When Week 17 began, the Caps controller their own destiny with respect to the East Division. Win out, and they would win the division. Even when the Caps lost to the Flyers in the first game of their two-game set on Friday, the Caps still remained in control, but by a razor thin margin. They had to win their last two games in regulation, which would give them 30 wins in regulation, one more than the Pittsburgh Penguins, who ended their season on Saturday night with a 1-0 win over the Buffalo Sabres, their 29th win in regulation for the season. But when the rematch against the Flyers went to overtime, the Caps’ chances to win the division vanished. While the Caps could tie the Penguins in regulation wins with a victory over Boston in their season finale on Tuesday, the Caps would lose the battle based on regulation-plus-overtime wins, 34-33.
Nevertheless, given the circumstances of Week 17, it was a very successful week. Consider that by the time Lars Eller potted the goal in overtime to give the Caps a 2-1 overtime win over the Flyers, the Caps were missing Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, John Carlson, Evgeny Kuznetsov, and Oshie. That is 80 of the 186 goals scored by the Caps through Week 17 (43.0 percent). And yet, they managed three wins, their sixth week in 13 in which they played three of more games that they won three or more games.
The week, while successful, did not keep the Caps from stumbling to the finish. While the Caps were tied with six other teams with three wins to lead the league for the week, they are 12-7-1 since April 1st, and while that is a good record, it is tied with Tampa Bay for 11th-best in the league (by points percentage).
Offense: 3.50/game (season: 3.38 / 4th)
The Caps had eight players share in the ten goals for the week, led by T.J. Oshie with four, despite his missing the first game of the week and the last 24:13 of the game due to a lower-body injury suffered in the last game of the week. His team-leading goal production was a product of his hat trick against the Rangers in the second game of the week, the fourth hat trick of his career and second with the Caps. Nic Dowd, Daniel Sprong, and Conor Sheary each had a pair of goals for the Caps. Each of them had a game-winning goal for the week, the power of the unsung stepping up.
It was shared success for the Caps as far as points were concerned, 17 of the 21 skaters appearing in Week 17 recording points. Oshie, Dowd, and Dmitry Orlov led the club with four points apiece, while an additional 11 posted two points. Zdeno Chara was the only Capital appearing in all four games who did not register a point.
With Alex Ovechkin out of the lineup with a lower-body injury for all but 39 seconds of ice time for the week, the shots on goal were spread around a lot more. Six Caps recorded ten or more shots on goal, led by Sheary with 16. Even Trevor Riemsdyk had ten shots on goal. His seven shots on goal against the Flyers to end the week were a career high in shots on goal for a single game. Of the six Caps recording ten or more shots, Anthony Mantha (12) and John Carlson (10) were the only ones not to score a goal. Mantha has not had a goal on 23 shots in nine games since he opened his career the Caps with goals in each of his first four games.
Defense: 2.50/game (season: 2.91 / 18th)
The Caps did a good job in limiting shots on goal for the week, holding the Rangers and Flyers to an average of 26.3 shots per game over the four games, eighth-lowest average for the week. The Rangers have not been the most prolific shooters over the course of the season (28.7 shots per game/25th in the league), but the Flyers are a top-ten team in that category (30.2 shots per game/tenth).
The Caps also did a respectable job in limiting shot attempts, allowing 136 shot attempts-for at 5-on-5, eighth-fewest in the league and second-fewest among teams playing four games (Boston: 122).
In terms of scoring, the Zdeno Chara/Nick Jensen pair struggled at even strength, Chara on ice for six of the seven goals scored against and Jensen on ice for five of them. Brenden Dillon was the only Capital appearing in all four games who was not on ice for a goal scored at 5-on-5.
Goaltending: 2.25 / .913 (season: 2.70 / .905 / 4 shutouts)
For the most part, it was Vitek Vanecek’s net in Week 17, Ilya Samsonov being suspended for unspecified reasons (late for a team function was the explanation) and then going on the COVID-protocol list. Vanecek had a 2-1-0 week, a decent one for wins and losses, but his .893 save percentage left something to be desired. It was the second periods of games that did him in with 21 saves on 25 second period shots face (.840 save percentage). He also struggled at even strength, his .873 save percentage at evens ranking 48th of 65 goalies to appear in Week 17.
With the Caps playing back-to-back games against the Flyers to end the week, Craig Anderson got the nod in the Saturday game, his second start for the Caps this season and first since February 21st. Anderson won his second game in as many starts, stopping 28 of 29 shots in the overtime win over the Flyers. It was Anderson’s 291st career win, good for tenth place among active goaltenders.
