 2015 Entry Draft. He started the season slowly, going without a point in his first four games, but since then Zacha is 5-7-12, plus-3, and he has a four-game points streak going into the weekend games against the Caps.  The odd part of his four-game streak is that he had no shots on goal in two of them, his first two games without a shot on goal this season.  Nevertheless, Zacha is on a pace that would build on last season’s career year in points (8-24-32 in 65 games).  He is on a pace to finish this season 19-26-45, plus-7, which would be career highs in each category.  Zacha is 0-4-4, plus-3, in 12 career games against the Caps.

Nico Hischier is another one of the youngsters on whom the Devils are learning to depend, but he has struggled a bit this month and all season, for that matter, although his participation has been limited to four games due to rehabilitation for a leg injury and COVID protocols. Hischier has only one point (a goal) in those four games played to date, but his coming around would seem to be a “when,” not “if.”  He has been a consistent goals scorer in three seasons preceding this one, averaging 0.24 goals per game in his rookie year, in 2017-2018, 0.25 goals per game two seasons ago, and 0.24 goals per game last season. 

That lone goal Hischier has might be a signal.  It came in his last game, a 4-3 overtime win over Buffalo on Friday. In addition to recording his first point of the season, he took his first penalty, and he recorded a season high four shots on goal (he had a total of four over his first three games).  Hischier’s slow start did nothing to prevent his being named the 12th captain in Devils’ history, a position that was vacant since Andy Greene, now of the New York Islanders, was captain in the 2018-2019 season.  When named to that position, he became the youngest captain in the league and second youngest in Devils’ history (Kirk Muller).  Hischier is 4-5-9, minus-3, in 11 career games against Washington.

The effort to get younger by the Devils is not limited to skaters.  Goaltender Mackenzie Blackwood is another player in that effort, currently the sixth youngest goaltender to appear in at least one NHL game this season. Blackwood was the second goaltender taken in the 2015 Entry Draft (second round/42nd overall, 20 spots after the Caps’ Ilya Samsonov).  His 78 NHL games to date lead his draft class in that category, as does his .917 career save percentage over two-plus seasons.  This season, Blackwood ranks third among 50 goalies with 400 minutes played in save percentage (.932), trailing only Andrei Vasilevskiy (.935) and Marc-Andre Fleury (.942).

There do seem to be cracks in his performance recently, though. After going 5-0-1, 1.94, .945 in his first fie appearances, , Blackwood is 1-2-0, 3.04, .907 in his last three games.  The odd part of his career to date is that he is a reflection of just how much Martin Brodeur dominates the Devils’ lifetime statistics.  For instance, Brodeur won 688 games with the Devils, while the other 49 goalies in team history combined for 834 wins.  Blackwood is already tenth on that wins list in Devils history 37), and he could pass Johan Hedberg (38) for ninth place with a pair of wins this weekend.  In four career games against the Caps, Blackwood is 1-3-0, 3.43, .890.

1.  New Jersey ranks dead last in the league in faceoff winning percentage (42.4 percent).  None of the four Devils taking at least 100 draws is at 50 percent or more, and only Nico Hischier among 11 taking at least five draws is over 50 percent (32-for-53/60.4 percent).

2.  For a team with a long history as a “defense-first” sort of club, the Devils have found offense.  In six of their last eight games they scored three of more goals and scoring five twice.

3.  The Devils do not do it with a physical edge.  They rank 26th in credited hits per 60 minutes (17.48), and they average 3.41 penalties taken per 60 minutes (24th).

4.  New Jersey does not do much in terms of drawing penalties, either.  Their 3.14 penalties drawn per 60 minutes rank 27th in the league.

5.  New Jersey has more wins when out-shot (four) then when out-shooting opponents (three).

1.  Washington has a 47-47-7 (with seven ties) record against the Devils in their lifetime series.

2.  The Caps lead the league in second period goals scored (29), while in the first and third periods combined, they have only 34 goals.

3.  The Caps’ defense falters late.  They have allowed only 15 first period goals this season, but they have allowed 23 goals in each of the second and third periods of games.

4.  Washington ranks dead last in the league in penalties drawn per 60 minutes (2.95), and their net penalties per 60 minutes (minus-0.62) is second-worst in the league.

5.  The 5-2 win over Pittsburgh on Thursday night was only the Caps’ second win by three or more goals this season.  The other was January 28th, a 6-3 win over the New York Islanders.  In both games, an empty net goal provided the three-goal margin.

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

New Jersey: P.K. Subban

Over a six season stretch ending with the 2017-2018 season, P.K. Subban was one of the most prolific defensemen in the NHL.  Over that period he played in 422 games with two teams (Montreal and Nashville), ranking ninth among all defensemen in goals 68), third in assists (233), third in points (301), tied for fourth in power play goals (29), second in power play points (135), and eighth in average ice time per game (24:56).

Since then, his production has diminished.  In his last 146 games over two-plus seasons in Nashville and New Jersey, he has 17 goals (tied for 36th among defensemen over that period), 38 assists (tied for 78th), 55 points (72nd), five power play goals, tied for 31st), 18 power play points (tied for 50th), and has averaged 22:23 in ice time per game (43rd).

