Week 16 Snapshot: Waiting Out the Percentages

columbus-goal

Photo credit: Jamie Sabau

I’m writing this late on Friday night after the Capitals have lost their fourth game in a row. My process for putting these stats together usually starts with scraping data from ExtraSkater.com and then reviewing the previous weeks’ reports. I noticed the title I chose for last week was “Need Points Now.” The Capitals got two of eight points this week.

So that’s bad. I’m tempted to be plucky, to point out again how the team’s underlying play– as measured by its shot-attempt differential– predicts future success. The team truly is improving, but at this point in the season it also matters what the rate of that improvement is, and what is its expected ceiling, and how much time they have left, and how likely they are to reverse the trend.

My guesses: not fast enough, not high enough, not long enough, and kinda likely.

The Capitals aren’t a good team right now. It’s fatuous and unfactual to put it another way. I have maintained and still maintain that they can be better. What I no longer know is if it matters.

That was fun. Let’s do the numbers.

Side note: I’m in New York City as you read this, getting ready to watch Caps at Rangers with my friend Johnny, who first radicalized me as a Caps fan. Johnny and his dad, who passed away almost exactly two years ago, used to drag me along to Chinatown to watch Chris Simon and Peter Bondra and some guy named Adam Oates play hockey. We had front row seats, right by the zamboni. That was all it took for me to become a lifer. As I crunch these numbers, I’m thinking about how much joy even a modestly good team can bring a kid who needs something to believe in. And I’m hoping on Sunday night I will feel just a fraction of the joy I did back at that home opener in 1998.

These are the numbers as of noon on Sunday, January 19th. 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, week 14, week 15

Forwards

Player Pos GP TOI GF GA SA% Sh% Sv% PDO ZS%
Aaron Volpatti L 37 182.9 3 5 39.5% 4.8% 94.5% 99.3 51.9%
Alex Ovechkin L 46 452.6 13 16 49.8% 5.2% 93.7% 98.9 59%
Brooks Laich C 34 288.4 8 9 44.9% 6.9% 94.1% 101 51.7%
Eric Fehr R 39 338 11 15 51.6% 6.3% 91.2% 97.5 48.9%
Jason Chimera L 48 408 20 22 47% 9.4% 90.8% 100.2 46.3%
Jay Beagle C 28 167.2 2 3 45.7% 3.1% 95.9% 99.1 50.8%
Joel Ward R 48 391.9 18 21 48.5% 8.9% 90.6% 99.5 47.9%
Marcus Johansson C 48 424.1 14 20 48.1% 7.1% 91.1% 98.2 54.3%
Martin Erat R 40 290 11 13 49.6% 7.9% 91.9% 99.7 48.6%
Michael Latta C 17 67.6 3 4 48.1% 10.3% 88.2% 98.6 48.5%
Mikhail Grabovski C 46 418.4 20 12 50.6% 9% 94.6% 103.5 51.4%
Nicklas Backstrom C 48 454.6 13 19 49.8% 5.4% 92.5% 98 55.7%
Tom Wilson R 48 226.6 7 8 43.2% 8.5% 92.8% 101.3 56.1%
Troy Brouwer R 48 401.9 11 12 47.8% 6.6% 94.1% 100.7 49.2%

Defense

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 23 242.7 9 11 47.9% 8.1% 91.2% 99.3 49.1%
John Carlson D 48 513.3 16 26 45.7% 6.5% 91.2% 97.7 50.2%
Karl Alzner D 48 521 16 19 45.9% 6.6% 93.3% 99.9 50.5%
Mike Green D 45 547.8 16 18 52.7% 5.7% 93.3% 99 55.4%
Steve Oleksy D 33 293.8 18 11 47.5% 13% 92.8% 105.7 52.2%
Dmitry Orlov D 22 291.7 7 10 53.4% 4.7% 92.8% 97.5 49.2%