Power Play: 2-for-15 / 15.3 percent (season: 25.0% percent / 3rd)
Missing Ovechkin and having Carlson in and out the lineup was one thing in terms of its effect on the power play, but by the end of the week, the Caps were missing Ovechkin, Carlson, Nicklas Backstrom, Evgeny Kuznetsov, and T.J. Oshie – the Caps’ first power play unit. In the week-ending game against the Flyers, Justin Schultz (5:21 in ice time), Dmitry Orlov (2:50), Daniel Sprong (3:11), Lars Eller (2:38), Anthony Mantha (5:08), Tom Wilson (5:01), and Conor Sheary (2:59) logged at least two minutes of power play ice time. Even with the Caps scoring both power play goals (both by T.J. Oshie) on seven opportunities in a penalty fest in New York in the second game of the week, it was hardly a surprise that the Caps had an off-week on the power play.
It was hard enough to go through a 2-for-15 week with the man advantage, but the Caps scored those two goals on 30 shots (6.7 percent shooting) over 26:59 in power play ice time. Anthony Mantha led the team with five power play shots on goal, while Justin Schultz, Dmitry Orlov, and Lars Eller each had four.
Penalty Killing: 9-for-10 / 90.0 percent (season: 83.9 percent / 5th)
It was a better week on the other side of special teams, where the Caps finished at or above 90 percent for the seventh week this season. Over the last two weeks they are 17-for-18 (94.4 percent). Holding teams to 2.5 chances per game was a good thing, as was killing of the last eight shorthanded situations, including 27 seconds of a 5-on-3 Ranger power play in the second game of the week. The Caps did it by limiting the shot total to 17 over 17:45 in shorthanded ice time.
Faceoffs: 111-for-221 / 50.2 percent (season: 49.0 percent / 23rd)
Week 17 was basically a break even week for the Caps overall, but there was a vast difference in their performance in the ends. In the offensive end, the Caps won just 34 of 84 draws (40.5 percent). Lars Eller in particular had a devil of a time, winning just six of 31 offensive zone draws (19.4 percent). The was the difference between the 40.5 percent result and a 50 percent outcome, had Eller managed to win half of his draws.
In the defensive end, the Caps did much better overall, winning 40 of 69 faceoffs (58.0 percent), with every Capital taking at least one draw finishing over 54 percent.
Of those Caps taking at least ten faceoffs overall, Nic Dowd (61.0 percent) and Nicklas Backstrom (58.3 percent) had very good weeks, while Eller (40.7 percent) and T.J. Oshie (45.0 percent) finished underwater.
Goals by Period:
The Caps won each period and overtime by the slimmest of margins – one goal in each – which shows how thin the margins are in games in the NHL. At the end of the week, the Caps were a top-five team in both first period goals scored (55/fourth in the league) and second period goals scored (77/first), but they still lagged in third period goals scored (50/tied for 23rd). They were a decent club in first period goals allowed (42/tied for 11th), but they still showed a need for improvement in second period goals allowed (55/tied for 20th) and third period goals allowed (60/22nd).
This year’s overall record (35-15-5) is almost identical to last year’s through 55 games (36-14-5), but this year’s team is a lower event volume club in scoring, both goals for and against), shots (both for and against), shot attempts at 5-on-5 (again, both for and against), faceoffs (again, for and against). They remain a somewhat more disciplined team, with almost a third fewer giveaways and more than 13 percent fewer penalties taken. This team is, with some game-to-game exceptions, a tighter team than last year’s club with respect to event volumes, good and bad.
In the end…
Week 17 had everything for the casual and the rabid Capitals fan. Scoring, line brawls, inspirational efforts, players stepping up in the face of adversity, grit, and determination. What it did not have was star wattage with the absences of so many gifted offensive players due to injury. That is what Week 18 is going to be about – getting healthy and whole. Having clinched second place in the East Division and with just one game left on the schedule, there should be opportunity for that. Just hope that no one else falls to the injury bug.
- First Star: T.J. Oshie (4-0-4, even, two power play goals, eight shots on goal, 12 shot attempts, playing under the most difficult of circumstances)
- Second Star: Nic Dowd (2-2-4, plus-2, one game-winning goal, eight shots on goal, 11 shot attempts, 61.0 on faceoffs, nine credited hits (second on team for the week), four takeaways (led team), 2:06 in shorthanded ice time per game (led Caps forwards))
- Third Star: Conor Sheary (2-0-2, plus-1, overtime/game winning goal, 16 shots on goal (led team), 20 shot attempts)