i Bruce Kluckhohn

Photo: Bruce Kluckhohn

The Capitals lost all four games this week. They weren’t even playing particularly good teams. None of the Caps’ opponents ranked in the top half of possession teams. None of them had a positive goal differential. None of them were in the playoff picture. One of them was Buffalo.

But they all beat the Caps.

That kind of stuff happens when your team shoots under 3% (vs Ottawa and Buffalo) or saves under 90% (vs Carolina and Minnesota). The good news is that those percentages jump around all the time, and they don’t mean much for the future success of the team. The bad news is the Caps took two points from a week where they easily could have had eight. That’s gonna hurt in April.

These are the numbers as of noon on Sunday, January 5th. The sample is restricted to 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.

See previous snapshots: week 1, week 2, week 3, week 4, week 5, week 6, week 7, week 8, week 9, week 10, week 11, week 12, week 13


Player Pos GP TOI GF GA SA% Sh% Sv% PDO ZS%
Aaron Volpatti L 32 151.9 3 4 36.9% 5.8% 94.9% 100.7 51.7%
Alex Ovechkin L 40 379.8 8 15 49.6% 3.8% 93.1% 96.8 58.9%
Brooks Laich C 28 218.7 7 8 40.9% 8.4% 93.7% 102.1 50.2%
Eric Fehr R 33 266.6 8 12 52.3% 5.8% 90.8% 96.5 49.2%
Jason Chimera L 42 349.6 18 20 46.5% 9.9% 90.2% 100.1 45.5%
Jay Beagle C 22 128.7 2 3 40.3% 4.5% 95.2% 99.8 54.9%
Joel Ward R 42 336.2 15 19 48.7% 8.7% 89.8% 98.5 47.2%
Marcus Johansson C 42 367.2 11 17 49.2% 6.4% 91% 97.4 53.6%
Martin Erat R 39 287.4 11 13 48.9% 8.1% 91.8% 100 49.5%
Michael Latta C 17 67.6 3 4 48.1% 10.3% 88.2% 98.6 48.5%
Mikhail Grabovski C 40 341.1 15 12 50.7% 8% 93.4% 101.5 50%
Nicklas Backstrom C 42 385.1 13 15 49.2% 6.3% 93.2% 99.5 56.8%
Tom Wilson R 42 191.6 7 6 40.6% 10.6% 93.8% 104.4 57.4%
Troy Brouwer R 42 331.9 11 10 46% 8.1% 94.4% 102.5 49.4%


Player Pos GP TOI GF GA SA% Sh% Sv% PDO ZS%
Nate Schmidt D 28 270.8 12 10 51.4% 8.6% 93.1% 101.6 55.3%
John Erskine D 17 174.3 8 10 48.9% 9.4% 88.8% 98.2 50.8%
John Carlson D 42 433.5 14 23 44.7% 6.9% 90.7% 97.5 49.2%
Karl Alzner D 42 441.4 14 16 44.5% 7.1% 93.2% 100.3 49.6%
Mike Green D 39 458.6 12 15 51.7% 5.1% 93.6% 98.7 55.9%
Steve Oleksy D 33 293.8 18 11 47.5% 13% 92.8% 105.7 52.2%
Dmitry Orlov D 16 203 4 7 52.5% 3.7% 93.3% 97.1 48.2%


  • The Caps bottomed out in puck possession (i.e. even-strength shot-attempt percentage) last week and started a rebound. Last week they were at 46.30%; now they’re 48.69%. You can credit a lot of that bounceback to playing some of the worst puck possession teams in the league. You can also double down on your despair when you consider that all of those teams beat the Caps.
  • Again: those losses were due to PDO stats: shooting percentage and save percentage. Those numbers are really volatile, but in the long run they will stabilize. It sucks to lose to a team you outplayed, but it happens. It sucks harder to lose to four teams you outplayed, but that happens too. 62.5%, 56.9%, 57.3%, 72.4%. That’s how the Caps tilted the ice when the game was on the line this week. But if you run into a hot goalie or you make a few mistakes on defense, that’s all it takes to go 0-2-2. Bummer, but not the end of the world.
  • Last week, I was all “Aaron Volpatti needs to be scratched.” This week, I’m all, “Welcome back, Brooks Laich!”
  • Brooks Laich‘s possession numbers (SA%) barely twitched this week, but his line did enjoy three 5v5 goals in close games without giving up any against. I worry about him on a line with two similar players (Ward and Chimera), but if he’s truly feeling stronger and he’s kept to a limited role– checking and PK– I’m psyched to see what happens next.
  • Dmitry Orlov continues to impress statistically. Next to Mike Green, Orlov constitutes half of the Capitals strongest possession pair among the D corps. That’s nice, but both players have been making glaring mistakes.

