Of course. (Photo: Eliot J. Schechter)
The Capitals have won a point or more in 7 of their last 10 games. How they have done that despite some really funky starts, some holey goaltending, retreating puck possession, and Mike Green’s singularity of awfulness is beyond me.
Wait, no it’s not. Alex Ovechkin went buckwild on special teams, Grubauer did some sturdy work in relief of Holtby, and the defense all of a sudden started scoring. It was an exciting week, if not reassuring.
So in the short term: a great 7 days for the Capitals. They still have second place in the division, and those games were fun to watch. In the longview, some stuff needs fixing ’cause winning like that can’t last forever. And with some big questions about talent evaluation about to pop up– like in the next hour, I think we’re about to learn a lot about what makes the Caps tick.
These are the numbers as of noon on Sunday, December 15th. Ten shopping days until Christmas. My sample is all 5-on-5 play while the score is close. That means within one goal in the first two periods and tied in the third. That way special teams, blowouts, and comebacks don’t color the data. Stats of note are highlighted in powderpuff pink and discussed below.
- The Caps’ puck possession (i.e. even-strength shot-attempt percentage) peaked last week and is now dropping. Their Fenwick Close went from 47.86% a week ago down to 47.65% now. The Caps still took points from every game, which implies that they were either a) a bit lucky, b) had some boss goaltending, and/or c) Ovi is insane on special teams. All of the above, right?
- Eric Fehr is cruising along with the best possession numbers (SA%) among forwards. He’s a solid player, a good fit for the top-6, and this time one month ago, he was riding the pine. After two great games on Nov 1 and 2 in which Fehr had 3 assists and 53% possession, Oates sat Fehr for the better part of month. For me, that raised doubts about the team’s talent evaluation process, which is germane now because…
- Dmitry Orlov is kicking ass. Kind of. He’s getting a lot of defensive starts (ZS%) but keeping the tilt of the ice neutral (50% SA%), indicating a solid shutdown D-man. His exemplary performance in OT on Friday hinted at a real offensive contribution to come, BUT. Orlov is getting burned on the shooting percentages. He hasn’t been on-ice for a Capitals goal in a close game yet, and the Caps are saving just 86.2% behind him — 4 goals on just 29 shots against. That’s basically just bad luck, but it looks real bad on paper. If John Erskine returns to active service on Sunday at the expense of Orlov’s jersey, that will have been a poor decision. We shall see.
- You can still take Troy Brouwer to #thebank, but he has hasn’t arrived there yet. It’s coming. He’s got two excellent linemates in Fehr and Grabo, who together control the puck 58% of the time. Brouwer needs to get his tuchas to the net. Patience.
- Robert Griffin III has been sacked 7 times fewer than Ryan Tannehill, but has four fewer wins.
- The bloom is off the fourth line. Aaron Volpatti seems to be faring the worst with a red-alert 37.4 SA%. The Caps are bleeding zone time when this line is out. What’s changed? Not quite sure– could be the return of Jay Beagle or it could be that this line just isn’t that strong. Bummer, since the other 3 lines are doing quite well in my opinion, but this one needs to be broken up. Were Brooks Laich healthy, I’d like to see him getting soft 5v5 minutes here and then doing his thing on the PK.
- You could make an argument that the top line is struggling as well, but for different reasons. Alex Ovechkin and Nick Backstrom are picking up points like crazy, but they’re not doing it during 5v5 in close games. Players not named Ovechkin are still not shooting appreciably any better than you and I could do. But because the woes here are driven by shooting percentage (Sh%) and not possession (SA%), I’d hope Oates will stay the course.
- For the record, my level of esteem for Marcus Johansson remains at an all-time high. I know. I think it’s weird too.
- Alex Urbom on waivers: before Christmas or after?
- Alright, let’s talk Mike Green. His worst game ever was a horror show, but the Caps won anyway. He’s making some atrocious defensive reads, but he’s actually allowing fewer shots on goal per minute than Carlson or Alzner. He’s an excellent power play technician, although he seems to have lost that spot to John Carlson for right now. It’s a complicated story, but when we break it down, Green is still driving play. He’s still a world-class passer. He’s still the best guy to set up Ovi for a one-timer from the Ovi spot. The things going wrong with his game are all fixable, coachable things. Coachable things. He’s gonna turn it around. Tell me I’m wrong.
- 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.