Age should not be a factor in Subban’s drop in production. He will not turn 32 years of age until May.  And, this year’s production on a per-game basis (1-5-6 I 15 games) is an improvement overall over last year (7-11-18 in 68 games).  However, he does not yet have an even strength goal, and his one goal (on a power play) has come despite averaging 2.53 shots on goal per game.  Only once in four seasons preceding this one did he average more (2.67 shots per game in 2018-2019).  Subban is 1-4-5, plus-2, in his last eight games, so he might be returning to a level of play with which fans are more familiar.  He is 1-8-9, minus-3, in 30 career games against Washington.

Washington: Nick Jensen

Yeah, yeah, Nick Jensen has not scored a goal since John Quincy Adams was in the White House.  At the moment, it might be in the back of Jensen’s mind, but it has not hurt his play of late.  It was not surprising that Jensen had only two assists in his first ten games.  What he has is three assists in his last six games, including this superb feed through the Penguin defense on Thursday setting up this goal by Nicklas Backstrom:

At the other end, if you discount Jonas Siegenthaler not being on ice for any even strength goals against in one game played this month, Jensen has been on ice for the fewest number of even strength goals scored against the Caps among defensemen (four in ten games, tied with Justin Schultz in seven games).  His on-ice even strength goal differential for the month among defensemen (plus-3) is best among eight Caps defensemen playing in February.  His 15 blocked shots leads that group in February, and perhaps surprisingly, his 14 credited hits are third among Caps defensemen this month.  For what might be the first time since Jensen was acquired by the Caps along with a fifth-round pick in the 2019 Entry Draft for Madison Bowey and a 2020 second-round draft pick, Jensen is displaying the skills he was brought to Washington to provide.  Jensen is 1-2-3, even, in 14 career games against the Devils.

In the end…

The Devils are an easy team to look past, if one looks at their standings position (sixth in the East Division) and their recent history (one playoff appearance in the last eight seasons).  But in the East, it is a dog-eat-dog battle to get through 56 games, and New Jersey is one of six teams with a points percentage over .500).  They have struggled lately (4-5-1 in their last ten games overall) and at home this season (2-4-1, worst home record in the division), but if the Caps look past this team to their matchup with Boston for two games to follow, it could bite the Caps.

Capitals 5 – Devils 2

Capitals 4 – Devils 3


Thursday, February 25, 2021

A TWO-Point Night: Washington Capitals -- Game 19: Capitals 5 - Penguins 3

The Washington Capitals and Pittsburgh Penguins concluded their first two-game set of games in D.C. on Thursday night with the Cap taking a two goal lead, giving it up, taking the lead back, and then adding a pair of empty-netters late in a 5-2 win.

First Period

Washington struck first.  Nicklas Backstrom sent a pass cross ice from low in the left wing circle to Nick Jensen at the top of the right wing circle, then headed for the front of the net.  As Backstrom was doing so, Jensen curled in and snapped a pass onto Backstrom’s tape, and all that was left was for Backstrom to redirect the feed past goalie Tristan Jarry’s right pad to make it 1-0, 11:20 into the period.

Pittsburgh had a chance to tie the game when Lars Eller went to the penalty box on a tripping call at 11:40 of the period.  The Caps held them off the board, though, and they held onto the lead as the teams got back to even strength.  The Pens got another chance on the power play at 15:27 when Tom Wilson went off for interference.  The Caps made it 2-for-2 in killing penalties, though, and the teams played on. It would be how the period ended.

-- The Caps owned a 12-11 edge in shots on goal and a 22-21 advantage in shot attempts.

-- Washington won 12 of 22 draws (54.5 percent); Lars Eller was a sparkling 7-for-7.

-- Tom Wilson led the club with three credited hits.  That did not include the one that sent him to the penalty box.

-- Dmitry Orlov led the Caps with 7:21 in ice time.

Second Period

The Pens got their third power play of the game when John Carlson was sent off for goaltender interference at 4:03.  And for the third time, the Caps kept Pittsburgh off the board.  The Caps were awarded their first man advantage at 9:09, Evgeni Malkin to the box for hooking.  The two minutes went by without a shot on goal for the Caps, and it remained a 1-0 game.

Washington went a man short for the fourth time in the contest when Evgeny Kuznetsov was ticketed for tripping at 15:36 of the period.  The Caps skated off that shorthanded situation, and the teams skated off after 40 minutes with the Caps clinging to their 1-0 lead.

-- Washington led in shots on goal after 40 minutes, 27-21, and had a 50-40 edge in shot attempts.

-- Alex Ovechkin led the club through two periods with five shots on goal and eight shot attempts.

-- Washington had an amazing (for them) 25-for-42 record on faceoffs (59.5 percent). All four centers were over 50 percent through 40 minutes.

-- Garnet Hathaway not having a shot attempt through two period is not that surprising.  Richard Panik?  More surprising and more troubling. 

Third Period

The Caps finally got the goal to double their lead, coming in the fourth minute of the period.  From the left wing wall, Lars Eller fed T.J. Oshie entering the offensive zone down the middle.  Oshie worked the puck around Mike Matheson, who took Oshie down, but Oshie managed to one hand the puck between Jarry’s pads at 3:18 to make it 2-0.

Washington went to the man advantage at the 3:32 mark when Kris (a.k.a. “Kristopher”) Letang went to the box for hooking. And with the Caps on the power play, it was the Penguins who promptly halved the lead, Brendan Tanev scoring unassisted.  And then, Pittsburgh tied the game at the 7:22 mark, Jake Guentzel getting the goal for the Pens.