Observations

  • Going by puck possession (i.e. even-strength shot-attempt percentage), the Washington Capitals have never been better. They have jumped from 48.84% to 49.36%. That means– when the game is on the line– the team is no longer being outshot dramatically. In the last 10 games, they’ve owned 55% of shot attempts in close games, which is something that Cup-contending teams do. That means a ton, but most importantly it means this: this team can win games.
  • So why haven’t they? Two other percentages: saving and shooting. The Caps were under 90% goaltending in Columbus and Pittsburgh and under 4% shooting against San Jose and Buffalo. We can interpret those numbers a bunch of ways, ascribing blame and naming excuses however we wish, but the salient point is that these numbers fluctuate like flucking crazy. The Caps will shoot 15% sometime in the next three months and they’ll even get a shutout or two. For the purposes of projecting future success, crummy shooting percentages in the last four days are pretty useless. For the purposes of changing lineups or making trades, I’m sure they’ll matter a great deal, though I’m not sure they should. My guess: if you put this last week’s lineup on the ice for the rest of the season and you’ll win more games than you lose.
  • But should you? Adam Oates has already changed his lineups, and I’m sure George McPhee is working on a trade. So before this iteration of the Caps is over, let’s take a look at the numbers.
  • I used to think that Adam Oates’ deployment of Tom Wilson was unwise. I worried the coach was spoiling the development of the forward, who was getting just 7 minutes of ice a night. Now I think Oates might be accidentally mitigating the trouble of his fourth line by using them sparingly. Wilson committed two unfortunate penalties this week, but I have to admit that his possession numbers (and those of whipping boy Aaron Volpatti) improved significantly. Not sure why. 
  • Also improving is Brooks Laich, whom I’ve having a hard time figuring out. Isolation is a big problem with hockey stats, and I can’t tell if Laich has put his groin-related struggles behind him or if he’s just riding coattails on more talented lines. After weeks of getting just 13 or 14 minutes a night, Laich is now in the top six, where he’s getting around 20 minutes. His possession stats (SA%) are getting better too, though they still have a long way to go. He’s been under 50% puck possession overall (including blocks, during all of 5v5) just twice since returning to action in the new year. My question is for you: is Brooks Laich back? Or is he being carried on others’ backs? (See what I did there?)
  • I’ve been asked to take a look at Nick Backstrom, which I’m delighted to do since Backstrom is delightful to look at. As we see in the table above, Backstrom is one of the stronger forwards on the team when it comes to driving play (SA%). Backstrom has spent 75% of his 5v5 ice time with Alex Ovechkin this season, but since the new year Adam Oates has split them up. In that time, Backstrom’s lines have generated four goals and his possession stats have stayed pretty stable (a minor tick down in overall shot-attempt differential). What’s noteworthy is that Backstrom is no longer feeling the Ovi effect: tons of shots in both directions. There are fewer events on both ends of the ice when Backy is on without Ovi. But if there are any suspicions out there that Nick needs Alex to be excellent, there is no evidence to back them up.
  • I collected a ton of data about the Ovi-Grabo-Fehr line in hopes that I’d have some revelation to explain why they were so much fun and so successful– even if they weren’t reaping goals yet. My data ended up being kind of boring. It turns out that it’s almost tautologically obvious that good things happen if you put two great possession players, Eric Fehr and Mikhail Grabovski, with the world’s most enthusiastic shooter in Alex Ovechkin. But none of that guaranteed a high and stable shooting percentage, and I suspect lack of production despite oodles of chances led to Oates dissolving the line after January 12th.
  • Fehr is apparently on the fourth line now. Welp.
  • On Friday Martin Erat got his first jersey since the Spanish Inquisition, which I didn’t expect. in 14:43 of ice time Erat attempted exactly zero shots, but his line kept puck possession even, and oh yeah he got another assist. Despite being a regular scratch and imminent trade, Marty still ranks third on the Caps in even-strength assists. Trade the bum, part XLVIII
  • Ian and I were talking about Dmitry Orlov’s bad game on Friday. He was on for two back-t0-back Jackets goals, enough to put the game out of reach. But beyond that, he has been playing a really compelling game. He’s got the best possession stats (SA%) among the team’s defense and next to Mike Green, he’s driving 56% of shot attempts in the Caps favor. He and Green both seem like the kind of players who will go unappreciated if you only pay attention to the gaffes and goofs, but they’re both solid players.
  • The last two bullets are dedicated to players that Adam Oates apparently does not want on the team. That’s embarrassing, but it’s not the whole story. I harp on Oates for making some obviously boneheaded mistakes (Laich + Brouwer, Volpatti > Erat, Carrick + Erskine, goalie triumvirate, scratching Fehr, drowning Wilson on the fourth line, etc.), but only because those things are easy. The team’s flaws go deeper than lineups and scratch decisions. The team appears to allow more odd-man rushes than they should, particularly considering their emphasis on the transition game under the Oates administration. And when forwards stop scoring and goalies stop saving, it’s important to appreciate why. I just want to draw a line between that appreciation for what has happened and projecting what may happen in the future. Those percentages will reverse– like any minute now. I just hope that when they do, the coach hasn’t undone all the progress he’s made with more of those boneheaded mistakes.

