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)