Photo: Patrick McDermott
In 2004, the DC band Beauty Pill released an album called The Unsustainable Lifestyle on Dischord. It’s a great record, but it can tend to bum you out. The band seems to be aware of all this stuff wrong with the world that you might otherwise not be aware of. If you don’t listen to the album, you might think everything is okay.
So feel free to skip this week’s snapshot.
The Capitals played only two games this week thanks to the holiday. They split the pair, but they could have won both had they not given up a two-goal lead to Anaheim on the 23rd. That’s the party line at least. In truth the Capitals got dramatically outplayed in both games they played. That they held a temporary lead over the Ducks and snuck out with a win over the Rangers is thanks to some of the most unreliable stats in our sport: shooting percentage and save percentage. The more stable numbers describe a Capitals team that is about to lose games– a lot of of them, and badly– unless something changes.
These are the numbers as of noon on Sunday, December 29th. Our sample is 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.
- Despite playing only two games, the Capitals’ puck possession (i.e. even-strength shot-attempt percentage) dropped hard this week. Last week that number was 47.11%. Now it’s 46.30%. There are only five teams with a lower possession score, and four of them are laughing stocks: Oilers, Flames, Leafs, and Sabres. We’ll see that last one in action later today.
- The only reason the Caps had leads to blow in the Ducks and Devils games was their high on-ice shooting percentage: lots of goals on not a lot of shots. A high percentage like that cannot maintain through the season. The Caps have to maximize the volume of shots, or they will end up this season’s version of the Wild or the Leafs, stubbornly declaiming the strength of their shot quality as their postseason chances evaporate.
- Same is true at the other end of the ice, where the Caps are facing a ton of shots and stopping almost all of them. The team has gotten stellar goaltending from Philipp Grubauer, who absolutely has the hot hand and absolutely should be congratulated for it and absolutely should be sat in favor of Braden Holtby as soon as possible. I mean, guys, there’s an entire Wikipedia page dedicated to the foolishness of thinking this is going to last.
— Neil Greenberg (@ngreenberg) December 28, 2013
- The only players to see their possession numbers improve this week were the top line– Alex Ovechkin, Marcus Johansson, and awesome Nick Backstrom– and Brooks Laich, whose score was so low that ticking up doesn’t mean much. It’s obvious Adam Oates has done much to improve the game of his star pupil, but the rest of the team is really suffering.
- Here’s the part where I praise George McPhee. Martin Erat and Mikhail Grabovski have, in my opinion, done much to counteract the systemic damage to the team’s puck possession. Those players were GMGM’s marquee moves in the last year, and they’ve both worked despite problems with how they’ve been directed and deployed. Without them, I’d bet the gap between the top line and everyone else would be even bigger. But this is a stat snapshot, so I’ll save further opining for comments and other stories.
- Aaron Volpatti is not an NHL player. A 40% possession score is usually the lower limit for acceptability; Volpattti is now at 34.6%. That is dead last among all players in the league with at least 21 games played. Thank goodness Caps goalies are stopping 19 of 20 shots he’s allowing while on the ice, but that’s not going to last forever. He plays 0.4% of the team’s power plays and 0.2% of the team’s penalty kills. The puck is in his end more than 65% of the time he’s on the ice in close games. His salary is $575k. What are they waiting for?
- Volpatti’s most common linemate is Tom Wilson with 165 minutes shared. When they play together, 40.7% of shots (including blocked shots, and not just in close game) belong to the Caps. When they play apart, that number is 29.3% for Volpatti and 53.1% (!!!) for Wilson. Wilson has had a really bad December. He needs a change; here’s the impetus to make one.
- Eric Fehr: still awesome. He had a grape and an apple this week, and he personally fired six of the team’s 34 shots against Cam Talbot the other night. That was his highest shot total in three years.
- The other day I was looking at which players had played best with Alex Ovechkin over the last five years. The usual names appeared: Semin and Backstrom, obviously. But down below, among players he shared less ice time with were two names with really good numbers: Eric Fehr and Sergei Fedorov. They only shared 5v5 ice with Ovi for between 180 and 200 minutes, but they owned the puck– 62.2% of shot attempts (again: including blocked shots and regardless of the score) belonged to the Caps. My point: I wouldn’t mind seeing Fehr on the top line.
- John Erskine is back on the snapshot as he seems to be here for awhile. Gone from the snapshot but not from the payroll is Alexander Urbom, whom I though was waiver-bound a while ago, but oh well. Same old song and dance about the defensive depth here.
- Still no goals for Martin Erat, though he had an amazing assist the other night. Erat is in the top-20 list of players with a ton of shots but no goals. And despite that, his on-ice shooting percentage in close games is a solid 8.7%, which is surprising.
- 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.