Washington got their third power play of the evening at the 9:07 mark and a chance to regain momentum when Drew O’Connor was sent off for hooking.  Tom Wilson made the Pens pay.  With Kris Letang playing without a stick, John Carlson’s pass from the right wing wall was redirected past Jarry on the blocker side to make it 3-2.

With the Penguins net empty, Carl Hagelin sealed the deal.  Working around Letang, who once more was without a stick (this one he broke), Hagelin worked the puck down the left wing wall, cut to the middle around Evgeni Malkin, and backhanded the biscuit into the back of the net at 18:38. Lars Eller added another empty netter at 19:08 to make it 5-2, the final score.

Other stuff…

-- In the first five games of this season's series, the Caps took leads in four of them (five different leads in all; they led 2-1 and 3-2 in a 4-3 Gimmick loss on January 17th) and lost three of those games.  Tonight was the sixth time that the Caps took a lead against the Penguins.  The Caps took a 2-0 lead in this one and coughed it up.

-- This was the first time in 11 games that the Caps scored five or more goals.  The last time was in a 6-3 win over the New York Islanders on January 28th.

-- This was the first time the Caps had two empty net goals in a single game since they recorded a pair in a 5-2 win in Detroit against the Red Wings on November 30, 2019.  It was the first time they did it at home since November 30, 2018, when they had two in a 6-3 win over New Jersey.

-- Washington out-shot the Penguins, 35-27, and they out-attempted them, 66-52.

-- Nicklas Backstrom led the Caps with five shots on goal; Alex Ovechkin led the club in shot attempts with nine.

-- Backstrom recorded his ninth goal of the season. He is on a pace for 27 goals in 56 games, which would be his second-best goal total for a season.  The amazing part...his best of 33 goals in 2009-2010 was in 82 games.

-- With that goal on five shots, Backstrom’s shooting percentage for the season actually went down, from 22.2 percent entering the game to 22.0 percent.

-- Brenden Dillon and Tom Wilson led the club in credited hits with four apiece.

-- Washington had a 35-for-57 record on draws.  That 61.4 percent winning percentage is their best of the season (previously: 54.4 percent on 31-for-57 against the New York Rangers in a 4-2 loss on February 4th.

-- Every Capital had at least one shot on goal except for Garnet Hathaway.

In the end…

Giving up a two-goal lead in bang-bang fashion was the blemish on the game, but the Caps didn’t let the Pens get that tie-breaking goal.  And the power play, which looked awful in its first two chances this evening, converted on its third chance when it counted, Tom Wilson getting what would prove to be the game-winning goal.  Wins over the Pens are never easy, but they are always satisfying.  And what makes this one even better is that with the Boston Bruins losing to the New York Islanders this evening, 7-2, the Caps are now in a standings points tie with the Bruins at the top of the East Division.


Tuesday, February 23, 2021

A ONE-Point Night: Washington Capitals -- Game 18: Penguins 3 - Capitals 2 (OT)


After opening the season series with the Pittsburgh Penguins with a pair of two-game sets in Pittsburgh, the Washington Capitals welcomed the Penguins to the Nation’s Capital on Tuesday night for the first game of the season series D.C.  The Caps came into the game with three wins in their last four games, while the Pens arrived sporting four wins in their last five contests.  The game went to extra time, and for the third time in three extra time games this season, the Caps dropped a decision to the Penguins, 3-2, in overtime.

First Period

Washington got an early chance with a man advantage when Mike Matheson went to the box for goaltender interference.  The Caps failed to convert, though, and recorded no shots on goal in doing so.  And then it was Pittsburgh’s chance to go on a power play when Alex Ovechkin was whistled for goaltender interference at 5:24 of the period.  They made good on their chance, Evgeni Malkin credited with a goal on a redirection of a Kris Letang shot at the 6:41 mark.

The Caps got their second bite at the power play apple mid-way through the period, Jake Guentzel off for slashing at 9:55.  However, the second power play went like the first one – no goals, no shots on goal.  The rest of the period went quietly, and after 20 minutes the Pens still had their 1-0 lead.

-- Pittsburgh out-shot the Caps, 12-6, and they dominated shot attempts, 27-17.

-- No Capital had more than one shot, more than one shot blocked, or more than one missed shot. Dmitry Orlov led the team with three shot attempts.

-- Brenden Dillon and Nic Dowd had three credited hits apiece to lead the team.

-- Nicklas Backstrom led the Caps in ice time (7:34).

Second Period

Washington tied the game in the fifth minute when a long cross-ice pass from Zdeno Chara to Richard Panik eluded Panik at the offensive blue line, but he scampered down the wall to retrieve it, curled hard around Mike Matheson, and slid the puck past goalie Tristan Jarry’s right pad at the 4:38 mark.

Conor Sheary put some pain in the Penguins when he gave the Caps their first lead of the game late in the period.  Evgeny Kuznetsov darted down the middle to put pressure on the defense and then deftly sent a pass to Sheary in the right wing circle for a one-timer that beat a sliding Jarry on the short side at the 13:18 mark to make it 2-1.

