Week 3 Snapshot: Turn and Face the Strain


Photo: Patrick Smith

Adam Oates made much-needed adjustments to lines on Friday morning, resulting in happy outcomes for the second line collectively and Marty Erat personally. The top line, however, is not doing much at even strength, and the third line is getting swamped in their own end. While the Caps have glimpses of hope and a ton of potential, the overall picture remains a bit gloomy. Should the Oates power play ever stop turning underpants into profit, stuff will get dire quick.

But there remains a ton of potential in this roster. There’s a winning team in here somewhere. Let’s explore.

These numbers are current as of noon on Sunday, October 20th. My sample is only 5 on 5 play when the score is close to avoid the effects of blowouts and comeback attempts.

See previous snapshots: week 1, week 2


Player Pos GP TOI GF GA SA% Sh% Sv% PDO ZS%
Brooks Laich C 8 62.4 2 1 44.3% 7.1% 97.3% 104.4 54.8%
Marcus Johansson C 8 66.9 2 5 45.7% 5.3% 88.9% 94.2 51.2%
Mikhail Grabovski C 8 60.1 3 0 39.2% 11.5% 100% 111.5 55.1%
Nicklas Backstrom C 8 66.3 2 4 43% 5.7% 91.3% 97 54.5%
Alex Ovechkin L 8 68.8 2 3 45.6% 5.3% 93.5% 98.7 55.1%
Jason Chimera L 8 54.2 2 5 40.3% 10% 83.3% 93.3 44.6%
Eric Fehr R 8 51.1 0 6 47.5% 0% 75% 75 45.3%
Joel Ward R 8 52.9 1 4 49.3% 4.5% 81.8% 86.4 49.2%
Martin Erat R 8 38.8 1 1 52.8% 6.3% 93.8% 100 56.4%
Tom Wilson R 8 35.3 0 2 50% 0% 85.7% 85.7 53.6%
Troy Brouwer R 8 59.3 3 2 39.8% 11.5% 95.2% 106.8 59.5%


Player Pos GP TOI GF GA SA% Sh% Sv% PDO ZS%
Alex Urbom D 5 40.4 1 2 40.8% 6.7% 92.9% 99.5 54.9%
John Carlson D 8 71.1 1 5 40.6% 3.4% 89.1% 92.6 47%
Karl Alzner D 8 74 3 4 39.3% 10.3% 90.5% 100.8 48.6%
Mike Green D 8 81.8 2 4 44.2% 5.3% 91.1% 96.4 52.4%
Steve Oleksy D 6 52.1 3 2 48.9% 11.1% 92.6% 103.7 62.3%


  • Only one player is driving play when the score is close: Martin Erat. Everyone else has 50% or lower possession (SA%).You can take that as a sign that Erat is good– and he is– but I’m awfully worried. We’re nearing statistical significance for our sample, and the bigger picture is not good.
  • As a team, the Capitals are playing with the puck just 44.36% of the time in close games: that’s 25th in the league. There’s only been one example in recent years of a team that weak making the playoffs: the Toronto Maple Leafs in last year’s lockout-shortened season. Teams with under 45% possession, simply put, are losers. Individuals with SA% numbers that low are usually marginal players or players on bad teams (see the FF% column).
  • Troy Brouwer was on the ice for two 5v5 close-score goals (GF) this week. He certainly had a good run in the last three games, though his underlying numbers are unchanged. It seems his success was largely driven by percentages (PDO) that are likely to regress soon.
  • No games for John Erskine this week as he continues to struggle with an injury to either his upper body or his lower body. Certainly, something somewhere on his body is not right. It’s definitely a body injury.
  • Save percentage (Sv%) is improving pretty much across the board as Braden Holtby starts leveling out after another rough start. Our PDO numbers are still a bit wacky (poor unfairly maligned Eric Fehr), but they’re starting to normalize.
  • The top line just does not produce at even strength when the score is close. Alex Ovechkin might be a powerplay prodigy, but at 5v5 in close games, they’re not doing much. Saturday’s game hopefully signals a change in that: the top line attempted 2x more shots than the Jackets.
  • Marcus Johansson must have noticed the same thing we did last week. After having just 3 shots on goal through 7 games, Mojo added another 4 in game 8. That’s encouraging.
  • Joel Ward‘s shot attempts percentage (SA%) dropped 11.7% since last week– from 60% down into the red in less than 18 minutes of a sample. On the bright side, Ward is getting some real powerplay time and making it count.
  • Put Mikhail Grabovski on the ice when the game is close and bad things do not happen: 100% save percentage. Unfortunately for Grabo, his demotion to the third line on Saturday got him thoroughly hosed. He was on the ice for 15 unblocked shot attempts in our sample during the Columbus game; just two of them went towards Sergei Bobrovsky. Grabo’s linemates were Ward, whom we mentioned above, and Jason Chimera, whom we shall be suspiciously side-eyeing from now on.
  • Steve Oleksy is looking like quite the studmuffin. Aside from hair flips and curl-and-drags, it behooves us to mention that he’s not starting a lot of shifts in his own end (62.3 ZS%) and his numbers are buoyed by a fair bit of puck luck (103.7 PDO).
  • The 8:44 of ice that Tom Wilson got on Saturday was the most of his season so far. He’s about to break into double digits in shots on goal, so maybe one day we’ll be able to write about him doing something that actually affects the game’s score.


