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.
- 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.
- 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.