The Washington Capitals limped into the all-star break, figuratively and literally (well, perhaps not literally, but you get the point), with yet another week that seemed like meandering in the desert. Capitals Nation will hope that the All-Star Game break coming at the end of Week 17 will give the team a chance to regain their health and allow them to recharge for the sprint to the regular season finish.
That makes five weeks and counting. Five weeks without a winning record. Not since Week 12, when the Caps went 2-0-0, have they enjoyed a winning record. Over those five non-winning weeks, the Caps are 5-7-2, three of the wins coming in extra time, the other two, oddly enough, being shutouts (2-0 over the New York Islanders and 5-0 over the Dallas Stars). The most satisfying part of the week might have been the 4-3 overtime win over the Penguins in Pittsburgh that, in addition to being a victory over the Caps’ bitter rival, was Washington’s third win in four road games. On the other hand, the 5-3 loss to Edmonton to close the week was the Caps’ third straight loss on home ice and with a 2-5-1 record on home ice in 2022. The Caps have not won a home game in regulation yet in the new year.
Seven goals in two games is not a bad week, especially when the team’s leading scorer missed the second game of the week to COVID concerns. Six Capitals shared in the seven goals scored, defenseman Dmitry Orlov the only Cap with two, both against Pittsburgh to open the week, including the game-winning overtime goal to beat the Penguins last Tuesday.
Four Capitals finished the week with a pair of points – Orlov (2-0-2), Evgeny Kuznetsov (1-1-2), Conor Sheary (1-1-2), and Justin Schultz (0-2-2). It is a bit odd that of the three, only Orlov finished the week with a positive plus-minus rating (plus-1). Odder still is the fact that only two of 20 skaters to dress for the week finished with a minus rating – Kuznetsov (minus-1) and John Carlson (minus-1). Why that was so we will get to below.
Offense on home ice seems to have dried up, too. The Caps have not scored more than three goals in regulation on home ice since the new year began and have a total of 19 goals in their last eight games at Capital One Arena (2.38 per game). Their offense on the road has not been much better, the Caps posting more than three goals in regulation once (the 5-0 win in Dallas on January 28th) in their last seven road games and averaging 2.86 goals per game in those last seven road games.
Defense: 4.00 / game (season: 2.72 / T-10th)
There just seems to be something about games against Pittsburgh. The game last Tuesday in which the Caps allowed 47 shots on goal to the Penguins was the 24th time in 70 regular season games since 2005-2006 that the Caps allowed Pittsburgh at least 35 shots on goal and the seventh time they allowed more than 40 shots. Perhaps stranger, the win against the Pens pushed the Caps to a 10-8-6 record against Pittsburgh when allowing 35 or more shots since 2005-2006 and 3-1-1 this season against all teams when allowing 35 or more shots. In contrast, the Caps allowed Edmonton only 27 shots in a 5-3 loss to end the week. It was only the fifth time this season that the Caps lost a game in regulation when allowing fewer than 30 shots.
It was a difficult week for the Caps at 5-on-5 in another respect. The 110 shot attempts allowed at fives were fourth-most among the 21 teams to play two games in Week 17. The two games this week were the 11th and 12th times this season that the Caps allowed 50 or more shot attempts in a game (58 to Pittsburgh and 52 to Edmonton). They are 4-5-3 in games when allowing 50 or more shot attempts at 5-on-5. Two of the four wins came in extra time.
On an individual level it was not a bad week for the Caps in that only one Capial had a negative goal differential at even strength (Nick Jensen at minus-1), and no Capital was on ice for more than two even strength goals against. Then again, the Caps allowed only two goals at 5-on-5 for the week.
Goaltending: 3.41 / 904. (season: 2.55 / .910 / 6 shutouts)
Two games, three goalies, one mediocre week in goal. Ilya Samsonov, Vitek Vanecek, and Pheonix Copley all took minutes in the nets, and in what could only be considered a troublesome (if not ominous) result, it was Copley who shined, stopping 21 of 22 shots in 54 minutes of work in relief of Samsonov in the Caps’ 5-3 loss to Edmonton. Samsonov might have been the goalie that shined, based on his 43 saves on 45 shots in relief of Vitek Vanecek in the Caps’ 4-3 overtime win over Pittsburgh in the first game of the week. But against Edmonton, he allowed three goals on four shots in five minutes, and his evening was done, leaving him with a .898 save percentage for the week. It was Vanecek, though, who had the worst week, but not because of anything he did. He started the game against Pittsburgh and lasted less than seven minutes, retiring to the locker room after a collision in the crease with the Pens’ Kasperi Kapanen, after allowing one goal on two shots faced. It was a mess of a week for Caps goaltending, and in light of the results, the best that might be said of it is, “it could have been worse.”
Power Play: 1-for-5 / 20.0 percent (season: 15.3 percent / 28th).
