Week 8 Snapshot: R.I.P. The Black Hole Line

lupul scoar - Graig Abel

Joffrey wins it. Someone get him some wine. (Photo: Graig Abel)

In last week’s snapshot I said the Caps were facing down a gauntlet in their next four games. The Caps lost 3 of those 4 games. While Alex Ovechkin is doing incredible things and working on what could be a historic season, the team as a whole doesn’t seem to be able to beat the league’s best teams reliably.

In an effort to turn that around, Adam Oates tried a few moves. After a failed attempt to solve the “black hole” line (Troy Brouwer, Brooks Laich, and an unsuspecting victim) by putting Erat at center, he decided to just break it up altogether. That certainly worked against the Leafs and resulting in the Caps dominating puck possession, though I have a feeling the Hershey Bears could have won the possession game against Toronto on Saturday.

It’s likely the team’s fortunes have not changed much this week. Let’s find out why.

These are the numbers as of noon on Sunday, November 24th. My sample doesn’t include power play or penalty kill situations– 5-on-5 play while the score is close only. 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.

See previous snapshots: week 1, week 2, week 3, week 4, week 5, week 6, week 7

Forwards

Player Pos GP TOI GF GA SA% Sh% Sv% PDO ZS%
Brooks Laich C 24 186.5 3 7 39.9% 4.5% 93.5% 98 47.8%
Marcus Johansson C 24 192.4 8 8 44.3% 9.8% 92.5% 102.3 56.1%
Mikhail Grabovski C 24 184.6 11 8 47% 11.5% 92.7% 104.1 50.4%
Nicklas Backstrom C 24 202.8 10 7 47.1% 9.1% 94.5% 103.6 59.9%
Alex Ovechkin L 22 192.1 7 7 46.2% 6.7% 94.6% 101.2 63%
Jason Chimera L 24 180.9 10 13 47.6% 10.4% 87.6% 98 45%
Eric Fehr R 15 98.4 2 7 53.1% 4.4% 83.3% 87.8 48.5%
Joel Ward R 24 171 8 12 51.5% 8.6% 86.5% 95.1 47.4%
Martin Erat R 23 152.7 5 6 49.8% 7.2% 92.6% 99.8 53.2%
Tom Wilson R 24 99 3 4 48.2% 7.1% 90.7% 97.8 59%
Troy Brouwer R 24 176.8 5 5 39.4% 8.9% 94.8% 103.7 49.8%
Michael Latta R 14 54 2 4 54.7% 7.4% 83.3% 90.7 51.7%

Defense

Player Pos GP TOI GF GA SA% Sh% Sv% PDO ZS%
Nate Schmidt D 20 193.4 6 6 52.3% 6.3% 93.8% 100 54.8%
Alexander Urbom D 18 134.9 6 7 44.1% 10.5% 91% 101.6 51.2%
John Carlson D 24 224.1 9 11 44.4% 9% 91.7% 100.7 52.7%
Karl Alzner D 24 232.3 11 10 43.5% 10.6% 92.6% 103.2 52%
Mike Green D 21 222.9 6 10 51.4% 5.4% 91.2% 96.6 57%
Steve Oleksy D 20 162.3 10 8 46% 12.3% 91.1% 103.5 48.4%

Observations

  • As a whole, the Capitals’even-strength shot-attempt percentage in close games (i.e. puck possession) took a bit of a dip this week. After 4 games– three of them losses– they dropped from 46.31% to 45.91%. That’s a bummer but not unexpected considering the team’s opponents over the week. On the bright side, the Penguins game was only “close” for a couple minutes. On the gloomy side, the Capitals didn’t attempt a single shot while it was close: 0.0% Fenwick.
  • This week saw Adam Oates shake up the 2nd and 3rd lines in a big way. Brooks Laich has dropped to the third-center, which many consider his ideal spot. Laich’s possession numbers (shot-attempt percentage, or SA% here) ticked up a bit, but his on-ice shooting percentage (Sh%, a stat he doesn’t have much control over) is still low. I haven’t been to sunny on Laich’s performance so far, but I think he’s been a bit unlucky. I expect to see him on the scoreboard soon– especially if he and Ward and Chimera keep on crashing the net like they did against Toronto.
  • Alex Ovechkin scored twice in close-game situations this week. His third-period tying goal on Saturday night wasn’t in the sample, but that was obviously a big deal too. While Ovechkin is shooting 16.4% individually– a bit above his career average of 12.3% and therefore likely to regress, the shooting percentage of the Caps overall while he’s on the ice is just 6.5% in our sample. The top line is a tad unlucky. They need to keep shooting.
  • Nick Backstrom is shooting. He had 13 shots on goal this week and remains the Capitals’ quietest superstar. Vastly under-appreciated player if you ask me. You did ask me, right? Marcus Johansson, who seems to be enjoying the high esteem of Caps fandom  lately, still needs to shoot more– not only to get himself some goals, but also to make the Caps top line a truly multi-dimensional threat that is harder to defend.
  • Alex Urbom is having trouble. I like his shot, but he seems to be allowing his opponents extended shooting sessions (I’m working on data for this). Urbom’s possession stats (SA%) are pretty rough. During 5v5 play in the Pittsburgh game alone, Urbom was on the ice for 4 Capitals shot attempts and 17 Penguins shot attempts. That’s under 20% possession. Urbom’s high on-ice shooting percentage (Sh%) remains unsustainably high, which may be masking the bad stuff that’s happening in his own end.
  • Urbom isn’t alone in struggling on the blue line. While most of them saw their possession numbers improve this week (thanks to the Leafs, who have no particular fondness for the puck), the defense remains the team’s biggest problem. I’d like to think McPhee and Oates are acutely aware of this and are simply hampered by the salary cap. I know we go on about Dmitry Orlov deserving a crack at the big league, but no one seriously think he’ll fix things on his own.
  • My worries for the defense doesn’t really extend to John Carlson and Karl Alzner, who are getting a ton of ice time and aren’t getting burned for it. They kept things even this week– with an even goal differential inside our sample. Their shot attempt percentages are low, which makes me wonder if there’s a systemic problem affecting the team’s ability to tilt the ice overall.
  • OHAI, Eric Fehr! F16 returned to active play against the Leafs on Saturday, and he did splendidly. He had 74.1% possession during 5 on 5, although getting a lot of shot attempts against Toronto is like playing tennis with the net down. Regardless, Eric Fehr is a good player with a future. However…
  • Martin Erat getting scratched has me baffled. Adam Oates explained his decision Katie Carrera of the Post like this: “Marty’s been fighting it a little bit, in my mind. Sometimes when you sit up top you get a fresh perspective.” If “fighting it” is represented by his being goalless after 17 shots, the fix for that isn’t to take fewer shots by not playing. The cure is to let him keep shooting, preferably in the top six, so the utter randomness that kept him off the scoreboard can be shuffled away. When he was playing, Erat brought stability– but not explosiveness– to both the 1st line and the 4th. His possession stats (SA%) fell this week because he played against the Pens but not against the Leafs.