The Pens needed only 22 seconds to tie the game once more.  Jake Guentzel redirected a John Marino drive from the right point with the shaft of his stick past goalie Vitek Vanecek’s blocker, and the game was tied once more, 2-2.

Washington went on the penalty kill when Justin Schultz was penalized for kneeing at 16:21 of the period.  Pittsburgh failed to convert, and the teams remained tied after two periods.

-- Pittsburgh out-shot the Caps, 18-9, in the second period and out-attempted them, 23-16.

-- The Caps had a whopping 26-5 advantage in credited hits.  Dillon and Dowd led the team with four apiece.

-- Lars Eller was the only Capital taking more than one faceoff with a winning percentage (6-for-10/60.0 percent).  Pittsburgh had a 26-21 edge overall (55.3 percent).

Third Period

No goals, no penalties, and hardly any shots (seven for Pittsburgh, six for the Caps). So, we got to…


Blueger to Kapanen on a 2-on-1…Pens win, 1:43 into overtime.  Pens, 3-2.

Other stuff…

-- This was the sixth extra time game for the Caps this season, half of them against Pittsburgh, all of them losses (2-4 overall in extra time).

-- The Caps were out-shot by the Pens, 37-22, and Pittsburgh finished with a 66-48 edge in shot attempts.

-- Zdeno Chara was the only Capital not to record a shot attempt.

-- No Capital finished with more than two shots on goal (eight players).  Alex Ovechkin led the team with five shot attempts.

-- Washington finished with a 31-15 edge in credited hits, Brenden Dillon, Garnet Hathaway, and Nic Dowd leading the club with four apiece.

-- The Caps won 28 of 63 draws (44.4 percent) owing to the fact that Sidney Crosby and Teddy Blueger were a combined  26-for-37 (70.3 percent).

-- Dillon led the Caps with four blocked shots.

-- John Carlson was the only Capital to log more than 20 minutes (22:00). Hathaway had the fewest minutes (12:40).

-- Ovechkin was he only Capital to log all four available minutes of power play time.

-- The Caps recorded no shots on goal in four minutes of power play time.

In the end…

One point puts the Caps alone in second place, but they are only one point ahead of the Penguins and the New York Islanders, and four ahead of the Flyers, who have three games in hand.  The Caps have left a lot of points on the table in 18 games, and the East Division is tight enough where that could be the big regret as the season winds down.


Monday, February 22, 2021

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Games 18/19: Penguins at Capitals, February 23/25

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

It’s Olde Tyme Patrick Division Week for the Washington Capitals, starting with a pair of games against the Pittsburgh Penguins on Tuesday and Thursday in Washington.  After three straight losses to the Pens to open their season series, the Caps beat their long-time rival, 3-1, last Tuesday to bring their season record to 1-1-2 against Pittsburgh.

That loss to the Capitals is the Penguins’ only loss in their last five games after suffering through a 1-3-1 stretch before their recent run of success.  Their recent up-and-down performance aside, the Pens have struggled on the road this season.  Their 2-5-1 record and .313 points percentage rank 27th in the league.  The problem is an inability to keep pucks out of their own net, averaging 4.00 goals allowed per road game, and that starts with goaltenders.  Tristan Jarry has been dragging more than an overnight bag among his baggage on the road.  Of 38 goalies logging at least 200 minutes, Jarry ranks last in the league in save percentage (.826).  It is something of a turnaround for Jarry, who ranked 19th among 50 goalies with at least 750 minutes on the road last season (.915).  In five road games this season, Jarry has yet to allow fewer than three goals and is 0-4-1. 

Casey DeSmith has been better on the road, but in a bizarre way.  In four road games this season, he is 2-2-0, but the odd part is that in his two wins his save percentage was under .900 (30 saves on 34 shots (.882) in a 5-4 win over the New York Rangers and 26 saves on 29 shots (.897) in a 4-3 win over the New York Islanders).  In his two losses, his save percentage was over .910 (12 saves on 13 shots (.923) in a relief role in a 5-2 loss to the Flyers and 21 saves on 23 shots (.913) in a 3-1 loss to the Rangers).  His game-by-game record makes for a 1-2-0, 2.58, .899 road record overall, his goals against average ranking 14th of 38 goalies with at least 200 minutes, and his save percentage of .899 ranks 23rd in that group. Jarry is 1-1-0, 3.05, .918 in two career games against the Caps, while DeSmith is 2-1-0, 2.92, .873 in three career games against Washington.

Working out from the goaltenders, there is the defense, and that starts with Kris Letang, who occupies the top spot or close to it in just about every meaningful statistical category among defensemen in team history.  Of the 222 defensemen to dress for the Penguins in team history, Letang ranks first in games played (823), first in goals (123), first in assists (417), first in points (546), third in plus-minus (plus-62), tenth in penalty minutes (590), first in power play goals (44), second in power play points (213), tied for first in shorthanded goals (four), first in shorthanded points (12), first in overtime goals (five), first in game-winning goals (25), second in ice time per game (23:59), first in hits (1,346), first in blocked shots (1.244), and for good measure first in Gimmick goals (25) and game-deciding Gimmick goals (15).

