Week 4 Snapshot: Underwater, But Winning

Gerry Thomas

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.

See previous snapshots: week 1, week 2, week 3


Player Pos GP TOI GF GA SA% Sh% Sv% PDO ZS%
Brooks Laich C 11 88.5 2 5 41.4% 5.4% 91.4% 96.8 50.8%
Marcus Johansson C 11 90.8 5 5 47.1% 10% 91.5% 101.5 53.8%
Mikhail Grabovski C 11 86.2 5 1 42.2% 12.8% 98.1% 110.9 51%
Nicklas Backstrom C 11 90.7 5 4 45.3% 10.2% 93.3% 103.5 56%
Alex Ovechkin L 11 95 5 4 45.3% 9.4% 94% 103.5 58%
Jason Chimera L 11 79.5 4 6 42.9% 11.8% 86.7% 98.4 41.5%
Eric Fehr R 11 65.6 0 6 48.1% 0% 79.3% 79.3 45.6%
Joel Ward R 11 76.8 3 7 49% 8.6% 81.1% 89.7 48.1%
Martin Erat R 11 66.2 1 5 44.9% 3.8% 86.5% 90.3 50%
Tom Wilson R 11 49.8 0 2 48.3% 0% 89.5% 89.5 57.9%
Troy Brouwer R 11 84.1 3 3 40% 9.1% 94.5% 103.6 53.4%


Player Pos GP TOI GF GA SA% Sh% Sv% PDO ZS%
Nate Schmidt D 7 64 2 1 53.8% 6.1% 96.8% 102.8 52.9%
John Erskine D 7 70.8 2 6 49.5% 5.3% 83.8% 89 40.8%
John Carlson D 11 100.7 4 7 42.7% 9.1% 88.5% 97.6 50%
Karl Alzner D 11 105.1 6 6 42.3% 13% 90% 103 50.7%
Mike Green D 11 112.4 2 5 43.2% 4.1% 92.5% 96.6 48.9%
Steve Oleksy D 9 82.3 5 4 48.5% 11.6% 90.5% 102.1 57.3%


  • 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.
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  • Chris Cerullo

    #FreeGrabo…..? Kinda lol

  • truly

  • Chris Cerullo

    Feels like it’ll be the same as the Erat situation. Fans, media, bloggers, etc. will call for the change for 2 weeks and it’ll eventually happen but of course in regular Caps fashion be prolonged by a few more losses first.

  • William

    Great Analysis as always. Too bad it can’t be encouraging

  • William

    On a side note, Mike Green is a much better actor than Nb19

  • GuestZ

    Hey Pete, can we get a good breakdown of the horrendous D we’ve been seeing so far this year? We all can see it, but you do so well explaining things to us 🙂

  • As noted on Twitter, lots of stat sites and the NHL still list Ovechkin as a left winger. Please use your imagination.

  • Shaun Phillips

    Is there any way to look at the quality of scoring chances being given up? I hate to put all the blame on Holts for the 2nd lines goals against.

  • A great question. We can look at video of the individual goals against and try to assess blame– like I did with Erskine a couple weeks ago– but in large samples, scoring chances tends to keep in line with possession in general.

    I definitely won’t put *all* the blame on Holtby.

    I’ll take a look at the video for those goals against and maybe I’ll have something for you later.

  • I haven’t played enough organized hockey to say anything smart about the D system, so I gotta take my lead from others. I’m hoping Justin Bourne or somebody at the Rink will have a write-up sometime.

  • JH

    I can’t really explain why, but, assuming Oates will never move MoJo off the first line, I feel like Erat and Grabo would be good together on the same line (probably second line). Not sure who would best complement those two, however.

  • Shaun Phillips

    I think you put Brouwer (or Wilson, assuming you want to develop him for more than goonery) on there and you’ve got a line that can cause some havoc cycling down low in the offensive zone. I’d say Ward as well, but him and Chimera seem to have such great chemistry, don’t want to ruin that.

  • Have you seen the last goal the Caps gave up against Calgary? If you watch anything from that game, watch the highlights of that. It’s soul crushing and amazingly awful. The Flames go 1-on-3 into the Caps zone and end up scoring.

  • Joey Doukmetzian

    so brouwer’s the odd one out??

  • Benjamin Scarbro

    Nothing about Eric Fehr? And not enough data on Beags still?

  • Alex

    That commercial though…

  • I saw the video highlights, yeah. Just demoralizing stuff. I see blown assignments here and there, but it seems like the Caps don’t put enough pressure on the blue line when the other team is entering the zone.

    The first Cammalleri goal was the result of some awesome cycling– Flames should be proud of that one. The second one– well, just watch #20 in white. http://video.nhl.com/videocenter/console?id=2013020165-498-h Yeesh.

  • I’m trying to keep scratched guys out of the tables so keep it simple. I have his data in my spreadsheet, but if Beags didn’t play that week, I don’t see the point in adding him here.

    I <3 Fehr. 4th line isn't a good place for him, but I think he could be good for Wilson.

  • yv

    Still trying to understand how it is possible that for all players most of SAs are going into Caps net, and, at the same time, for the most players, besides four, zone starts are in the offensive zone? Something not adding up or some extra data missing?

  • MuzzMuzzington

    Swap Laich and Grabo.

    Green was good last year because he was getting rid of pucks quickly and smartly. He doesn’t seem to be doing that this season. He seems to have gone back to his old ways of holding it too long then whiffing on a pass.

  • JH

    Erat – Grabo – Brouwer
    Chimera – Laich – Ward?

  • “ZS%: The share of shifts the player started in the offensive zone, excluding neutral-zone starts; data not limited to close games.”

    So it’s not the same sample.

  • Shaun Phillips

    I think you put Brouwer with Erat and Grabo on the 2nd line because, let’s be honest, there’s no way Wilson is getting off the 4th line anytime soon. #FreeTommyBoy #FreeWilly. If you do move Wilson up to 2, I think 3rd line becomes Ward/Chimera, Laich, Brouwer and 4th Ward/Chimera, Fehr/Beagle/Volpatti.

    Btw, how many guys do we have to free from the bizarre lineup decisions this year?

  • “getting rid of pucks quickly”

    Well put. Seems to me like one of the best virtues in a defender is their eagerness to get the puck on a forward’s stick– and their effectiveness to do that. With the Caps stuck in their own zone so much, that clearly ain’t happening.

    And I’d love if it that’s how the lines got shuffled.

  • Louis Porter

    Oates doesn’t want the guys blocking shots. He prefers good sightlines for the goalies and a better positioning D.

  • Shaun Phillips

    Yup. Bring back the Meat and Potatoes line.

  • Scott Mallon

    I can’t believe Grabovski and Laich aren’t getting switched. Clearly Grabovski possesses the scoring potential, speed, and playmaking ability thats required of a 2nd line center. Laich is a much better shut down center.