Glossary

  • 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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  • Freedoooom

    Calling his penalty against Columbus unfortunate is a understatement.

    Team is struggling to get PPs and the jackass negates a early one ending up with the Capitals going down a goal.

    Latta brings a lot more to this team and yet Wilson hasn’t been scratched once.

  • TowsonTrumpetGuy .

    I trust Oates, he managed to wonders with this team last season and everyone was doubting him. There are a lot of his decisions that I haven’t agreed with-scratching Erat, scratching Oleksy while keeping Erskine in the game, etc etc etc
    But I think that Fehr’s move to the fourth line is going to legitimately hurt this team. Fehr is the man, and proves his worth with his ice time.

  • Jack Conness

    I’d first like to say, thank you RMNB for giving all of us Caps fans a place to vent and a place to read some awesome reporting. I love the stats and perspective you guys bring to the table and it is always a fun read.

    Now, I realize this defense has been awful all season. I totally get it. Erskine shouldn’t be on the ice, and neither should Connor Carrick. They keep getting burned. Even the top four D-men have been relatively disappointing. I will say, Mike Green has looked better in recent weeks. Regardless, the defensive core has been pitiful.

    With all that said, I’m not sure that is Washington’s biggest problem. If Alex Ovechkin isn’t tearing this league apart, the team isn’t scoring goals. In the past 12 games, the Caps have averaged 2.1 goals a game. For a team with this talent, that shouldn’t happen. I know I keep saying this and I realize I am probably overstating my point, but Brooks Laich and Troy Brouwer are ruining this offense IMO. Any line they are on, they blow it up…especially Brouwer. Look at Nicklas Backstrom this month. Four points. He has been paired with Troy Brouwer. Brooks Laich, who has looked better, isn’t a top-six forward. He shouldn’t be playing with Ovechkin, Grabo, or Backstrom.

    Oates better figure this out. It is on him now. I saw at practice yesterday he had Eric Fehr on the 4th line. I just wanted to throw up. If Fehr is on the 4th line tonight, I will lose it.

  • Jack Conness

    I am 100% done with Oates if Fehr plays on the 4th line.

  • Hockey mom

    Ok, I’m definitely irritated that Olesky is scratched AGAIN! WTH?!?! He had a good game against the Rangers last time.

  • Matt McNeely

    Yup. That, of all the questionable things he has done, would seem completely indefensible to me as well. The second Eric Fehr’s ice time is reduced I will be forced to accept that Adam Oates really has no idea what he’s doing.

  • Rob W.

    Is it wrong of me to put some blame on Calle for all the mistakes the D has made?

  • OVECHKING

    Here’s a stat, the caps have 14 ROWs this season in 48 games this year!!

  • OVECHKING

    Oh yea… the caps MIGHTY PP was just itching for its chance to blow the game wide open in the FIRST PERIOD. That AMAZING PP which has how many goals in recent games???

  • OVECHKING

    Well, according to Vogel, that’s where Fehr will be tonight. Volpatti is the scratch.

  • Matt McNeely

    You are irritating. Just thought you should know. Okay then…

  • OVECHKING

    “you want the truth… YOU CAN’T HANDLE THE TRUTH”

    Keep rocking the red Matt, Ted loves your money. Keep doing what you are doing, caps don’t want you to pay attention while you are watching any games!!! Blind squirrels!

