Week 1 Snapshot: Even-Strength Anxiety

Bill Smith

Photo: Bill Smith

There are lots of great statistical resources out there, but few of them allow you to see how players progress during the course of a season. To get a better idea of how individual Caps players are doing, I’ll be taking a snapshot of player stats each Sunday.

The data I’m using are all from even strength when the score is close, typically the circumstance that best predicts future success. Most of the stats I’ve selected are on-ice, not just individual performance. You’ll see how the ice tilts judging by unblocked shot attempts (I’ll call it SA%, but some call it Fenwick), actual score outcomes based on goal differential, and shooting/saving percentages to see who is overperforming or not (a la PDO). I’ve also included zone starts, which will tell you if the player is starting lots of favorable shifts near the opponent’s net.

I’ll highlight some cells in peachpuff pink if I think they’re interesting. Discussion and observations are below the tables.

As the season moves on and the sample size grows, the numbers will gain fidelity and may indicate how players and the team are trending. The sample is woefully insufficient right now, but it’s a good way to kick off conversation on what we’re all thinking about: how the Caps are doing at evens.  (Hint: not good.)


Player Pos GP TOI GF GA SA% Sh% Sv% PDO ZS%
Brooks Laich C 3 24.7 0 1 48.6% 0% 92.3% 92.3 41.2%
Jay Beagle C 2 7.6 0 1 27.3% 0% 80.0% 80.0 62.5%
Marcus Johansson C 3 29.8 0 0 42.1% 0% 100% 100.0 57.9%
Mikhail Grabovski C 3 27.7 1 0 51.3% 7.1% 100% 107.1 42.4%
Nicklas Backstrom C 3 29.9 0 0 40.5% 0% 100% 100 66.7%
Alex Ovechkin L 3 31.6 0 0 42.1% 0% 100% 100 56.5%
Jason Chimera L 3 25.4 1 4 32.3% 12.5% 75% 87.5 40.0%
Eric Fehr R 3 24.9 0 5 35.5% 0% 66.7% 66.7 47.1%
Joel Ward R 3 23.6 1 4 44.4% 10% 63.6% 63.6 43.8%
Martin Erat R 3 14.4 0 1 50% 0% 83.3% 83.3 53.8%
Tom Wilson R 3 13.6 0 0 50% 0% 100% 100 54.5%
Troy Brouwer R 3 25.7 0 2 42.5% 0% 87.5% 87.5 43.8%


Player Pos GP TOI GF GA SA% Sh% Sv% PDO ZS%
Connor Carrick D 3 23.3 1 2 35.1% 11.1% 88.9% 100 61.9%
Jack Hillen D 2 13.3 0 2 40.9% 0% 81.8% 81.8 62.5%
John Carlson D 3 34 0 1 51.2% 0% 92.9% 92.9 51.6%
John Erskine C 3 34 0 2 53.3% 0% 85.7% 85.7 36.8%
Karl Alzner D 3 35.8 0 2 39% 0% 90% 90 47.4%
Mike Green D 3 37.9 1 2 43.1% 5.3% 91.3% 96.6 46.2%
Steve Oleksy D 1 10.8 0 1 21.4% 0% 80.0% 80.0 42.9%


  • Remember: these data come from even-strength only (no power plays or penalty kills) while the score is close (to exclude the effects of protecting a lead). It is too early to make predictions or draw strong conclusions from this data. For example, at even strength when the score is close, Jay Beagle has been on ice for just 11 unblocked shot attempts in either direction: a very tiny sample. Think of this as a starting point; the data will mature over the coming weeks.
  • Ice time, on the other hand, is the result of Adam Oates‘ coaching decisions and I think we can get some wisdom from it. So far, we can see that Tom Wilson is not getting played enough to justify his roster slot (barely over 6 minutes per game, under 5 in the sample above). Paired with Wilson is Martin Erat, a $4.5M player initially touted as a winger for the second line. We can either trust that Oates is playing Erat on the fourth line temporarily to ease in a rookie player, or we can despair that Erat is being utterly wasted with low ice-time and weaker teammates. Time will tell us which. Either way: Oates is not rolling his lines.
  • It was the power play that allowed the Caps to beat Calgary and keep it close against Chicago and Dallas. These numbers do not describe a good even-strength team at all.
  • Poor Jack Hillen.
  • Eric Fehr got clobbered at even strength this week. He was on the ice five even-strength goals against and none for the Caps. Overall a strong puck-mover, I worry for Fehr when alongside Joel Ward and Jason Chimera, two players whose talents seem redundant. The third line, as currently constructed, doesn’t pose much offensive threat as far as I can tell.
  • Exactly two defenders had favorable even-strength possession when the score was close: John Carlson (duh) and John Erskine (what?!). We kinda knew going into this that the Washington defense was weak, and the data are already bearing that out. I trust these numbers will improve somewhat as the sample grows, but I don’t have an abundance of faith in defensive coach Calle Johansson or the defensive roster (but not you, Karl, John, and Mike; you’re cool).
  • I know it was only one game for Steve Oleksy, but ouch. He and his teammates directed just three unblocked shots at the Dallas net compared to eleven going towards their own– in just a 10-minutes sample.
  • Despite being a shot machine individually (12 shots and 3 misses at 5v5), Alex Ovechkin‘s line has been out-attempted overall. Marcus Johansson has attempted just one shot in a nearly 30-minute sample. The burden is on Johansson to prove he is not a passenger.
  • Bright spot, unsurprisingly: Mikhail Grabovski. No goals against, was on-ice for a unicorn-rare even-strength goal, and he drives possession despite starting most shifts closer to his own team’s net. There’s something to build on.