It is no surprise that Letang leads Penguin defensemen this season in goals (two) assists (seven), and points (nine).  He has ramped up his offense of late, going 2-4-6, plus-2, in his last six games. On the other hand, he has only two points in seven road games this season (both assists) and has a minus-2 rating, but those two points came in his last two road outings.  If there is a lingering issue with Letang, it is his durability.  Since he appeared in all 82 games in 2010-2011, he has played in more than 70 games in a season twice and has missed more than a quarter of the Penguins’ games over that span (183 of 707 games).  Letang is 7-17-24, minus-25 (his worst against any team), in 44 career games against the Caps.

1.  Pittsburgh has the worst road power play in the league (7.1 percent).  They are the only team in the league with a net power play (accounting for shorthanded goals scored against) on the road of 0.0 percent.

2. The Penguins have the best shot attempts-for at 5-on-5 percentage on the road this season (56.3 percent).  Despite this, their goals-for percentage of 48.5 percent on the road ranks 16th.

3. Pittsburgh has three losses by three or more goals on the road; only four teams have more.

4. Eight different defensemen (and all who have played more than two games) have at least one point for the Pens this season.

5.  If the Pens win one of the two games, it will be their 50th all-time win in Washington.

1.  The Caps have allowed 13 third period goals on home ice this season, tied with Anaheim for most in the league.

2. Washington is 3-2-1 when scoring first on home ice.  Only four teams have a lower winning percentage on home ice than the .500 for the Caps.

3.  The Caps have the worst net penalties (penalties drawn less penalties taken) in the league (minus-9), and their net penalties per 60 minutes (minus-0.88) ranks 29th.

4.  The 11 5-on-4 goals scored by the Caps at home rank second-best in the league (Edmonton: 13).

5.  Only Edmonton has allowed more goals than home ice (38) than the Caps (34, tied with Vancouver).

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

Pittsburgh: John Marino

Before this season started, there were those who thought defenseman John Marino could make Kris Letang expendable. Others, no less than former Penguins general manager Jim Rutherford, thought his destiny was as the team’s number one defensemanPredicting one’s destiny is one thing, but having it realized is another, and for Marino there is still work to be done in fulfilling it.  Last season, in a deep field of rookie defensemen that included Quin Hughes, Cale Makar, and Adam Fox, Marino finished fifth in his rookie defenseman class in goals (sixth), fourth in assists (20), fourth in points (26), second in plus-minus (plus-17), tied for fourth in power play points (four), fourth in average ice time (20:15), ninth in hits (72), and sixth in blocked shots (77).

To say it was a surprise is a bit of an understatement.  Not only was he a sixth-round pick by Edmonton in the 2015 Entry Draft (154th overall), two defensemen were taken ahead of him in that draft by the Oilers (Caleb Jones and Ethan Bear). His “destiny” was not looking good when he was traded to the Penguins in July 2019 for a sixth-round draft pick in the 2021 Entry Draft.  What he did do was jump right from Harvard University, where he played three seasons, to the Pens last season, one in which his performance was good enough to finish eighth in Calder Trophy voting for top rookie.

This season is a different story.  Marino is the only Penguin defenseman to appear in all 16 games to date, and he is averaging more than 23 minutes a game (second to Letang), but he has only two points (both assists) in those sixteen games.  Marino is 0-2-2, even, in six career games against Washington.

Washington: Justin Schultz

When Justin Schultz took a puck to the face in a game against the New York Islanders, it was a scary moment for Schultz and Caps fans.  It was unfortunate for the Caps, given that in eight games, including that game against the Isles, Schultz was 2-4-6, plus-9, making the decision to sign him to a two-year/$8.0 million contract last October look like a sound one.  Schultz missed four games.  He has not been quite as prolific since his return (0-2-2, minus-1, in five games, but he logged more than 20 minutes for the first time since his return in the Caps’ 4-3 win over New Jersey on Sunday (after averaging less than 18 minutes in his first four games since his return), and he is looking more and more as if the time lost was a speed bump more than an obstacle to a solid season.

Schultz has rarely lacked for offense in his nine-year career.  In eight years preceding this one, his average season scoring line per 82 games was 10-34-44, and he posted more than 30 points three times with a high of 51 with the Penguins in 2016-2017.  Last season was a disappointment for Schultz and the Penguins (3-9-12, minus-13, in 46 games), following on a sub-par season in 2018-2019 (2-13-15, even, in 29 games.  In addition to the lower offensive production, those two seasons highlighted a concern.  He missed 76 games over those two seasons to a fractured leg and lower body injuries, and he has never played a full season’s slate of games (more than 70 games three times), not including the abbreviated 2012-2013 season in which he dressed for all 48 games with Edmonton.

Schultz is the second leading goal scorer among defensemen (tied with Zdeno Chara with two), and his eight points trail only John Carlson (14).  He has also taken some of the power play ice time burden off of Carlson.  While Carlson still leads the team at 3:10 per game, Schultz is averaging 2:03 on the man advantage.  And, he has been getting regular turns in pressure moment, evidenced by his 1:15 in overtime ice time per game, second to Carlson (1:44).  The former Penguin is 0-3-3, minus-2, in nine career games against Pittsburgh.

In the end…

Two points (or four points in a two-game series) are important for their own sake, but sometimes an added dimension is putting additional space between yourself and an opponent to whom you are always paying attention and against which you measure yourself.  That is what makes these two games important.  The difference between pulling out to a six-point lead over the Penguins with 37 games to play and falling behind Pittsburgh by two points is, as the kids say, huge.

