Alex Ovechkin watches. (Photo: Patrick Smith)
The Capitals only played two games this week, and one of those was a blowout 5-1 loss to the Avalanche. As a result our even-strength close-game data has not done much maturing, but there are still a lot of things we can learn about how this team is — or rather, is not— progressing.
The Capitals didn’t score on any of their seven power-play opportunities this week, and their 5v5 production alone wasn’t enough to win either game. While we saw some improvement, particularly on the third line, the Capitals are still struggling. And the precise nature of those struggles is beginning to become more clear.
- Sample size warning: these data aren’t that much stronger than last week’s. The Caps played just two games, and the latter was a blowout. There were only 12 minutes of 5v5 play against the Avalanche while the score was close. Limiting the data to close score proves to be a good thing though, as the possession data (SA%) aren’t skewed by the Caps’ 41-shot comeback attempt on Saturday.
- Mikhail Grabovski is a rock: even possession with even zone starts, positive goal differential and lots of minutes.
- Alex Ovechkin is a shot machine. He had 25 shot attempts overall this week– 14 of them found the net. That’s fantastic, though the fact that he had negative possession overall worries me. Ovechkin is the only one attempting shots for his line (Backstrom had 4 this week, Johansson just 2), and as a unit they’re stuck in their own zone a lot. Are they no good as two-way players, or is the defense unable to get them a clean breakout?
- Nate Schmidt played all of 4.4 even-strength minutes before the Avs game got out of hand. He did just fine in the game overall (65% shot attempts, one goal against on five shots allowed), but I’m not adding him to the table yet.
- John Erskine‘s sample grew by just 10 minutes this week. In those 10 minutes, Ersk surrendered 2 more goals against. Perhaps he shouldn’t be starting so many shifts in the defensive zone. You could look at his decent possession numbers and his on-ice save percentage, a lowly 81.8%, and come to the conclusion that John isn’t at fault and it’s just Washington’s goalies sinking him. I’m not sure that’s valid.
- Goaltending numbers are bad across the board. Only the top-6 forwards have seen average or above average save percentages when on the ice at even strength in close games. So we have a qualitative judgment to make: is it bad goaltending or bad defense? It’s almost certainly some combination of both, but when the sample is this small we can look at the actual tape (like we did with Erskine this week) and see a compelling yet anecdotal collection of defensive mistakes.
- Puck possession numbers are similarly bad all over (46.86% as a team), and I suspect the defense is at fault there as well. As Troy Brouwer said on Saturday night, the breakout passes that initiate possession are a problem for this team. The Caps can’t get out of their own zone cleanly, let alone through neutral and into the o-zone to generate shots.
- Another indicator of defensive troubles is the disparity in ice time among the blueline corps. Mike Green is eating up Canadians tonnes of 5v5 minutes (in addition to his PP duties), whereas bottom-2 guys like Oleksy or Urbom or Carrick hardly get any. Oates seems to know he lacks defensive depth, and I don’t think another AHL call-up would be a big help. McPhee should be working the phones.
- John Carlson allowed 3 goals against this week during our 5v5 close game sample. The fact that so little hockey was played with a close score is due in part to Carlson letting the other team to run away with it.
- Alex Urbom might become an offensive contributor. He had five shot attempts versus Carolina and another two versus Colorado. He didn’t show much interest in offense with the Devils though, so this might just be a mirage. Keep an eye on him.
- How Joel Ward managed to drive 61% of shot attempts in the Caps’ favor while he was on the ice, I will never know. But the Chimera-Fehr-Ward line was much improved overall this week: Fehr and Chimera even scored.
- Jay Beagle played just 2 minutes of close-score 5v5 hockey this week, so I’m really not putting much stock in those numbers yet.
- 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.