  • Matt McNeely

    So do you, like, troll for a living? I mean, is this, like, what you do or do you have a job too?

  • Matt McNeely

    Also, follow up question: how do you decide on any given day which website(s) you’re going to troll? There’s so many to choose from, ya know? Must be hard to decide sometimes.

  • dylan wheatley

    breaking up 16-84-8 seems like a mistake to me, the line was productive and took a bit of pressure off backstrom, which would have allowed oates to come up with a nice second line for him (10-19-43 would have been nice to see for a game or two).

    maybe laich and brouwer are big supporters of oates’ systems on the ice with the other guys, i don’t know. i’m super confused why martin erat isn’t getting top 6 minutes.

    i’d also start holtby every damn night from now until the playoffs, no matter how badly he thinks he’s playing.

  • Jaime

    I’ve been following the Caps for about two years now, and I already feel like I’ve lost interest. Not necessarily because of poor play or losses – I know that every team is going to have bad seasons – but because of the constant roster changes. I, like most sports fans, have become attached to many of the players as I’ve continued to watch the team. Now I never know who’s going to get a fair chance and what convoluted reasons, if any, will be given for the decision to scratch or bench certain players. While I’m relatively new to hockey, I’m not new to professional sports in general so I understand that there will be personnel changes every now and then. I feel like this has been particularly egregious with the Caps this year, though. It’s gotten to the point that I no longer care about missing games, and when I do have them on, I’m generally disinterested and distracted. In light of this, I’d like to ask the more tenured fans some questions: do I have to get used to this? Is this normal in hockey, or just a fun little quirk in Washington? If it’s the latter, has it always been this way or just this year? As is the case with many spectators, I use games as a distraction from the stresses and monotony of everyday life, but the Caps are kind of failing me right now.

  • Jack Conness

    Great. Just great.

  • Matt McNeely

    Also, followup question: how do you decide on any given day which website(s) you’re going to troll? There’s so many to choose from, ya know? Seems like it might be hard to decide sometimes

  • Sam B

    Many are (deservedly) blaming Calle’s awful defense for a lot of the problems but why is no one mentioning Ollie Kolzig? This team went from having 2 apparent #1 goalies and one with top-10 in the league quality starts (Holtby) to having two backups to an AHL goalie who, incidentally, was not coached by Kolzig until he came up to the big club. So really, Kolzig has asked Holtby, and probably Neuvy, to change how they play and now they are not playing well…who’s fault is that again?

    This coaching staff is moving in a seemingly terrible direction and it’s pretty tough to watch and just think “everything will be ok once the system takes over”. Instead, everyone except Ovi (and probably Fehr) seems to be playing the same or worse.

    At this point I’d love to see Holtby traded (even though he’s my favorite goalie) and stick it back to a Caps team who seems to be awful at getting the most of out their players.

    /rant “Fed Up Caps Fan”
    (Fehr on the 4th line? Seriously?)

  • ace willis

    Do the caps need a vancouver/calgary type brawl to get some life back to the lockerroom?

  • http://www.russianmachineneverbreaks.com/ Peter Hassett

    I do.

  • Just passing by

    Also, looking at the fancy stats, he and Nate Schmidt are the only ones who have more goals for than against them…I just don’t get it…

  • Graham Dumas

    Welcome to NYC, Peter. I, for one, will be watching the game on TV in the Bronx. Because, of course.

  • ace willis

    If we choose to rock the red, have a whiteout ( old school cap center style). Does not matter. This is sport. This is entertainment. I have loved and hated every moment of my 30 year relationship with the caps. And even though I now live in philly market I am proud to say my kids are loyal caps fans as well. Its not about money to them or me its about entertainment, excitement , dreams. If I choose to put money in teds pocket to buy them a jersey or take them to a game its for them not ted.

  • Graham Dumas

    I’m trying really, really hard not to be an Oates-hater. I (until recently) had a lot of faith in him, given how he revitalized the Caps after the Hunter era. But that is the dumbest line-move I have heard in a long, long time. What. The. Hell.

  • Diller M

    It’s not the negative comments, it’s the volume and tone. Some posters are only ever negative and use every opportunity to drag out the same old tired lines of criticism. If you read this blog as much as some of us do, it does get annoying.

