Photo: Patrick McDermott
The Washington Capitals had four days off this week, during which the rest of the Metro started raking in standings points. Now the Caps are back in action, and they’re about to play one of the busiest parts of their schedule with nine games in the back half of January. That’s gonna be tough, and it’s only gonna get worse. After the Olympics, in March, the Caps’ opponents are almost all great teams. The end of the regular season will be a meatgrinder, so the team would be wise to grab every point they can now. Starting with Sunday. Starting with Buffalo.
Do the team’s lineup choices reflect a “win now” attitude? I’m leaning towards hell no, dude. With Connor Carrick getting some experimental shifts with John Erskine, a reconstituted Laich-Brouwer singularity, and the Aaron Volpatti > Martin Erat fiasco, there’s a whole lot of inefficiency on this Caps roster. You can interpret that as bitter criticism, but I think of it another way: this team can get better. That’s not so bleak, right?
There wasn’t a whole lot of action this week. The team played just two games– both awfully close– and most players got only around twenty minutes in our sample. Let’s delve.
These are the numbers as of noon on Sunday, January 12th. 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’ team possession (i.e. even-strength shot-attempt percentage) improved ever so slightly this week, up from 48.69% to 48.84%. Both the Tampa game and the Toronto game were pretty even in shot attempts. With any luck, Sunday’s game against Buffalo will be a 40-shot blowout.
- The biggest change this week was Adam Oates’ forward lines, which I guess I’ll just plop right here:
Laich – Backstrom – Brouwer
Fehr – Grabovski – Ovechkin
Chimera – Johansson – Ward
Volpatti – Beagle – Wilson
- The thing that probably jumps out is the re-pairing of Brooks Laich and Troy Brouwer on what is apparently the top line. We have gone on endlessly about their weakness together, so I consider this whole thing– in addition to massively unwise– a test of Nick Backstrom‘s mettle. Backstrom was underwater in Tampa, but had a pretty strong showing in Toronto. To figure it out, I guess we’ll need to see more, though I wish we didn’t have to.
- The “second” line of Eric Fehr, Mikhail Grabovski, and Alex Ovechkin works. No one is surprised by this. That’s maybe the best scorer (and most shooter, very shooting) flanked by two chronically underrated players who also happen to be the team’s best possession players (SA%). Fehr scored twice in Tampa, and Ovi took a gorgeous pass from Grabovski to score against the Leafs. Word on the street is the Caps are trying to extend Grabo, so there’s nothing not to love here. Must the Laich-Backstrom-Brouwer line exist in order to have this one? I don’t think so.
- I’m not gonna put him in the table yet, but youngster Connor Carrick had an okay week. His possession numbers are pretty bad (40.7% SA%), which don’t augur well for his tryout in the bigs, and he made a few goofs, kind of what you’d expect from a rookie D-man. Then again, Carrick shared the ice with John Erskine, who apart from facepunching is not helping his team. 49% of shots belong to the Caps during close games (SA%) while Erskine is on the ice, better than the rest of the team, so I’m kind of baffled as how that happens. Anyone got any ideas? Ideas other than “fancystats are teh flawed!” please.
- If Martin Erat gets traded, my guess is it’ll happen soon– like this week– or not until after the Olympics. It shouldn’t happen at all, as Erat has proven a fantastic assist man who drives almost half of all shots in the Caps’ favor during close games. And yet, he’s out and Volpatti is in. The blame for that should fall squarely on the coach’s shoulders.
- Aaron Volpatti‘s possession stats improved this week, since it’s kind of hard to get fewer than 37.4% of shot attempts. Volpatti has jumped all the way up to 5th worst among the 370 forwards with at least 24 games. Take that, Colton Orr and John Scott! In an office somewhere at Kettler, Adam Oates sat at his desk and decided, “Yes. I want that guy to wear my team’s jersey. Martin Erat, to the nachos with you!” The mind boggles.
- One last note: the Toronto game didn’t make any damn sense. Jay Beagle was fantastic, forcing 12 shot attempts up against the Leafs’ 3. Meanwhile, Alex Ovechkin got swamped with just 13 shot attempts to the opponents’ 22. Same story on D, where Carrick had 56% of shot attempts and Carlson had just 36.7%. I guess that serves to remind us how tiny samples can be wacky. Or maybe there’s something extraordinarily weird about Toronto. Let’s go with both.
- 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.