Photo: Gerry Thomas
The Caps won two of their three games last week, so by anyone’s definition it was a success. Tuesday’s shootout victory over the Jets was a rollercoastery, nail-biter-y affair that revealed the team’s previously hidden secondary scoring, the same thing that propelled them to a big win over the Oilers on Thursday. But both of those games continued the Caps’ tendency to get hemmed in their own zone– particularly at the start of games. Washington’s lack of puck possession was in full effect on Saturday night during the loss to Calgary, and it remains the team’s biggest worry.
So, like all things: little bit of good, little bit of bad.
Let’s look closer.
These numbers are current as of noon on Sunday, October 27th. My sample is only 5 on 5 play when the score is close to avoid the effects of blowouts and comeback attempts. Interesting stuff (to me) is highlighted in pink and discussed below.
- We had all been worrying that the Caps’ top line wasn’t doing much at even strength. No more. In close-score situations, Johansson, Backstrom, and Ovechkin combined for 3 goals this week– and zero goals against. Peeking at the numbers, it looks like shooting percentage (Sh%) seems to be what’s driving the turnaround, which isn’t super encouraging. Using shot attempts (SA%) as a proxy for puck possession and zone time, they’re still spending too much time in their own end. I’ve shared my theory for this (it’s the defense), but I’d like to hear yours.
- One more thing about the top line: Alex Ovechkin is starting a lot more shifts in the offensive zone (58 ZS%). This is a simple way coaches optimize their shooters, and based on those set-play goals Ovi has been scoring off the faceoffs lately, we can see how effective it can be.
- Martin Erat‘s shot attempt percentage dropped below 50% this week. That means when he is on the ice, more unblocked shots go towards his team’s net than the opponents. Erat was the last positive-possession forward on the team; now everyone is underwater. That must change or else the Caps will have to put their faith in dumb luck and Adam Oates’ magic power play to win games.
- Brooks Laich and the second line were on-ice for 4 goals against inside our sample (5v5 while the score is close). That line’s possession numbers are abysmal, and while Braden Holtby was leaking goals this week, overall he’s been about average for the second line (91.4 Sv%). They’re a bit unlucky in shooting, but their underlying numbers are the bigger worry. Keep this in mind for the next bullet.
- The third line is arguably better than the second line. Their goaltending has been atrocious– 1 out of every 5 shots against is in the net– but they’re tilting the ice better than the Laich’s line. Joel Ward in particular seems adept in his role as a defensively minded (yet overpaid) depth forward. If he and Chimera can find some chemistry with Mikhail Grabovski, and they stop getting burned by Holtby, the third line might do some damage.
- …Or maybe some more line-shifting is in order.
- Jason Chimera is shooting 16.7% right now, which is nearly two times better than his career average. He’s going to cool off, though after last year’s inhumanly sucky 3-goal campaign with a 3.3 shooting percentage, we should just be grateful. You can say this next thing about any player on any team at any time, but I think Chimera should shoot more. He’s putting about 1.6 shots on goal per game so far this season, but he was above 2 per game in his best seasons.
- The greenest Caps D-man, Nate Schmidt, is the last surviving player who sees more pucks go towards the other guy’s net. As his sample grows, my cynical heart tells me this too will fade.
- Hey, maybe don’t start John Erskine in the defensive zone all the time? Almost 60% of his non-neutral face-offs were close to his own net. That’s an assignment for your best defender, and I don’t think Ersk is in anywhere near the winner’s podium for that contest.
- Mike Green‘s getting so much ice time (TOI), that we need to give Geico some free publicity. If he gets hurt, and we can debate how likely that is, there will be trouble.
- 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.