Glossary

  • 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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  • Boris Mewborn

    I would say scratching him is a good thing. Remember when Claude Julian benched one of Boston’s toughest players last season because opponents didn’t find him scary enough? After being benched a few games, he came back and opponents were scared.

    This is similar, look at the system from the box today, see what you can do better, come back and score goal.

  • Jack Conness

    Scratch Brouwer. Play Erat. WILL ALL WIN!

  • Brendan Maltese

    Can someone please explain what “when the score is close” means? I’m assuming it’s a combination of the difference of the score and the time remaining in the game, but I can’t find anywhere that defines it…

  • Justin Collins

    If I remember correctly it’s within one goal.

  • http://www.russianmachineneverbreaks.com/ Peter Hassett

    Within one goal in periods 1 and 2. Tie game only in period 3. It has been shown that outside of those situations, teams with the lead play protecting style and teams behind play comeback style.

  • Ben Reed

    The logic of benching a struggling player is time-tested, sure. But Why Erat, and not Brouwer? Brouwer is at best struggling, at worst is a horrible hockey player, by any measure both traditional (watch him suck!) and fancy (possession stats).

    What Oates sees or doesn’t in his players is baffling to the point of being discouraging.

  • Chris Cerullo

    My statements about Erat from yesterday still stand…

  • CDizz

    “Joffrey wins it. Someone get him some wine.”

    This. I love you for this Peter. And I feel like this little caption went over everybody’s heads.

  • RESmith

    The one issue I have with CORSICA/SA% is that it doesn’t distinguish between scoring chances and shots taken from the perimeter or longer distances. I that was especially true of last night where even though the Caps almost doubled the Leafs in shots after 2 periods, they had a 11-9 edge in scoring chances over us.

    Some teams play a passive box in the defensive zone for that reason, (for example Huntsy’s run with the Caps,): to force all shots from the perimeter since any NHL caliber goaltender should always be able to make that first save and, therefore, the D can easily clear since no opposing players are within “home plate.” CORSI doesn’t seem to take the effectiveness that in to account.

  • http://www.russianmachineneverbreaks.com/ Peter Hassett

    Corsi doesn’t pretend to measure shot quality, but no team thinks that perimeter shots win, and over long spans most teams have pretty similar shooting percentages.

    http://www.behindthenet.ca/nhl_team_statistics.php?ds=22&s=18&f1=2011_s&c=0+1+2+3+4+13+14+15+16+17+18+19+20+21+22#

    Spread is 9.01% to 9.36%.

    Shot quality wins games, but it cannot be reliably controlled. If it could be, we’d see it in the data and we’d be tracking it instead.

    Shot quality wins games. Shot-attempt differential wins seasons.

  • http://www.russianmachineneverbreaks.com/ Peter Hassett

    I hope it stays over their heads for a few more months

  • RESmith

    That makes sense. However, I would be interested in finding a stat that did measure the shot quality from individual players, particularly forwards, to see if who, if any, created the highest % of scoring chances with the shots they took. Unless that also equals out over a course of a season. In a snippet of 10 games, it might be valuable to see who might have the best hands in creating quality offense and if such a player might need other line mates to convert those chances.

  • http://www.russianmachineneverbreaks.com/ Peter Hassett

    I’m glad you asked. A bunch of guys did an exhaustive scoring chances study two years ago. Their conclusion was that scoring chances follow pretty closely with possession overall at the team and individual level. While some players are known for being more dangerous shooters, the amount to which a player can increase his on-ice shooting percentage is pretty much less than the random variance in there.

    As far as I’m concerned the on-ice Sh% and Sv% columns above (summed as PDO) are reflections of shot quality/scoring chances– and we use them as shorthand for luck.

  • http://www.russianmachineneverbreaks.com/ Peter Hassett
  • RESmith

    Thanks. That helps and explains a lot. I wasn’t necessarily thinking of along the lines of those who create higher shooting percentages. I was more focused on which players may take more shots in the area the NHL defines as a “scoring chance” aka “home plate” the area deliminated between the offensive zone face off dots and the goal crease. But you are right, at the end of the day, if a team or player has good possession stats, it follows that in most instances they are the same ones that will have the higher shot totals in the “scoring chances” area. This just came to mind on Saturday since, yes, Toronto allowed a ton of shots but they did a reasonable job of boxing the Caps out and all Reimer had to do was play his angles well and focus on the simple save.

  • Rhino40

    Not me, Peter….OHAI, G.O.T> reference