Photo: Derek Leung
The Washington Capitals remain weak at even-strength, so they’ve been relying dearly on their electric power play to win games. The Caps have scored a respectable 42 goals at even strength, but they lead the league in power play goals with 21. I’d say those power play goals are primarily responsible for the team’s plus-10 goal differential.
The PP unit’s de facto quarterback has always been Mike Green, at least when he’s healthy. Green has played 79.5% of the Caps’ power play time, second only to Alex Ovechkin. Green had recorded 7 points, all assists, all primary, on the power play before suffering a lower-body injury in the overtime win over the Blue Jackets on November 12th. In Green’s absence, the position of PPQB1 has fallen to John Carlson.
Unlike the goalless Green, Carlson has scored twice on the power play this season– once in Glendale and again vs St Louis. So it makes sense that reader Chris R. would ask:
@russianmachine When Green comes back do you take carlson off the top PP unit? Carlson is just getting shots through and more accurately
— Chris Raine (@RainemanC) November 19, 2013
A good question, and one that may be pressing as early as Wednesday night when Green may return to play the Pittsburgh Penguins.
First, let’s look at how the players differ tactically. Here’s Green at Philadelphia:
Backstrom feeds Green, whose one-timer shot comes from 47 feet out. Ray Emery (groan) saves it, but Troy Brouwer converts the rebound.
Now, Carlson vs St Louis:
In a very very similar play, Backstrom delivers an identical pass to Carlson, who also shoots a one-timer– but this time from 37 feet out– 10 feet closer than Green’s. Elliott couldn’t stop that one.
It’s not just that play, Carlson seems to regularly play the high-man spot just a bit less high than Green. That may improve the quality of his shots somewhat– though at the cost of safe passing angles to and from players along the sideboards.
While that trade-off matters, the volume of shots each player generates is much more reliable predictors of how they’ll do in the future. Put another way: While Carlson has two goals and Green is ridiculously snakebit, we should care more about who is producing more opportunities to score while a man-up.
These are individual shot rates per 60 minutes on the power play.
That’s wild. Both players are attempting about the same number of shots, but all but one of Carlson’s have been on target. 13 of Green’s shots have missed the net, which is either part of Adam Oates’ strategy (is he deliberately shooting wide?) or a bit embarrassing.
I don’t know if the percentage of Carlson’s shots that are on target is important or not, but I do know that he and Green are attempting at a similar rate. Those shots from the blue line– whether wide, blocked or saved– tend to create dangerous rebounds. For that reason I consider both players almost equal in this respect, with the tiebreaker going to Carlson for forcing the goalie to make more saves and actually converting twice.
But there’s one more wrinkle. In addition to being PPQB2, John Carlson has existing duties as the Capitals’ most important penalty killer (except for Braden Holtby, obvs). Carlson has been on the ice for 64.1% of Washington penalty kills, the most on the team by far.
Green, on the other hand, doesn’t really kill penalties at all.
Specialization of usage is important. Carlson is a mainstay on the league’s third-best penalty kill. Conversely, Green is a mainstay on the league’s second-best power play. So while Carlson might be able to pinch in on the power play while Green is laid up, asking him to do double duty in the long term might be counterproductive for both special teams. The marginal improvement we might see on the power play wouldn’t be worth the team’s biggest PKer having tired legs.
For now, both special teams are in the top 5 of the league. They ain’t broke, so… well, you know the rest.