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.
- 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.
Caps lose again. Holtby stops 6 of 11. Ovi now a minus-17. Only five NHL forwards have worse plus-minus. Limited stat, I know. But still.
— Josh Yohe (@JoshYohe_Trib) January 5, 2014
- 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.