Capitals 4 – Penguins 3

Capitals 5 – Penguins 3

Sunday, February 21, 2021

A TWO-Point Afternoon: Washington Capitals -- Game 17: Capitals 4 - Devils 3

The Washington Capitals wrapped up their two-matinee weekend of games in Washington when they hosted the New Jersey Devils in a 2:00 start.  After a sluggish start, the Caps scored three third period goals on their way to a 4-3 win to split the weekend schedule.


First Period

The Devils dominated the first third of the first period with shots and possession, and their pressure paid off with a power play at 7:32 of the period when Nick Jensen went to the penalty box for the Caps on a high-sticking penalty.  The Devils converted at 9:35 when Andreas Johnsson collected a pass from Kyle Palmieri, spun to the right of goalie Craig Anderson, and snapped a shot past Anderson’s left pad to put the Devils up, 1-0.

Washington got its first power play of the afternoon when Miles Wood went off for slashing at 17:23 of the period.  The Caps failed to convert, recording one shot on goal (Evgeny Kuznetsov) with the man advantage.  That would do it for the first period.

-- Despite the Devils recording the first seven shots on goal of the game, the Caps finished the period with an 11-10 edge in shots and a 23-18 advantage in shot attempts.

-- Carl Hagelin, T.J. Oshie, Jakub Vrana, and Evgeny Kuznetsov each had a pair of shots; Vrana had four shot attempts.  Alex Ovechkin did not attempt a shot I the period.

-- The Caps had a whopping 12-4 advantage in faceoff wins for the period. Nic Dowd won all four of his draws.

-- Dmitry Orlov led the Caps in ice time with 7:22.

Second Period

The Devils dominate early in the first period, and they scored first.  The Caps dominated early in the second period…and the Devils scored first.  New Jersey doubled their lead 3:55 into the second period when Andreas Johnsson skated the puck wide in the offensive zone to create a passing lane that he used to find Jack Hughes cutting down the middle inside Nic Dowd, and Hughes redirected the puck past Anderson’s glove to make it 2-0.

The teams exchanged penalties mid-way through the period, Garnet Hathaway going off at 10:45 for high-sticking and Sami Vatanen off to the box for hooking at 13:13.  The Devils did not convert their power play chance, but the Caps did.  From the right wing circle, Nicklas Backstrom laid out a saucer pass to John Carlson at the top of the zone.  Carlson sent a shot toward the net that T.J. Oshie redirected out of mid-air down and past goalie Aaron Dell to make it 2-1 at the 13:38 mark.

-- Washington out-shot the Devils, 15-5, in the period and out-attempted them, 24-20.

-- Carl Hagelin led the club with four shots on goal over the first 40 minutes.  Zdeno Chara and Richard Panik each had six shot attempts through two periods.

-- John Carlson led the Caps in ice time through two period (14:33); at the other end was Panik (7:56).

Third Period

Washington had the early shots and possession advantage in the period and made it count mid-way through the third period.  Jakub Vrana and Brenden Dillon played catch with the puck, Dillon taking a return feed from Vrana, backing along the blue line before feeding the puck the John Carlson at the right point.  Carlson walked the puck up into the right wing circle and snapped a shot under Dell’s right arm to make it 2-2, 9:16 into the period.

The Caps got a power play when Kyle Palmieri was whistled for holding at 10:00.  The Caps converted on Oshie’s second goal of the day.  Taking a pass from Evgeny Kuznetsov between the circles, he wasted no time snapping a shot through an Alex Ovechkin screen to give the Caps their first lead of the day at the 11:53 mark.

New Jersey got a chance to tie the game once more with a power play 13:05 into the period when Zdeno Chara went to the penalty box for interference.  The Caps killed off the penalty to preserve the lead.

Washington was awarded their fourth power play goal of the afternoon, and they got some insurance, courtesy of The Captain.  Fine passing from Nicklas Backstrom backhanding a pass from the right wing wall to Oshie in the middle, and Oshie skating in to wrap a pass around a Devils defender to Alex Ovechkin at the goal line, and if was left to Ovechkin to finish the play by one-timing the puck from a sharp angle behind Dell to make it 4-2, 16:56 into the period.

New Jersey scored a window dressing goal with 11.9 seconds left, Nikita Gusev doing the honors.  The Devils did not have enough time to mount any further pressure, and the Caps skated off with a 4-3 win

Other stuff…

-- Nicklas Backstrom had two assists, giving him 698 in his career. His assist on the Oshie goal was his 697th of his career, breaking a tie with Sergei Fedorov and Ryan Getzlaf on the all-time list and tying Dale Hunter.

-- Alex Ovechkin had the game-winning goal, the 112th game-winner of his career.

-- T.J. Oshie had two goals and an assist for his 19th three-point game with the Caps, tying John Carlson, Bobby Carpenter, and Larry Murphy for 17th place in team history.

-- Washington out-shot the Devils, 41-25, and out-attempted them, 66-62.

-- Dmitry Orlov and Zdeno Chara led the team with five shots apiece; Chara had eight shot attempts.

-- Nic Dowd was 14-for-17 on faceoffs (82.4 percent).

-- The Caps had three power play goals, their first three-power play goal game of the season and first since the has four in a 7-0 win over the Boston Bruins on Opening Night of the 2018-2019 season (the Stanley Cup banner raising game).