There’s Mike Green not defusing odd-man breaks:

And Dmitry Orlov joining the offense at the wrong time:

  • The way I see it, that’s all a good thing. Green and Orlov have bad moments, but they’re strong overall. The problems can be worked on while the team continues to reap the benefits of their strong underlying play. They’re the only D men who are seeing more shot attempts go in the Caps favor (SA% above 50).
  • Adam Oates switched up his lines midway through the week, putting Eric Fehr and Mikhail Grabovski on a line with Alex Ovechkin. I wasn’t quite sure why that was needed. Ovechkin had been held without a goal in four straight games, but he was still shooting like a madman. Oh well. With Fehr and Grabo, Ovi is still shooting like a madman. As a result, Grabo and Fehr’s possession stats (SA%) jumped up a lot this week– from 47.5% to 50.7% for Grabo and from 48.8% to 52.3% for Fehr. The big conclusion to be taken away from this is that Ovi doesn’t need Backstrom to be Ovi, which may give Oates more flexibility in his lineups. Also: Fehr and Grabo are awesome, but we already knew that.
  • Another thing to note: Ovi’s ice time has not appreciably fallen since his “demotion” to the second line. He was right behind Nick Backstrom in total TOI in both games post-breakup. I maintain that any line with Ovechkin is the top line.
  • As of Friday, the shooting percentage of every Capital not named Alex Ovechkin while on the ice with him during 5v5 was 00.58%, way below the league average of approximately 8%. Shooting percentage is really volatile (as we saw this week), so it’s not a total shock that this could happen. We’ve got no proof that players can drive one another’s percentages to any appreciable extent, but if the guys on ice with Ovi just shot league average, there’d be 13 more 5v5 goals– and Ovi’s plus-minus would be minus-4 instead of minus-17. So next time we hear a professional journalist– who oughtta know better– cite Ovi’s plus-minus, maybe we should stop pointing out the stat’s flaws and instead just marvel at how unscrupulous these supposedly trustworthy people can be.

  • Let’s not think that Nick Backstrom‘s trial separation from Ovechkin was bad for him either. Backstrom actually improved the way the ice tilts (SA% from 48.2% to 49.2%)– even without the always-shooting Russian machine at his flank. He added two close-score 5v5 goals this week without giving up any in return. As far as I can tell, you can take any of those top six players, put ’em together, and it’s gonna be alright.
  • John Carlson‘s 5v5 goal differential in close games looks awful. He’s been on for 14 Caps goals and 23 opponent goals. But that doesn’t mean he’s a worse defender than Steve Oleksy (18 Caps goals, 11 opponents goals). There are a lot of possible explanations for this. First, Carlson faces the opposing team’s best shooters– like always. Second, he’s on the ice a lot– more than anyone in close games except Karl Alzner. Third, the sample is unkind to him: during 5v5 overall (not just close games), Carlson’s been on for 28 Caps goals and 32 opponent goals. Fourth, he’s had worse goaltending than any Caps D man except Erskine (whose sample is still small). I think Carlson is an excellent player with a really tough job, and the numbers reflect that (while adding a little distortion). Go USA.


  • 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.

Thanks to ExtraSkater.com for the stats.

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  • GuestZ

    You must’ve written the bulk of this before last nights game. I’m still livid with the team after that loss to end such a great week.

