That one time the Caps went to the shootout (Photo: Dave Reginek)
Straight up: The Capitals have had an easy schedule so far. Granted, they haven’t played the Sabres yet, but their competition hasn’t been so tough through 20 games. The Caps have taken points in 7 of their last 10 and are poised to take the Metropolitan Division lead on Sunday night– but it won’t be easy.
The upcoming week will be a tough one: three strong possession teams with tons of talent. St. Louis has a player on a ludicrous hot streak, Pittsburgh has Crosby, and Montreal as a franchise is so deep inside Washington’s head they could make Pavel Chekov steal the Genesis Device for them.
It’s great that the Caps got points where they could, but here comes the gauntlet.
These are the numbers as of noon on Sunday, November 17th. My sample doesn’t include any power play or penalty kill situations– just 5 on 5 play in close games. That eliminates the effects of blowouts and comebacks and lets us know how games get to be blowouts in the first place. Stats of note are highlighted in a cutesy pink and discussed below.
- The best predictor of future success on the team level is even-strength shot-attempt percentage in close games, i.e. puck possession. That number ticked up ever-s0-slightly this week from 46.15% to 46.31%. That’s still not great. It means the team must rely on good bounces and special teams to win games. At their current clip, the Caps will make the playoffs, but they probably won’t go far. Stop me if you’ve heard this one before.
- Here’s how upcoming opponents are doing in the stat above (sometimes called Fenwick Close; SA% in these tables): The Blues are 6th with 53.78% possession. Pittsburgh (although on a slide) is 2nd with 57.19%. The Canadiens are 12th with 51.72%. The Caps are 26th. if they can take control of the puck this week, it’ll be a very very good sign.
- The Caps won 2 of their last 3 in overtime. 4 of their last 5 went beyond regulation, and 4 of their last 7 went all the way to the shootout. They are 6-3-1 in their last 10 games, but 6 of those games were decided by one goal (or by the shootout). A team’s record of winning by one score is not typically reliable or repeatable. The points are great, but that’s not the way you want to win.
- Frankly, there’s not a whole lot going on in the tables above. All the close games mean that few players were on ice for more opponent goals than Caps goals. No one’s PDO (a signifier of shooting percentages the player can’t reliably control) jumped far– except Brooks Laich, who saw both his on-ice shooting percentage and his goalie’s save percentage tick up about 1% each.
- I’m keeping Eric Fehr on the snapshot for now. He hasn’t seen action since November 2, but he was solid. When he was playing, the puck was in the offensive zone more (SA% above 50). His possession numbers in close games are better than every forward except 4th line grinders who don’t see a ton of ice. Fehr had three points in his last two games, and he was doing a great job of getting pucks to the shooters (see below), but I wonder if he’s being kept out of the line up because he’s a minus-5 on the season– or because he was on for 7 goals against and just 2 for in close-game situations. I hope not; that’d be foolish.
Fehr has a controlled entry to gain the offensive zone, keeps the puck away from two players, and hits up Backstrom (via Erat) for the game’s first goal.
Fehr wins a battle along the boards to– again– quickly hit up Backstrom, who has a clear shooting lane.
- Every active Washington defender is seeing above-average goaltending. Let’s hope that keeps up. Holbeast and Neuvy the Barbarian are going to be very important in these tough games coming up.
- Karl Alzner started off the season shooting the puck a bunch. He had 11 shots on goal in his first 5 games, so I presumed that the typically low-shooting defender was trying to contribute to the O. That shot rate has since declined. I liked it more before. I still think this is the year for Alzner to shatter his career-best single-season goal record of 2.
- Troy Brouwer and Brooks Laich‘s possession numbers are still under the wuh oh threshold of 40%. They’ve been put on a line with Martin Erat, who typically drives play. The hope is that Erat will bring Laich and Brouwer’s numbers up. The likelihood is that Laich and Brouwer will bring Erat’s numbers down. Given how good the competition is this week, I don’t much care so long as they score once or twice.
- Mikhail Grabovski, who rules, has seen his unearthly PDO drop. He’s still way above average in on-ice shooting percentage and save percentage. Given that linemate Joel Ward is unlikely to continue his individual shooting percentage of 28.1%, we should expect this number to drop more. Don’t fret though– that doesn’t mean Grabo isn’t awesome; he is.
- Most Caps players are starting their shifts in the offensive zone more than the DZ. Not Jason Chimera though (44.3 ZS%). I like that the 3rd line is scoring, but I like even more that they’re doing it starting far away from the net, thereby freeing up the top six to take a lot of O-Zone faceoffs.
- Michael Latta: It’s early, but he looks pretty damn solid so far. And tying the game in the third period ain’t a bad way to start your NHL scoring career.
- 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.