  • 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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  • Benjamin Scarbro

    Okay, I’m trying to understand. Does Laich’s low Sv% put into question his 2 way play? Or am I missing the point?

  • ACK That is a typo. His sv% is 97.3%. Updating now.

  • Benjamin Scarbro

    This entire website is suspect now. WAS THERE EVEN A METEOR, PETER??? WAS THERE?

  • Matt

    Has Eric Fehr been cursed or something?

  • dammit

  • Yeah, but he’ll be okay– though he’s a bit wasted on the 4th line.

  • Steve Killmon

    I’m confused. Fehrsie scored the shutout-spoiler and lone goal against Colorado. Are you suggesting he wasn’t on the ice for this?

  • I’m not suggesting anything. The score wasn’t close, so it’s not included in the sample. I try to take into account special teams and non-close 5v5 goals in the observations.

  • Steve Killmon

    Okay. Totally understood. Earlier in the post you mentioned this relating to the score being close. In the glossary it simply stated “Goals For.” Just threw me a bit.

  • MuzzMuzzington

    I don’t understand why Grabo was demoted. After his play last game, Erat to the first line! Mojo plays similar to Erat, except Erat is better in every way. I explained it to someone as he appears to have magic hands that make good things happen.

  • It’s a good question. Part of me wonders if Brooks Laich’s seniority in the organization is a factor.

  • yv

    Curious stats. Looks like everybody, beside poor Fehr, Chimmy and somewhat Ward, starts mostly in OZ. At the same time, SA% is almost for all negative? Trying to understand actual game situations for this. One is that many opponents shots end in net, so no DZ FO starts, shouldn’t be true. The other, Caps GTs making saves mostly w/o swallowing/catching the puck and game go on, and some other curious situations? Or those stats data unrelated?

    By the way, last week it seems huge, record-setting chunk (500 kg!?) of Chelyabinsk meteor has been found and pulled out of the suspected lake. Now under preliminary analysis in the local university/institute to confirm its origin

  • Neil Greenberg

    “We’re nearing statistical significance for our sample” — How many games/minutes do you deem to be “significant” for 5v5 close?

  • For Fenwick Close, I’m guessing somewhere around 20-25 games or 400-500 minutes, but I was planning on doing my own CI and P-value calculations at the end of the season. Longer for PDO and GF/GA.

    What do you think?

  • Neil Greenberg

    200 games is low for Sh% and Sv% so I would say 20-25 games is WAY low for Fenwick%. Need almost double that for FenClose I think. You can see trends before then but to say we are “nearing statistical significance for our sample” I don’t feel is accurate.

  • Point taken re: Fen Close. For the PDO stuff, I’m not trying to do anything but explain how each player is or is not victimized by the randomness of those stats.

    I think you might be implying something I’m not inferring. We’re not getting farther away from significance is all. I didn’t wanna say “as the data mature” 10 times in this story like I did last week.

  • Jalabar

    I was one that said “Why?” when I found that Adam had dropped Grabo and made the 2nd Brouw, Laich, Erat. Then I watched the Columbus game. That line were possession beasts. At least two occasions, they pushed the puck into the Columbus zone, and it stayed there the entire shift until the line change. So I questioned Grabo to the third, but now I’m alright w/ it.

  • Red

    I hated this move, but I feel it was done in order to bring some stability to the 3rd line. They’ve been giving up a ton of shots on goal as a result of poor possession. Grabby is a solid plug for that hole. But I still feel he’s way more valuable in the top 6 where his talent level is better matched.

  • donnie

    With the switching of lines, do people think that the Caps have too many top-6 players? Our scoring of goals is spread out across lines, which, in my opinion has never be a strength of the Caps – it was the S.O.B. line or bust. We were always suspect in the 2C and now we have 2 excellent and 2 capable plugs at center. Grabo had a shit season in Toronto. He came to the Caps for a reason. I suspect that Oates told Grabo the team need for him at 3C. However, after the lack of communication (apparently, per media) between Erat and Oates, I do not know.

    We seem to have an temporary roster of riches (or at least, roster of flexibility). Would we start seeing flexing of 2C and 3C between Laich and Grabo depending on the situation?

  • “do people think that the Caps have too many top-6 players?”

    What an interesting what to put that. I don’t know.

    Without specifying individual positions, I think these players are clear top 6: Ovechkin, Backstrom, Grabovski, Erat.

    I think these players are marginal: Johansson, Fehr, Brouwer, Laich.

    That’s 8 players– the standard top 6 + Fehr and Erat. Grabo has since fallen out (btw, his season in TOR wasn’t shit, the way he was used there was shit).

    Now looking at position, I think the Caps (should) have a clear center hierarchy: Backstrom and Grabovski, but they’re not nearly as strong on the wings. Brouwer and Fehr are huge drop-offs from Ovechkin, and the LW isn’t particularly strong outside Erat. So I guess the top 6 really isn’t that deep.

  • donnie

    The reason that I phrased it that way is that everyone has a opinion that player ‘x’ is not playing in his natural spot, a waste of his talents, or worse ‘an expensive contract’ for a 3rd/4th liner (e.g., Wardo). Thus, would the Caps be better off with more grinders and a set 1st and 2nd lines? Just a thought…..