    How many times did Green get burned 2-1 these last 4 games, and yet he’s shown no growth in how to defend in those situations? Goal or not, he’s a defenseman, and his first job is to what? Oh yeah, play D.

  • Heh. Wrote it all right after the game!

  • M

    But why doesn’t neil greenberg like the wire

  • Ben Reed

    You were right that the PDO stats regressed harder than the possession numbers progressed back to the Caps’ “true” possession mean.

  • Michael Reschly

    When they first played, Minnesota was 4th in puck possession (ref: Sir Peter H., Steward of Gondor, http://www.russianmachineneverbreaks.com/2013/11/07/the-minnesota-washingon-double-header-caps-beat-wild-3-2-so/ ). What would make a team fall so far in possession numbers?

  • Jack Conness

    I have a weird feeling that this is becoming an Oates Problem now. Talented team not winning. It comes down to coaching. They have arguably two of the top five players in hockey. They have an awesome goaltender who is absolutely being mismanaged right now. They have a potential 19-year-old superstar that they have no idea what to do with and who is playing 8 minutes a night. These are some big issues.

  • Matt McNeely

    I wish there was a reliable way to quantify the quality of shots for the SA%. I’m certain you would find the Green/Orlov pairing’s favorable possession numbers being offset by shot quality against because of all the mistakes. I don’t know that these two guys should be playing together.

  • Losing Parise is certainly part of it in the last couple weeks. I dunno about the rest. Maybe they’ve made other lineup changes or systems changes? It is pretty fascinating.

  • There are things that stats can’t tell us.

  • Chris Boyle at Sportsnet is working on it


    I’m not optimistic that he’ll find anything great out of it.

  • I’ve been trying to suggest as much without being too direct the last few weeks. I’ve been using a garden metaphor: he’s made Ovi bloom, but the rest of the garden needs tending.

    Plus, the lineup choices you listed are just maddening. And it shouldn’t have taken 25 games to figure out that Laich and Brouwer weren’t working.

  • Jack Conness

    I’ve noticed lol. I’m not sure what is running through is head. Holtby has to play. Erat is better than Laich. And why he and GM kept playing with DIMA up and down and scratched and what not when he was obviously a better play than Strachan, Wey, etc. Mind blowing honestly. And the new lines suck.

  • GuestZ

    Nice. I really don’t feel like this team has any accountability, except during home games where the faithful can let the team know how they feel. I admit I’m a fickle fan, but when the only changes we see are moving Ovi down (instead of Fehr and Grabo up?) it’s hard to keep up hope for this organization.

  • djlotus

    What exactly is the benefit of allowing opposing forwards to post up in our crease unchallenged?It is obviously part of the plan on the PK because it happens every time. Also, why is our entire team reduced to spectators when opposing teams play below our goal line? These questions have plagued my thoughts while watching this year. I can sort of see play below the goal line being hard to defend, but to let them camp out in front of our net minder seems extremely counter-productive. Aren’t these (defense and PK) traditionally coached by the first assistant coach (Calle)? And why have no adjustments been made?

  • Hockey mom

    I was thinking that, too. They seem of similar mindset and don’t balance each other out.

  • Owen Johnson

    I feel like Holtby needs to see the puck a couple times early (even when not in a slump) in order to get in the game. I’ll be honest, when I saw he only made 1 save in the 1st, I was worried.
    This is 100% mental for him right now. He’s a good goalie, he just needs to believe it again.

  • RESmith

    I can see why Oates split Ovi from Backstrom/Majo. Ovi has a team worst 3.9% team shooting percentage 5v5. That is not saying Ovi is a horrible shooter. What that suggests to me is that the team as a whole is over-relying on Ovi to be the one shooting the puck when he is on the ice, making him easy to key off of and the offense predictable. Pairing Ovi with two players in Fehr and Grabo who are more willing to shoot the puck will force teams to spread out more and create more space for the Caps in the offensive zone in the long run.

