Photo: Francois Lacasse
Finally. The Caps got positively crushed over the past few weeks, but it’s over now. Before they lost that game to Buffalo on the 12th, the Caps had a 60% chance of making the playoffs. It got as low as 12% before they finally won on Saturday. That losing streak hurt badly, but as we’ve seen from the last two weeks it has been driven by bad shooting and save percentages, not overall awful play (unlike the Habs, who really are eroding).
The streak ended in spectacular fashion, a five-goal shutout that typified everything we’ve learned about this team: their puck possession is getting better, their shooting percentage couldn’t possibly stay so low, their opponents’ shooting percentage couldn’t possibly stay so high. Saturday was a perfect metaphorical storm of regression and solid underlying play asserting itself.
None of that means the Caps won’t get ice cold again, but it should help us remember a simple truth: no team is as bad as it looks during a seven-game losing streak.
These are the numbers as of (a little after) noon on Sunday, January 26th. 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.
- Good news first: the Capitals’ puck possession (i.e. even-strength shot-attempt percentage) is almost average! They are now a 49.51% team, up from 49.36% last week. If the Caps can keep it up, they’ll finish the season as a team that actually outshoots its opponents.
- But you don’t care about that right now. You care about the losing streak (RIP), which has been extinguished thanks to a five-goal explosion/Braden Holtby shutout. The Capitals righted the PDO ship with a 14.7% shooting percentage and 100% save percentage. Remember last week, when I said, “The Caps will shoot 15% sometime in the next three months and they’ll even get a shutout or two.” Oh snap. That was creepy.
- Ovechkin missed games, Grabovski missed games, but at least we got Jay Beagle and Casey Wellman to score!
- Neil Greenberg of WaPo (and an RMNB alum) wrote a piece I like a lot about how the Chicago Blackhawks use their fourth line. The Hawks have a stout line of grinders, who take more than three quarters of their non-neutral zone starts in the defensive zone, freeing up the scoring lines to attack more often. Compare that with DC, where Tom Wilson gets the second most favorable zone starts (ZS%) behind Alex Ovechkin. The sheltering Oates gives his very weak fourth line has certainly cost the second and third lines scoring opportunities.
- More on Wilson, who racked up three minor penalties and a fight this week. Way back in October I cut a video asking what kind of player Wilson will become– a scorer or a sideshow. I’d say everything is leading us to conclude the latter, but there’s also that brilliant pass he made to Jay Beagle in Montreal. Wilson needs to get his big ass off the bottom line, where he can do more of this.
- I’ve heard a bunch of criticism for Martin Erat this week. He’s currently ranked 15th on the ice-cold list (most shots without a goal), and he’s been busted for 10 penalty minutes since the 19th. That stinks, but consider the other side. Despite playing with the bottom lines, Erat drives a bigger share of shot attempts in the Caps’ favor during close games (SA%) than any other forward. And despite playing 200 fewer minutes of five-on-five hockey than Marcus Johansson, Erat has one more assist. For the record, they have about the same clip for generating shot attempts– 17.5 per 20 minutes by Erat, 18.9 by Mojo. But Mojo has one five-on-five goal this season, so obviously Erat is a bum. Trade the bum!
- Check out Dmitry Orlov‘s on-ice shooting percentage (Sh%), a lowly 4.3%. Expect to see that turn around soon; Orly is usually good for one to three shots per game, and he generates a lot of offense for the other guys on the ice for him as well– more than Erat and Mojo.
- This will be Steve Oleksy‘s last week on the snapshot, unless he gets called up. Oleksy cleared waivers and showed up in Hershey, where I somewhat doubt he’ll enjoy a 13% on-ice shooting percentage, but he’ll be a solid D-man on the AHL level. Maybe we’ll see him again.
- But not too soon. The Caps aren’t going to get better by pulling guys up from Hershey. That worked back in 2008 and 2009, but not anymore. The farm has been depleted, and it’s time for the Capitals to make moves. Because even though PDO stopped losing games for them, the team still has a ceiling to its success. Without consistently owning the puck with a shot-attempt percentage or a Vezina-level goalie (the Caps have neither), the team would have to rely on good fortune to make the playoffs. Instead, the best move George McPhee could make is a lot of ‘em. Defensive depth, a second-line winger, offloading salary bloat (but not Mike Green): there’s work to be done. The Olympic break is coming; how long will the Caps roster look like this? What do you want to see happen? Let me know below.
- 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.