The Washington Capitals suffered one of their worst weeks in recent memory, failing to win a game and performing poorly almost across the board in the top-end statistical categories. It was a gloomy prelude to Thanksgiving week and an indicator that not only are the injuries this team has suffered continue to bite, but that the performance generally has deteriorated over recent weeks.
It is hard to find an adjective that encompasses Week 6 for the Caps. Poor, ghastly, abysmal? We really don’t want to hear “unacceptable,” because it is one of the most over-used and abused terms applied to a team suffering misfortune. But this week was close. Each of the three regulation losses were by three or more goals, and the Caps might have suffered a fourth if St. Louis didn’t collapse in the last five minutes, giving up a two-goal lead to allow the Caps to force extra time. It has been a long time since the Capitals found themselves ranked 24th in the league in points (17) and 25th in points percentage (.425), but that is the hole from which the team must dig itself to get back into playoff contention.
Offense: 2.25/game (season: 2.75 / 26th)
John Carlson is a talented offensive defenseman, one of the best in this era of hockey, but if he is your leading goal scorer (three) and point producer (four) for the week, you have problems on offense. And when it is Conor Sheary, a feisty sort, whose best features are effort and versatility more than pure offensive skill, who is second in goals scored (two), the problems accumulate. Four other Capitals added one goal apiece. Noteworthy among the Caps who did not were Evgeny Kuznetsov and Anthony Mantha, from whom more and more consistent contributions are vital to this club. Of the 20 skaters who played in Week 6, 14 recorded at least one point, Dylan Strome and Alex Ovechkin adding three apiece to the four posted by Carlson. As if to top off the misery, though, it was Matt Irwin, who did not record a point, who had the best rating for the week (plus-2). Fifteen Caps were on the minus side of the ledger.
Defense: 4.75 / game (season: 3.25 / 18th)
The Caps did play three teams who finished the week in the top-11 in scoring offense in the league (Tampa Bay/10th, Florida/11th, and Colorado/sixth), but allowing 4.75 goals per game, and four to the 22nd-ranked offense in the league (St. Louis) just will not cut it. It was not as if the Caps allowed a ton of shots, although they were all over the place with that statistic (a high of 43 shots allowed against Florida and a low of 24 against St. Louis). And only against Tampa Bay did they allow more shot attempts at 5-on-5 than they had on offense. In fact, the 27 shot attempts (not shots, shot attempts) at fives against St. Louis was a season low. But this was a week that was generically bad in an important sense. No Capital forward who played in more than two games finished the week with a positive goal differential at even strength (Connor McMichael was plus-1 in two games).
Goaltending: 4.26 / .868 (season: 2.91 / .907 / 1 shutout)
Whether it was the defense giving up too many quality chances, the goalies being off their game, or a combination of both, the goaltending numbers were entirely forgettable. The big problem was an inability to stop puck early in games, at least consistently. Cas in point, Darcy Kuemper. He allowed four goals on nine shots in the first period against Tampa Bay before being relieved by Charlie Lindgren in a 6-3 loss, but then he stopped 21 of 22 first period shots against Florida in his next game. Kuemper wrapped up his week stopping seven of eight first period shots in the 4-0 loss to Colorado to end Week 6. Uneven would be perhaps the best way to describe his first periods. Add Lindgren’s four saves on seven shots effort in the first period against St. Louis, and it made for a difficult week of first period goaltending – 37 saves on 46 shots (.804 save percentage). A .925 save percentage in the second periods of games could not make up for the first period woes, and a .868 save percentage in the third periods of games guaranteed an unsuccessful week in goal and in the win column.
Power Play: 1-for-16 / 6.3 percent (season: 18.9 percent / 24th)
Do the Caps miss Nicklas Backstrom and T.J. Oshie that much on the power play? Well, they are out, and there is only the glimmer of when either might return, so it is what it is. And what the power play is, is awful, not “full of awe.” The Caps ended the week ranked 24th in the league and sinking like a stone. John Carlson had the only power play goal for the week, a week that is the worst week of the season, efficiency-wise. It was especially discouraging given that the previous two weeks saw the Caps top 23 percent in power play efficiency. Evgeny Kuznetsov had an especially frustrating week on the man advantage, failing to convert any of his team-high eight power play shots on goal. It is also worth noting that the usual trigger man on the power play, Alex Ovechkin, finished fourth for the week in power play shots per 60 minutes, recording only four shots in four games.