  • Diller M

    Seconded

  • Jaime

    Don’t say things like that. If Holtby is traded I’m done; he’s one of the primary reasons I started following the Caps.

  • http://www.russianmachineneverbreaks.com/ Peter Hassett

    This “Reeyuu” comment defending OVECHKING came from OVECHKING’s IP.

    So much for arbiter of truth.

    This is your last warning. Repeated violations of Rule 6. http://www.russianmachineneverbreaks.com/comment-policy/

  • OVECHKING

    If he benched Fehr tonight I was prepared to not be a caps fan anymore. 4th line is pretty bad.

  • Dark Stranger

    Jack, I guess you’ll throw up tonight. Today’s morning skate featured the same lines from yesterday’s practice. Via, Katie, those will be the lines used — including Fehr on the 4th line

  • Guest

    So you do read all the comments… what about the comments on a previous thread of someone calling me a moron? That’s alright I guess.

  • Guest

    I am not sure why I am logged out sometimes, but heres that comment that I was referring too. Do the policies only apply to me? If so, I’ll leave your blog in peace.
    ——————————
    Eric Schulz-> OVECHKING

    • 2 days ago

    Seriously, you just cited the LEAFS’ reporters as being good. Um, they are the poster boys for how to conduct yourself without asking any good questions. They are the very definition of deferential. Every time I read your comments, I become more and more convinced that you are either an idiot, or a moron.

  • OVECHKING

    I am not sure why I am logged out sometimes, but heres that comment that I was referring too. Do the policies only apply to me? If so, I’ll leave your blog in peace.
    ——————————
    Eric Schulz-> OVECHKING
    • 2 days ago

    Seriously, you just cited the LEAFS’ reporters as being good. Um, they are the poster boys for how to conduct yourself without asking any good questions. They are the very definition of deferential. Every time I read your comments, I become more and more convinced that you are either an idiot, or a moron.

  • Matt Root

    Busted by static IP. I’m guessing he’s not too versed in trolling.

  • Matt Root

    Hate seeing Eric work so hard, contribute nightly, and he’s the guy being demoted.

  • Matt Root

    I agree with you on moving F16 off the grabo and Ovi line. I feel like the fancy stats will show that the overall productivity may decline the next few games while Fehr is on the 4th line.

    As for Erat, I wish he was getting his due minutes. I never like seeing trade demands, but I have a hard time faulting the guy. Even before his request, he was stuck babysitting the 4th line.

  • Barrett

    I just don’t see Eric Fehr as a top line guy or a compliment to Ovechkin. He’s a lot like Ovechkin in many ways. A player like Erat or Laich is better on the boards, in front of the net and defensively. I’d like to see: 10-19/84-8 and 21-19/84-16 for the top lines. I likeliked Grabovski with Chimera and Ward earlier in the year, but MoJo has played good with them recently. 25-90-42 and 20-83-43 to finish the bottom six. I hope Volpatti never sees the ice and Latta gets more playing time.

  • JenniferH

    It’s killing me, but I’m really afraid Holtby might be traded. People talk about a goalie rotation and I shake my head because there is no rotation going on. If there was, we’d see Holtby more, but we’re not. And once again, we’re not seeing him tonight. It’s insane.

  • Tadd

    Thanks a bunch, Peter, for picking me up on that Backy thing I asked you about on Twitter.

    I haven’t been able to watch games over the last week or so (is THAT why we’re loosing?), due to stuff like work, the kid and beer. Not in combination, though.

    When Oates put Nicky between the Black Hole Brothers, I feared that he was about to destroy Nicky’s season. Luckily, Eric Fehr got the LW spot pretty quick.

    I can’t figure this team out. I have a feeling it’s more a coaching and man management problem, then an actual on ice problem, right now. There’s so much in limbo (3 goalies, Holt’s on the bench or thrown in when Grubi’s lost the game already, Big John Erskine-Connor Carrick, the Erat circus) and I think that’s a huge part in why the team suddenly can’t score or win games.

  • Jaime

    Kinda bummed that no one has responded yet. I was really hoping to get some insight. Maybe I’ll try Japers’ Rink.