A third straight 20.0 percent week – not more, not less. It is the longest string of 20 percent weeks the Caps have put together this season (they had consecutive 25.0 percent weeks in Weeks 6 and 7). The 2.50 opportunities per game did not impress, although one of the games was against the Penguins, who have faced the fewest shorthanded situations per game in the league (2.43). They had only two against the Penguins, but they did convert on one of them, courtesy of Dmitry Orlov. Conor Sheary and Justin Schultz assisted on the goal that, in its own perverted way, was another example of the impotence of the Caps’ power play, whose first unit has had persistent troubles over the last several weeks.
And then there was the problem against Edmonton that left the Caps with a net power play of 0.0 percent for the week. Thay would be, of course, the shorthanded goal scored by the Edmonton Oilers with less than five minutes in regulation time that proved to be the game-winning goal for the Oilers in their 5-3 win. It was the sixth shorthanded goal allowed by the Caps this season, tied for third most in the league at week’s end. Four of those shorties have been given up on home ice, second most in the league.
It was ugly. Three power play goals allowed in five chances to the Penguins. It was the only reason that game made it to an extra session. It was the second time this season that the Caps allowed three power play goals, the other coming in a 5-4 loss to Chicago on December 15th. Both games went to overtime. The Caps finished the week as one of seven teams this season to allow three or more power play goals I two or more games.
Then as if the penalty kill against Pittsburgh was not bad enough, the Caps faced just one shorthanded situation against Edmonton and, yes, allowed a goal.
How bad was the Caps’ penalty kill for the week? They were the only team to finish under 50 percent.
They finally hit bottom in this category. Despite finishing over 50 percent for the week (50.4 percent, 14th in the league for the week), the Caps now rank 32nd of 32 teams in faceoff winning percentage. Their 46.3 percent overall winning percentage is second worst in franchise history in the 24 seasons the NHL has statistics (the 2018-2019 team was 45.7 percent).
As for Week 17, the overall results are deceiving. The Caps were a very good 57.4 percent in the defensive zone, but they were just 45.0 percent in the offensive zone and took fewer offensive zone draws (40) than defensive zone draws (47). When the results of the neutral zone are added (47.1 percent, one win under 50 percent), it made for an overall middle-of-the-road week.
Individually, the inconsistency by zone was evident, but in different ways. There was Nicklas Backstrom, who was 68.4 percent in the offensive zone but only 44.4 percent in the defensive end. Evgeny Kuznetsov was just 26.7 percent in the offensive zone but 57.1 percent in the defensive zone (with oly seven defensive zone draws). And Nic Dowd took only two offensive zone faceoffs for the week, losing both, but taking 21 draws in the defensive end to a 71.4 percent winning percentage.
First periods put the Caps behind the eight ball, allowing two first period goals to the Penguins and three more to Edmonton. As a result, the Caps did not take a lead into the first intermission in either game – tied with Pittsburgh and down a goal to Edmonton. The fought the last 40 minutes to a draw for the week, but their early struggles doomed them to a mediocre week.
The odd thing at week’s end for the Caps in this category is that they rank ninth in the league in each of the three regulation periods in goals scored. On the other hand, while the Caps are a top-ten team in fewest goals allowed in the first periods (32/tied for fifth) and third periods (37/tied for third), they have allowed 52 second period goals, 26th in fewest goals allowed.
Once again, the Caps have traded wins for extra time losses – five fewer of the former, five more of the latter – to rest five points behind last year’s squad. The scoring has moved in parallel, 11 fewer goals scored this season and 11 fewer allowed compared to last year. Still, the Caps are a net 165 shots ahead of last season, primarily a product of more shots on goal. Special teams are lagging compared to last year still, but at least the number of shorthanded situations faced has dropped.
Every team can use the break that the All-Star Game weekend provides, but the Caps might benefit more from it than most teams. This team has had the look of running on fumes for the last several weeks, and then they lost their leading goal scorer and point producer, not to mention their most dangerous power play weapon, to COVID. It is uncertain when Alex Ovechkin will return to the lineup, and the team is still looking to have a healthy second line when T.J. Oshie and Anthony Mantha return, hopefully sooner rather than later. The Caps are in no immediate danger of having to fight for a playoff spot, but they need to up their game if they are going to inspire any confidence that they will have a deep playoff run. Week 17 did not provide that kind of confidence.
- First Star: Dmitry Orlov (2-0-2, plus-1, four shots on goal (50.0 percent shooting), one power play goal (only one of the week for the Caps), one OT/GWG, seven shot attempts, three credited hits, six blocked shots)
- Second Star: Evgeny Kuznetsov (1-1-2, minus-1, two even strength points (only Capital with more than one), ten shots on goal (led team), 14 shot attempts, 19:51 average ice time (second among forwards)
- Third Star: Pheonix Copley (0-1-0, 1.11, .955)