-- Craig Anderson won his first start as a Capital, stopping 22 of 25 shots.

-- Brenden Dillon led the team with four blocked shots…he also led the team with three giveaways.

-- Only three Caps finished the game with a “plus” rating – Jakub Vrana, Conor Sheary, and Evgeny Kuznetsov (all plus-1).

In the end…

It did not look good early for the Caps, but after the first ten minutes they dominated shots and more of the play over longer stretches.  It was the first time the Caps scored four or more goals in a regulation win since January 28th (6-3 over the Islanders), and Alex Ovechkin got his second power play goal of the season.  Perhaps these are signs that the Caps are coming out of an offensive funk.  The timing could not be better with the Caps moving up in weight class against opponents over their next ten games.



Washington Capitals: That Was The Week That Was - Week 6

In Week 6, the Washington Capitals marched in place.  And when it was over, the Caps found themselves in the midst of a crowd of teams – four of them, including the Caps – tied in standings points.  Losses to two teams beneath them in the standings made for a disappointing week that the Caps cannot afford as the schedule gets harder.

Record: 2-2-0

The Caps started and ended the week with losses and put together a pair of wins in the middle.  A split in Pittsburgh against the Penguins was not unexpected, and the win over the Buffalo Sabres in the third game of the week was no surprise, the Caps putting their fifth of eight games against the Sabres this season in the record book with a 4-0-1 record.  It was the game that ended the week that left a bad taste in the mouths of Capitals Nation and one that the team might live to regret.  A 4-1 loss to the New York Rangers, a team that had not won a game in regulation on the road this season, was the low point of the week, if not the season to date.  The 2-2-0 record left the Caps in third place in the East Division, after tie-breakers, and tied with Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, and the New York Islanders with 19 standings points.  A win over the Rangers could have left the Caps alone in second place in the division, one point behind the Boston Bruins.

Offense: 2.50/game (season: 3.31 / 10th)

The Caps dropped eight spots in the scoring offense rankings with a week in which threes were wild – they scored three goals in each of the first three games of the week – before coming up short against the Rangers.  The one goal Washington scored against the New Yorkers was their lowest offensive output of the season to date.

Seven Caps shared in the ten goals for the week with Jakub Vrana, Conor Sheary, and Nicklas Backstrom each notching a pair.  Alex Ovechkin wen 0-for-15 shooting in “frustrating scoring line of the week.”  He did have a pair of assists, though.  There were 14 skaters recording points for the week, which shows something for balance, but only two players – Backstrom and Lars Eller – posted as many as three.

It was a frustrating shooting week for the Caps.  Four players posted ten or more shots on goal.  Ovechkin (15), Vrana (14), Eller (11), and Nick Jensen (10).  Of the 50 shots recorded by this quartet, only three goals were recorded, two by Vrana and one by Eller.  The ten shots on goal by Jensen more than doubled his season total, from eight in his first nine games to 18 through 13 games played.

Defense: 3.00/game (season: 3.44 / 28th)

In that same span of time, starting with the 2010-2011 season, the Caps allowed seven or more goals only 13 times.  They lost in every instance, as one might expect (0-10-3).  They lost their 14th instance, too.  If offense is flashy, defense wins.  If you believe that, then Week 6 is a piece of evidence.  The Caps allowed six goals to Pittsburgh (including two empty-netters) and four to the Rangers (one empty-netter), and the Caps lost both games.  They gave up single goals to the Penguins in the rematch and to Buffalo in the third game of the week in wins.

The odd part of it all is that the Caps were reasonably stingy in allowing shot attempts.  In only one game, the 6-3 loss to the Pens to open the week, did the Caps allow more than 40 shot attempts at 5-on-5, and they had a positive shot attempts differential in each of the four games for the week.  In only two games did the Caps finish with a negative shot differential in any situation.  They were minus-1 in shot attempts when ahead in the 3-1 win over Buffalo, and they were minus-1 in differential when behind in the 6-3 loss to the Penguins.

Goaltending: 2.27 / .917 (season: 3.03 / .903)

Vitek Vanecek got all four games of the week, extending his string of consecutive starts to 13 games.  The effects of the heavy workload are showing.  Over his first seven games this season he stopped 223 of 243 shots, a .918 save percentage, and allowed more than three goals only once, in a 5-4 overtime loss to the Penguins on January 19th.  But over his last seven games he stopped just 165 of 185 shots, a .892 save percentage, and has allowed more than three goals three times.

Vanecek had a good week in Week 6, stopping 100 of 109 shots (.917), so if one might want to put the best spin on it, he seems to be fighting through the wall of mental or physical fatigue he might be experiencing.  On the other hand, his performances have been inconsistent, within games and from game-to-game, his rebound control being a continuing issue (perhaps a product of his workload).  Even within Week 6, two sub-.900 save percentage games bracketed by over-.950 save percentage games in the middle of the week are evidence of the issues with consistency he is experiencing. 

Power Play: 2-for-14 / 14.3 percent (season: 29.3 percent / 7th)

Whether is it predictability, a lack of crisp puck movement, bad luck, or sunspots, the Caps’ power play leaves much to be desired these days.  On the one hand, they posted 26 power play shots on goal in four games this week in 26:44 of power play ice time, not a bad shots-per-minute number.  And, they got power play shots from a lot of players, ten in all.  They got shots from players who matter – Alex Ovechkin (seven), Evgeny Kuznetsov (five), and three apiece from John Carlson, Tom Wilson, and Lars Eller.