Penalty Killing 7-for-12 / 58.3 percent (season: percent 78.3 / 15th)
Inconsistency from week to week has been the most obvious feature of the Caps’ penalty kill this season, alternating good weeks (perfect weeks in Weeks 3 and 5) with poor ones (50.0 percent in Week 2 and 78.6 percent in Week 4). Week 6 extended the misfortune of even-numbered weeks with a sub-60 percent performance. That the Caps endured 3.00 shorthanded situations per game, tied for sixth-fewest in the league for the week, was a blessing. The allowance of power play goals has become a problem. The Caps have been unable to dig out from underneath the difficulties they create, posting a 1-7-3 record in the 11 games this season when they allowed a power play goal, including 0-3-1 this week, allowing at least one power play goal in each of the four games.
Faceoffs: 124-for-246 / 50.4 percent (percent 46.8 / 26th)
Well, they were over 50 percent on faceoffs. And here there was another indicator of frustration for the Caps. Washington took 34 more draws in the offensive zone – more than eight per game – than they did in the defensive zone. One would think that territorial advantage would have led to more success. But the Caps won just 46.2 percent of the 104 offensive draws they took. Dylan Strome struggled quite a bit in the offensive zone, winning only 12 of 34 draws 35.3 percent. Overall, of the four Caps taking at least ten faceoffs, all but Strome finished at 50 percent or better.
Goals by Period
Zero. None. Not one. Not a single first period goal in four games for the week. By the time the week was over, only Arizona had fewer first period goals (eight) for the season than the Caps (nine). Only seven times in 20 games have the Caps posted at least one first period goal (they are 4-2-1 in those games). They have one first period goal in three of their last 13 games. Small wonder, then, that the Caps have taken a lead into the first intermission only four times in 20 games through six weeks (2-2-0 record). Allowing nine goals in the first periods of games in Week 6 set in stone a poor week, record-wise. There was too much having to come from behind in a league where that sort of thing is difficult.
The recent struggles of the Caps make this comparison hard to look at. This year’s edition of the team pales in comparison to last year’s in far more categories than those in which they improved. The power play is up marginally this year over last, as are faceoffs. The Caps are the rare team this season that has more credited takeaways than giveaways. But other than that, this team trails last year’s almost across the board, in many cases significantly, and is falling further and further behind. It is not a good sign that the deterioration in performance is so broad and jeopardizes their playoff chances considerably.
In the end...
It ain’t good. Week 6 might have been the worst of the season, and just 20 games into it this team looks gassed and listless on too many nights. The players asked to fill in and step up for those who are injured have not filled the gaps adequately, but it is not as if there are any healthy players who are in danger of having career-defining seasons at the moment. The team doesn’t seem to have an answer for what ails them, and it is not clear that even the return of Nicklas Backstrom, Tom Wilson, and T.J. Oshie can raise the performance level of the team to make it a strong contender. They are starting to lose touch with the division leaders, the Caps now five points behind the fourth-place New York Rangers in the Metropolitan Division with the Rangers holding a game in hand. The Caps need a winning streak – a long one – to get them back in the chase, but right now, they give few signs of running off the sort of streak they need. That has to change. Quickly.
- First Star: John Carlson (3-1-4, minus-4, played in his 900th career game, one power play goal, 19 shots on goal, 34 shot attempts, 25:00 in ice time per game)
- Second Star: Alex Ovechkin (1-2-3, minus-2, 17 shots on goal 29 shot attempts, 22:58 in ice time per game)
- Third Star: Conor Sheary (2-0-2, minus-2, nine shots on goal, 14 shot attempts, four takeaways/one giveaway)
PROGRAMMING NOTE... We will be off for the remainder of this week. We hope you and yours have a happy and safe Thanksgiving!