There might not be “throw away” weeks over the course of an NHL season, but there might be weeks one is tempted to throw away. Week 29 for the Washington Capitals might be a candidate for the dumpster. It was a team-wide, full range of categories meltdown that has the Caps limping into the postseason with the availability of their best player to start the playoffs uncertain.
Record (0-3-1 / 44-26-12 (4th Metropolitan Division/Second Wild-Card))
Week 29 was the sixth winless week of the season and arguably the worst of the six. The Caps did manage to squeeze a point out of it, but even that was weak. They gagged on a 3-1 lead with less than ten minutes in the opening game of the week against Toronto, watched as the Maple Leafs scored twice – the latter goal with less than a minute left in regulation – to tie the game, then lost in a Gimmick in the seventh round. And, as if to add injury to insult, the Caps lost Alex Ovechkin to an upper body injury in the third period. The Caps followed that up with three regulation losses – two by three-or-more-goal margins to the New York Islanders in a home-and-home set and a 3-2 loss to the New York Rangers in the regular season finale, played without Ovechkin or Nicklas Backstrom.
Offense: 1.75 / game (season: 3.29 / 10th)
The Caps spread their offense around well in Week 29, 12 players accounting for points. But that spread was as thin as a crepe, no Capital posting more than two points. Seven players managed to record a pair of points – T.J. Oshie, Marcus Johansson, Conor Sheary, and Anthony Mantha among the forwards; John Carlson, Justin Schultz, and Martin Fehervary among the defensemen. The seven goals for the week were shared among seven players – Oshie, Johansson, Carlson, Schultz, Sheary, Lars Eller, and Axel Jonsson-Fiallby.
Mantha and Trevor van Riemsdyk were on ice for four of the six even strength goals the Caps scored for the week, two of 15 skaters who were on ice for at least one even strength goal. Three Capitals recorded ten or more shots on goal for the week – John Carlson (16), Evgeny Kuznetsov, and Tom Wilson (ten apiece). Mantha had a good week in on-ice shot differential at 5-on-5, going plus-41 for the week. Connor McMichael was a disturbing minus-11, worst on the team for the week despite playing in only two games. John Carlson was on ice for the most shot attempts at fives (78), Johan Larsson for the fewest among skaters playing in all four games (39).
Defense: 3.75 / game (season: 2.95 / T-12th)
It was a poor week on defense, but not as bad as an 0-3-1 record would suggest. The Caps allowed only 28.8 shots per game, seventh-fewest in the league for the week and third-fewest among teams playing four games. They held the Islanders to 26 shots on goal in each game of the home-and-home set, bring the total of games holding opponents to fewer than 30 shots to 45 for the season. They also held the four opponents to 41 or fewer shot attempts at 5-on-5. The 150 total shot attempts allowed at 5-on-5 for the week were the fewest in the league, regardless of the number of the games played.
The Caps did manage to have every skater on ice for at least one even strength goal against, though. T.J. Oshie, Marcus Johansson, and Dmitry Orlov were on ice for the fewest goals at evens among those Caps appearing in all four games (one apiece). Nick Jensen, Martin Fehervary, and Evgeny Kuznetsov were on ice for the most (four apiece). Anthony Mantha had the best goal differential at even strength (plus-2), Kuznetsov and Fehervary the worst (minus-3).
Goaltending: 3.72 / .870 (season: 2.81 / .902 / 8 shutouts)
Do either of these goalies want the job as number one netminder? You would not know it by Week 29 stats. Vitek Vanecek was 0-1-1, 3.86, .857 for the week, and Ilya Samsonov was 0-2-0, 3.57, .881. Both had save percentages under .800 in the third periods of games, Vanecek stopping 17 of 22 third period shots (.773) and Samsonov stopping 14 of 18 third period shots (.778).
This is part of a disturbing trend concerning both goalies. In 15 games since March 8th, Vanecek has a save percentage of .887, 56th of 66 goalies appearing in at least five games over that period. His even strength save percentage of .893 ranks 55th in that group of 66 goalies. In his last 15 games, since February 24th, Samsonov has a save percentage of .874, 64th of 68 goalies appearing in five or more games over that span. His save percentage at even strength over that span is .873, 66th among those 68 goalies. If stopping the puck is the main job, and you have numbers like this, your team is in a bad place.
Power Play: 1-for-18 / 5.6 percent (season: 18.8 percent / 23rd).
Eighteen chances, one power play goal. That’s not anemic, that’s a complete exsanguination (look it up). It was the most power play chances awarded to the Caps in any week this season and the worst performance among the five weeks in which they had more than ten power play chances. Only Minnesota had more chances for the week (20 in four games), and only New Jersey was less efficient among teams playing in four games (0-for-7/0.0 percent).
The Caps did manage to spread the shots around, ten skaters recording at least one with Evgeny Kuznetsov posting four of them to lead the team. But it was John Carlson who recorded the only goal with a man advantage, that one giving the Caps a 2-1 lead against the Rangers that they could not hold in the 3-2 loss. Carlson and Kuznetsov led the team in total power play ice time for the week (22:58 and 22:57, respectively). Oshie was the other Capital with more than 20 minutes of power play ice time (20:13).
Penalty Killing: 6-for-11 / 54.5 percent (season: 80.4 percent / 12th)
It was not as bad as the power play, but the penalty kill left a lot to be desired, nonetheless. It was the worst penalty kill in the league for the week. It was the second-worst power play week for the Caps this season (they were 2-for-6/33.3 percent in Week 17). The strangest fact in a strange week for the penalty kill is that all five power play goals against were scored by the Islanders in seven total opportunities.
Eleven different Caps were on ice for power play goals against, John Carlson and Martin Fehervary being on ice for the most power play goals against (three apiece). It was a bit odd that they would lead the team here, since they ranked just third and fourth among defensemen in penalty kill ice time. Nick Jensen and Trevor van Riemsdyk led the team with 2:13 and 2:11 per game, respectively, the only skaters to average more than two minutes per game killing penalties.
Faceoffs: 89-for-220 / 40.5 percent (season: 47.1 percent / 30th)
Well, why not? In a week in which almost every statistical category was a disaster, faceoff performance just keeps on being a disaster in week-to-week motion. They did win more than 50 percent of their draws in one game for the week, going 25-for-48 (52.1 percent) in the first of two games against the Islanders for the week. But that just made the rest of the week look that much worse, the Caps failing to hit the 40 percent win mark in any of the other three games.
The Caps were consistently bad by zone, topping 40 percent only in the offensive end for the week (43.4 percent). Six players took at least ten draws, and only one of them finished the week over 50 percent. Unsurprisingly, that was Nic Dowd who has been the most consistent performer for the Caps in the circle this season (25-for-48/52.1 percent). Three of those six players finished under 40 percent – Evgeny Kuznetsov (33.9 percent), T.J. Oshie, and Connor McMichael (both at 35.7 percent). Dowd was the only one of the six to finish the week at 50 percent or better in all three zones.
Goals by Period:
There is only one number that matters here: “nine.” As in nine third period goals allowed in four games. Two to Toronto to open the week, three in the first game against the Islanders, three in the second game against the Isles, and one in the game against the Rangers to end the week.
In the end…
It is one thing to play meaningless games to run out the regular season string when you have a playoff spot locked up, but Week 29 went past that. The injury to Ovechkin laid bare a team that just seemed to lack any sense of focus or attention to preparation for the postseason ahead. One cannot depend on flipping a switch on the intensity lamp when the playoffs start after such a weak finish, but it is what the Caps are left with having to do after a week that was just plain bad.
Really? Stars? You see any stars here this week??