  • prut

    As of Friday, the shooting percentage of every Capital not named Alex
    Ovechkin while on the ice with him during 5v5 was 00.58%, way below the
    league average of approximately 8%. Shooting percentage is really
    volatile (as we saw this week), so it’s not a total shock that this
    could happen.
    It’s not a total shock? A month ago (www.russianmachineneverbreaks.com/2013/12/06/alex-ovechkin-and-the-one-dimensional-offense) we were shocked it was 00.75%, and now it’s even worse. I’m glad Ovi switched linemates just for that reason. Also, I’m still hoping Mojo would prove to be a solid winger, and I really like that he is crashing the net moar (especially on PP), but I think he’s still not shooting enough – 18 SOG in last 13 games.

  • But we should look at shot attempts instead of scoring percentages. In fact, Ovi has more shot support this year than in the past 3 years: https://twitter.com/russianmachine/status/414148734906163200

    The percentages will sort themselves out over time. Changing linemates won’t fix it.

  • prut

    btw, what happened to those sparklines

  • GuestY

    While I agree with Green’s poor 2v1 play, I think the team should address not letting 2v1 plays to occur as much as they are.

  • Barrett

    Too many excuses for John Carlson. How about he skates hard to get back on defense after leaving Green out to dry on a 2v1? Another example of a player skating to the blue line then coasting in watching the other team score. No effort and I cannot stand it. I thought Green played that 2v1 better than the 3v1 the game before. Everyone knows the pass is coming, everyone knows Suter is shooting for the hat trick, he forced the pass and was still stick on stick with Suter but didn’t get a piece. Holtby HAS to make that save, he wasn’t even squared up to Suter.

  • Barrett

    You are absolutely right. He made Ovechkin bloom, but on the power play. That’s the area he fixed for the Devils as an assistant coach. So, he can be credited for fixing the power play, but everything else seems worse from what Dale Hunter left him with. I’m sure you have numbers to verify that some where. I personally loved Hunter’s style. I loved he benched Ovechkin and I love he put a shut down defense line against the opposing teams top line every night.

  • Give Oates some credit for Ovi’s 5v5 production as well.

  • Stand by!

  • What form do you think accountability should take?

  • Bob

    Im not the biggest stat guy but i love giving my brain an exercise by reading this stuff. I like the offense but Oates needs to stop shuffling. The only problem this team has is the Defense. They need some toughness and they need to play smarter plain and simple. Im not saying Calle is a bad coach but is he the right one for this group?

  • CM

    Out of curiosity, why not? Because it’s too difficult a concept to accurately quantify or because you don’t think it makes a meaningful impact?

  • Well, shot quality is the most important factor in deciding every single game, but it’s not something we’ve ever been able to prove is predictable. There is a lot of debate about that, but basically the consensus so far is that shot quality is indistinguishable from blind luck.

    The biggest proponent of shot quality is David Johnson. Here are three pieces by him:




    Almost everyone who’s performed studies on the issue disagrees, but here’s Eric T of Philly, who usually debates Johnson on Twitter and in comments:



  • CM

    That’s excellent. Thank you!


    ‘lack thereof’

  • RESmith

    In defense of Holtby, which isn’t something I normally do (He reminds me too much of former Cap goalie Jim Carey at times), most coaches and goaltending coaches would tell Holtby to be square to the puck carrier. It is Green’s job in that situation to take away the pass and take up Suter driving to the crease. If Holtby makes the play anticipating the
    pass to Suter, he gets caught giving up a goal on the short side. It is Green’s to identify the Wild player carrying the puck had the poorer shooting angle than Suter did with the pass.

  • dylan wheatley

    i liked dale hunter

  • but we keep you around nonetheless

  • dylan wheatley

    but shakin’ it’s all i know

  • Lawrence

    I posted this on another site. This is how I feel about the people claiming Ovi is doing poorly this year based on the +/- stat.:

    Well considering you can only get minuses on the powerplay, the powerplay has actually hurt Ovechkin’s +/- (which they have been scored on shorthanded a few times).