Still, the Caps were just 2-for-14 for the week, their 14.3 percent conversion rate tied for 19th place for the week.  Disturbing in this is the Caps inability to make teams pay when they go to the penalty box frequently.  Washington is just 3-for-25 (12.0 percent) in six games this season when they had four or more power play chances (1-for-17 in their last four such games), while at the other end they had power play goals in three of the five games in which they had but one chance.  Of particular concern is that Alex Ovechkin has one power play goal on 19 shots in 12 games this season (he does have four power play assists).

Penalty Killing: 9-for-12/ 75.0 percent (season: 80.0 percent / T-15th)

A so-so week on the penalty kill became one of the disappointments when the Caps found themselves allowing two power play goals on ten chances to teams ranking in the bottom third of the power play rankings (Pittsburgh: 24th; New York Rangers: 27th).  The 75.0 percent penalty killing week left the Caps tied for 23rd in the league for the week and dropped them into a tie for 15th in the league for the season at week’s end.

The Caps did a reasonable job of limiting shots, allowing 16 in 19:13 of penalty killing ice time, but the timing of their failures was unfortunate.  Bryan Rust’s power play goal in the second period of the first game of the week allowed the Penguins to regain a lead they gave up only three minutes earlier in the period.  The Pens never trailed again.  Chris Kreider’s power play goal opened the scoring for the Rangers in the last game of the week, putting the Caps on their heels and giving the Blueshirts a lead they would not yield.

After shutting out opponents on power plays in three straight games, the Caps have now allowed a power play goal in three of their last four contests.  And, they have faced three or more shorthanded situations in five straight contests and ten of their last 11.  This is not a recipe for success.

Faceoffs: 96-for-213/ 45.1 percent (season: 46.3 percent / 28th)

A 45.1 percent week in winning faceoff percentage is not good, but it looks better than it was.  The Caps were an abysmal 36.8 percent on offensive zone draws (32-for-87), forcing them to play “chase the puck.”  It wasn’t a lot better in the defensive end, where the Caps were 29-for-63 (46.0 percent).  What is frustrating about this is that the 24 faceoff differential between offensive and defensive zone draws suggest the potential to tilt the ice in the Caps’ favor, but they were not able to translate that into wins.

But here is the thing.  If you take away one player’s performance for the week, the Caps were 86-for-167, a 51.5 percent winning percentage that is quite good.  And that player?  Nicklas Backstrom.  For whatever reason (and our untrained, perhaps uninformed eye can’t help but see and think “lingering injury effects”), Backstrom is, for the moment, a liability in the circle.  He was 10-for-46 for the week (21.7 percent).  Only four times in 16 games has Backstrom won 50 percent of more of his draws taken, and five times he finished under 30 percent.  Only once this season in eight games did he take 15 or more faceoffs and win more than 50 percent of them.

Goals by Period:

If the Caps played only second periods, they would be fine.  They outscored opponents, 6-4, for the week, and that increased their season differential in the middle frame to 26 for and 21 against (plus-5).  In the first and third periods, it was 2-3 and 2-5, respectively, although the entire differential in the third period was empty net goals.  Losing the first periods of games and allowing three goals was a bit odd, since the Caps came into the week having allowed only ten goals in 12 first periods this season.  They were rolled over in the third period in Week 6, but that is not unusual, either, nor is it something they can tolerate.  The 2-5 deficit for the week left them with just nine third period goals scored for the season (tied for fewest in the league) and 20 scored against (tied for seventh-most).


The Caps found themselves slipping further behind last year’s club at a similar point in the schedule.  Through Game 16 on the schedule last season, the Caps were on a 7-0-1 run (a streak of games with points they would extend to 13 (11-0-2).  This year’s club is 2-5-0 in their last seven games.

In almost every other category, this year’s club lags compared to last year’s edition.  Scoring offense is down, scoring defense is up.  The power play is more efficient in this years’ version, but last year’s had more power play goals at this point, owing to a 13-opportunity advantage.  Go from category to category, and this year’s club does not compare well to last year’s.

In the end…

We are getting past the “but COVID” category of explanations for poor performance by the Caps.  The loss to the Rangers at home is the kind that can end up sinking the team over the long haul because frankly, the Caps had no business losing to that team and ended up leaving two points on the table they might need in a few months.  There was just too little on which to hang one’s hat to pronounce this an acceptable week, let alone a good one.  And it represents an opportunity lost because starting I Week 7, the Caps’ next 11 games include four against the Devils (a team with a better points percentage than the Caps), two with Pittsburgh, two with Boston, and three against Philadelphia.  Now the hard part begins.

Three Stars:

  • First Star: Lars Eller (1-2-3, plus-1, 56.5 faceoff winning percentage, 2:20 per game on power plays, 2:14 per game penalty killing, three takeaways, recorded 300th career point in NHL)
  • Second Star: Conor Sheary (2-0-2, plus-2, 64.1 percent shot attempts-for on-ice percentage (best on team))
  • Third Star: Nick Jensen (0-2-2, plus-2, 10 shots on goal, six hits, one even strength goal against scored (tied for fewest on team)