  • GP: Games played
  • TOI: Time on ice
  • GF: Capitals goals for which the player was on the ice
  • GA: Opponent goals for which the player was on the ice
  • SA%: Percentage of shot attempts (from both teams) that went towards the opponent’s net, excluding blocked shots
  • Sh%: Capitals’ shooting percentage while the player was on the ice
  • Sv%: Capitals’ goalie save percentage while the player was on the ice
  • PDO: The sum of Sh% and Sv%, a number that regresses closely to 100 in larger samples; a proxy for luck, in a sense– i.e. high ≈ lucky
  • ZS%: The share of shifts the player started in the offensive zone, excluding neutral-zone starts; data not limited to close games.
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  • Cheri Hawkins

    I’d consider myself somewhat of a hockey novice (I try to use your website to learn about both the game as well as the Capitals), but doesn’t the solution seem rather clear? If Marcus Johansson can’t hang, and Martin Erat is being underutilized, why hasn’t Adam Oates moved Erat up to the first line?

  • Pat

    Mojo and the Big guns have chemistry. Erat should be to the second-line and the tire changer should be at 3C

  • I mentioned this on twitter and in the last recap, but it bears saying here: there is zone entry data that says Johansson is valuable on the top line. I don’t have that data myself though.

    He still needs to shoot more, but I get how seductive it can be to want to pass to Ovi.

  • Ben Reed

    The preseason was so exciting. The first three games have been…strange. But it’s early and they could just be underperforming. Oates included. Yes, that’s definitely it. I will keep telling myself that.

  • I haaaaaaaaaated the preseason personally, but I agree in principle. It’s totally possible that the next 3 games will be the exact opposite of these three though. We shall see.

  • Freedoooom

    The accuracy of these stats is suspect.

    Backstrom’s ZS% is way different then Ovechkin’s and MoJo’s.

    Oh yeah and it says MoJo only has a shot attempt. When if you pay attention the passenger, carried the puck passed it to Carlson went into the slot and deflected it on goal before Backstrom batted in the rebound, that was of course disallowed.

  • Dabrewski

    OMG! Chimera’s game is gone since the wheels have fallen off the bus….Ward, he should never have arrived here to begin with (yes, he scored a post-season game winner), and Erat was not worth extending another year. But overall, we’ll snap out of this funk and be fine. Just hope those 3 can be shipped here before trade deadline?

  • There’s an outside chance the ZS% is wrong– I’ll double check as soon as my resource is back online. I’m pretty confident in the other columns.

  • Freedoooom

    There’s a lot of major discrepancies specifically on Corsi, between linemates, when we all know the only change in the lineup thus far is Beagle replacing Latta.

    You have Chimera (-17), Fehr(-12), Ward(-6) and then of course the top line MoJo (+12), Backstrom (+8), Ovechkin(+4).

    This is why I’m not a fan of advanced stats, the accuracy is questionable.

  • In a small sample like this, that’s not unexpected. That’s why I’m not really drawing conclusions yet.

    Do consider: with all of the special-teams play, these lines were not carved in stone. Don’t expect the players on each line to be uniform.

    I’m not really following you on the rest. There are certainly accuracy problems with the RTSS data underpinning possession stats, but nothing that invalidates them like you seem to say.

  • SuperOvi819

    He also has 2 even-strength assists.

  • standarsh

    That was the first thing that popped into my head too, but after thinking about it, I tend to agree with Peter and Pat. Probably too early to be drawing conclusions, but I am definitely intrigued by the idea of erat-grabo-brouwer and maybe even fehr-laich-wilson??? Do we think any of fehr’s struggles have to do with the increased defensive responsibilities that come with playing center?

  • Jake

    How about 8-19-90 10-84-20 42-21-16 43-83-25

  • yv

    I’m a little confuse with the table. On my eyes, Ovi has 1 goal (second) at ES vs Flames the rocket shot through 10 flames players. Am I missing something?

  • Jonathan Garcia

    I was just about to post the same thing. That one off the faceoff has been his only ES goal this year.

  • When I did my line-forming exercise a few week back (http://www.russianmachineneverbreaks.com/2013/09/12/divining-the-capitals-lines/#more-52521 ), Erat-Grabo-Brouwer seemed most obvious, though I was cool with Fehrsie too.

    The only way we’d know if Fehr was hurt by switching to center is to isolate him from Ward and Chimera by putting him on a different line as a C. Given how bad they’ve been, it can’t hurt.

  • Great lineup.