    The main reason I believe hes been negative this year is because the caps as a team could barely get the puck out of their own zone for 90 percent of the season. Only recently has their possession numbers gone up, but unfortunately Holtby has **** the bed recently. They won games earlier in the season when they shouldn’t have and recently they have lost games they shouldn’t have.
    Both scenario’s have hurt ovechkins numbers because he is the person that is out there the most for the caps.

    Those claiming that when ovechkin is out at even strength that its actually hurting the caps, completely ignorant. You think if you gave Chimera, Ward, Brouwer, anyone on the 4th line, Ovechkins ice time that they would do any better? Don’t kid yourself, one of the defense schemes that teams act on vs. the caps is to put the most offensive line vs ovechkin’s line.

    People will find anything to bash ovechkin. The guy could have 40 assists and be plus 30 already this season and people will still find some part of his game or personality to hate on. If people value +/- and even strength assists so much, why don’t you look at his career assists and +/- instead of taking the small sample size you have this season.

    I guess this is what you get for being one of the best in the game. Unfortunate that so many people love to hate him, spending all of their time trying to prove why he is washed up, or a never was. Meanwhile his fans are spending the same time enjoying watching him break records and attempt to carry a sorry ass managed team.

  • JenniferH

    I agree; it’s psychological now. Goalies are strange birds and frankly I don’t think it’s helped Holts at all that Oates has showed such little support for him even going back to the beginning of the season. He should have been clearly stated as #1 goalie instead of this wishy-washy 1A-1B crap with Neuvirth and then the pulling when it wasn’t his fault but for momentum shift, the lack of credit given to him by Oates so very often, and of course the awful treatment in December… Oates has just badly mishandled him. He has stood on his head so often for this team and Oates has not given him credit for it nearly enough.

  • Phil Owen

    Again: those losses were due to PDO stats: shooting percentage and save percentage. – FALSE. These losses were because the other team scored more goals before the final horn. Period. Advanced stats are worthless bullshit when applied to single games.


    What I don’t understand is how a bunch of “caps fans” actually hate ovechkin. In some ways, it is somewhat meant to be if this city and franchise don’t win a cup because it appears that the majority of “hockey fans” in the MDV area are a bunch of clueless know nothings. If you combine the lack of knowledgeable and credible hockey fans in this area with the absolute GARBAGE and pu$$y media types, you have a hockey city that is just like Phoenix and Florida with a bit more support on a nightly basis from the casual hockey audience.

    If ovechkin played on ANY one of the canadian teams in the league, he’d be revered as a god and one of the greatest players in the history of the game already here. Here, there are just too many ungrateful SOB.

  • GuestZ

    I’d be happy with just the next 2v1 Green is out for, they don’t actually score? You ef up, you work on it til you don’t do it again. 3 games in a row this happened. WTF?

  • Jack Conness

    Coaching is screwing him over. He needs to play more. Oates better get it together.

  • Lawrence

    I’m a bit torn on the Oates subject. I just love what he has done with ovechkin this year, especially compared to how ovi was performing the last 2 years. And I love Oates in interviews and the style he wants to bring to the team. Idk if its the personnel or his lack of experience, but his plan is not really working out.

    Gotta wonder how long of a leash Oates will be given considering McPhee isn’t working with unlimited time (I hope so anyways).

  • RESmith

    Yes, but what about the quality of those shots? The question remains though are linemates passing up quality scoring opportunities, ie inside “home plate,” to feed Ovi the puck and are their shots coming primarily when the pass to Ovi isn’t there.

    One of the things I like about Eric Fehr is he is one of the few forwards on this team who consistently puts a shot on net and then drives directly towards the net looking for the rebound. Pairing Ovi with him and Grabo might be Oates trying to encourage him to play more of a power game. This team’s reluctance to crash the net at times is what I feel is keeping us from succeeding in the playoffs and also in winning those close games when we are desperate for a goal.

  • Thanks for reading, Phil!

  • Pat Magee

    Gotta put Alzner back with green, call schmidt back up and put erskine on waivers. Then put orlov with carlson, and have schmidt paired with oleksy.

    Best possible pairings for the D we have, in my humble opinion.

  • Gunjin

    Oates is going to make a great assistant coach and power play guru for some team some day.