  • These data are from 5 on 5 *when the score is close.* When Ovi scored the goal you mention, it was 4-1 Calgary I think (http://www.nhl.com/gamecenter/en/boxscore?id=2013020009 ).

    Limiting the data to when the score is close eliminates lead-protecting defense and crazy-go-nuts offense from polluting the possession stats.

  • SuperOvi819

    Were Carrick’s and Ovi’s ES goals not “when the score is close”? How do you measure that?

  • Precisely.

    It was 3-0 when Carrick scored and 4-1 when Ovi scored.

    Since we’ve only got three games and one week, losing those events hurts the validity of the data now, but it’ll matter less as time goes on.

  • yv

    It sounds subjective definition, the score was 2:4 and after Nicky equalized. In 2009-10 even 3 goals were not a problem for Caps. I remember 1:4 comeback in second playoffs game vs. Habs at home. I think Erat should be L.

  • All valid points. I’m using others’ definitions for close game though, which has been peer reviewed and stuff.

    Yeah, Erat is prolly an L. If there’s any kind of shakeup on the lines, I’ll update it.

  • yv

    see below. The score was 2:4 when Ovi scored. PPG was @1:4.

  • You’re right- thanks

  • Matt

    Erat wasn’t extended, he still had a few years left on his Nashville contract when we traded for him.

  • BJ

    If Erat is a 2nd line scoring winger on the 4th line playing against scrubs, shouldn’t he be dominating?

  • Maybe, but weak teammates and limited ice-time could be prohibiting that from happening.

  • MuzzMuzzington

    I don’t understand why this isn’t our lineup. I love Brooks, but he is more of a defensive forward than a scoring forward.

  • Red

    BTW, this is awesome. Thanks for the effort Peter. I hope this becomes a Thing. Kittens are great and all, but advanced stats is really what will help coping with those though losses (which are sure to come) as well as reveling in the epic wins (which will be bountiful).

  • MuzzMuzzington

    Not necessarily. He has seen very limited ice time, 4th liners are expected to play a safe game and a grindy game typically.

  • MuzzMuzzington

    Do these stats currently back up Mojo playing on the first line? To me it appears as though Mojo is playing much like he did last season, in that he plays alright, but doesn’t appear to raise his game to warrant a 1st line position. I would like to see Erat move up. Shouldn’t be wasting 4.5 mil in cap space for a guy that isn’t going to see any prime playing time.

  • Roman Z.

    Erat? He’s been pretty much invisible during the last three games …

  • Thanks, Red!

    I plan on posting an update each Sunday afternoon, so this will be something like a weekly feature.

    We’ll have kittens too though. Let a hundred flowers bloom here on RMNB.

  • I really believe Erat won’t be on the 4th for long. If he’s there on game 11, I’d be surprised.

    I’d like to see Johansson contribute to the offense, though you could make the argument that Alex Ovechkin takes all the shots on that line and that’s fine. Plus, there’s the argument that Johansson is on that line to enter the zone and then deal the puck away.

  • MuzzMuzzington

    Good point on Mojo, noticed that was all he seemed to do. Perhaps they are keeping Erat there and will be eventually returning Wilson to the minors before the games played limit locks him onto the roster?

  • MuzzMuzzington

    Part of being buried on the 4th line and getting minimal minutes. Being centered by Beagle and Volpatti so far isn’t exactly ideal.

  • Unfortunately, I think it’s either the bigs or juniors for Wilson.

  • Red

    Fancy stats kittens. Let’s make it happen.

  • JoeA

    Look at the PDO for Ward and Fehr! Small sample size blah, blah , blah, but those guys seem to be victims of horrible luck.

  • JoeA

    I know the 3rd line is catching a lot of flack lately, but look at the SV% for when those guys are on the ice. Apparently BH70 and MN30 forgot how to goalie behind that line. The PDO for those 3 is atrocious. Victims of terrible luck?

  • JoeA

    Remember that for the defense, these stats include one game where they had to rotate 5 D due to Hillen’s injury, so the TOI is going to be somewhat skewed.

  • MuzzMuzzington

    Oops, that’s what I meant. 99% sure he isn’t eligible for AHL, and after a certain # of games played in the NHL he gets locked into the NHL roster and would have to clear waivers to be sent down.

  • MuzzMuzzington

    Some awful defensive breakdowns that led to some ill-timed goals for them.

  • RESmith

    I haven’t got my head fully around advance stats yet. All I know from watching these three games is the Caps, as team, are making horrible decisions when passing the puck, in particular, the first pass out of the defensive zone. That might be reflected in the Fenwick/SA% numbers. It backs up my suspicion that the onus is on our D, with the possible exception of the Erskine-Carlson pairing.

  • That sounds about right. The SA% is kind of like zone time. +50% means more time pucks fired at the opponent’s net. Breakouts and play in neutral affect it a lot.

  • HarmCity

    Not at all. A 4th line in hockey isn’t designed to put your worst goal scorers. It’s to put your best energy-line players out there who can wear down the opposition’s top-line. Sometimes you throw an enforcer out there in addition. You can’t throw a guy who’s job is to focus on offense on a line that’s not generated to work that way.

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