Week 18 Snapshot: Thinning the Herd

Greg Fiume

Photo: Greg Fiume

The Capitals managed to earn half the points available to them this week, a good reversal from the last month, but not enough to put them back on pace for a postseason just yet. To make matters worse, a slew of injuries now imperil the team’s ability to even maintain their middling performance. Top-four defenceman Mike Green went down with an injury this week (he may or may not return on Sunday), as did top possession center Mikhail Grabovski, whose leg injury has him “a ways away” from returning. Brooks Laich is struggling with an injury of his own that he says is unrelated to his nagging groin problems and will be a game-time decision as well.

Those injuries will result in diminished team play for sure, but they’ll also lead to some new lineups and pairings. Players who haven’t gotten a lot of ice so far are about to get promoted in a Grabo-less, Green-less, Laich-less world. How those players will fare in their bigger roles may go a long way to determining this team’s life after April 13th.

These are the numbers as of a little before noon on Sunday, February 2nd. It’s Groundhog Day! Great movie. Great, great movie. 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, week 16, week 17

Forwards

Player Pos GP TOI GF GA SA% Sh% Sv% PDO ZS%
Aaron Volpatti L 39 192.4 3 5 39.2% 4.6% 94.7% 99.4 53.6%
Alex Ovechkin L 51 483.7 15 20 49.9% 5.6% 92.6% 98.1 59.2%
Brooks Laich C 41 330.5 10 10 46.8% 7.1% 93.9% 101 50.7%
Eric Fehr R 46 373.6 11 17 51.1% 5.8% 90.9% 96.7 49.2%
Jason Chimera L 55 446.3 21 24 47.6% 8.9% 90.5% 99.4 45.7%
Jay Beagle C 35 203 2 5 46.5% 2.4% 94.4% 96.8 52.3%
Joel Ward R 55 430 19 22 49.5% 8.5% 90.4% 99 47.3%
Marcus Johansson C 55 470 15 23 48.2% 6.8% 90.8% 97.5 54.8%
Martin Erat R 47 331 14 15 50.9% 8.5% 91.3% 99.8 48.8%
Michael Latta C 17 67.6 3 4 48.1% 10.3% 88.2% 98.6 48.5%
Mikhail Grabovski C 49 430.4 20 14 50.5% 8.7% 93.9% 102.5 51.8%
Nicklas Backstrom C 55 502.2 14 22 49.9% 5.2% 92.2% 97.4 55.4%
Tom Wilson R 55 255.7 7 9 45.7% 7.1% 92.4% 99.4 57.4%
Troy Brouwer R 55 445.6 13 13 47.6% 6.9% 94.3% 101.3 50%

Defense

Player Pos GP TOI GF GA SA% Sh% Sv% PDO ZS%
Nate Schmidt D 29 283.1 12 10 50.6% 8.5% 93.4% 101.8 55.9%
John Erskine D 29 280.9 10 13 46.8% 7.7% 90.7% 98.4 47.6%
John Carlson D 55 568.2 17 27 46.4% 6.2% 91.6% 97.7 50%
Karl Alzner D 55 571.8 16 22 47.2% 5.8% 92.8% 98.6 50.4%
Mike Green D 51 594.4 18 20 53.7% 5.8% 92.9% 98.7 56%
Connor Carrick D 16 137.1 2 7 42.6% 3.5% 90.4% 93.9 50%
Dmitry Orlov D 29 350.2 9 13 54.3% 4.9% 91.9% 96.9 52.4%

Observations

  • Despite two garbage outings against Columbus and Detroit, the Capitals’ year-to-date puck possession (i.e. even-strength shot-attempt percentage) is 49.67%, an all-time high for the snapshot, up from 49.51% last week. Had they not put up such awful performances in those last two games, they might’ve been over 50% by now. That would’ve been nice.
  • My favorite part of the week was when Alex Ovechkin was on the ice for five goals against CBJ and then suffered an onslaught of poorly reasoned hit pieces by bad stat writers (curiously, all from Canada). The ludicrously named and poorly logo’d Department of Hockey Analytics at the Toronto Star used a ton of innuendo and a smidgen of bad math to attack first, followed by Ken Campbell of the Hockey News, which used to be a reputable source. I deliberately didn’t respond to both pieces because I knew the defense would look better from an impartial source, which is why I’ll super-size my link to Ben Wendorf of Hockey-Graphs, who did the job perfectly.
  • Mikhail Grabovski has driven more shot attempts at the opponent’s net than any other center (SA%). With both he and Laich out, Jay Beagle is likely to occupy the top six. Is Beagle up for it? Hard to say. His low on-ice shooting percentage (Sh%) hints that our first impressions might be unfairly unkind. We shall see.
  • Brooks Laich is another interesting case. The team’s possession climbed when Laich went out of the lineup in week 10 (“addition by subtraction“), but Laich appeared to be improving in the last month. Whatever we think of him, the pertinent matter is whether the guy taking his minutes can do better or worse. I don’t think there’s a clear answer, which is why they play the games. Laich is a game-time decision on Sunday.

chart_1 (2)

  • On the bright side, Martin Erat is on the top line as of Saturday. There is no stronger #TheBank than this #TheBank: Marty is gonna score soon. Take it to the thing.
  • I resisted adding Connor Carrick to the snapshot for as long as I could. I had convinced myself the Caps wouldn’t do this to themselves. While Carrick is a delightful young lad, he’s outclassed in the NHL even when he’s not paired with John Erskine. The Capitals’ defensive roster has been their most glaring weakness this season, and Carrick-Erskine pairing is emblematic of that.
  • And it’s going to get a whole lot worse. Mike Green is a game-time decision on Sunday. If he is out, it would be a disaster. Weird, since that’s what a lot of folks wanted. The trade Mike Green crowd called him soft, weak on the puck, bad at defense, inferior to other players, and a bunch of other things that are demonstrably false. If Green cannot play on Sunday or the games following, Carrick-Erskine will get more minutes and various Hershey call-ups will be asked to play big-league defense. Even if you don’t love the way Green plays an odd-man rush, surely you prefer it over how Erskine would do it.
  • Something to watch if Green is out: what happens to Dmitry Orlov? With Green, Orlov sports an awesome 56.9% Corsi rate. Without Green, Orlov is a 45.8%. We might be about to find out who Orlov really is (and also be reminded how awesome Mike Green is in the process).

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

    Wow.

  • http://twitter.com/1bscarbro Benjamin Scarbro

    FYI, Groundhog Day the movie is nothing like the real event… But this is irrelevant.

  • http://twitter.com/1bscarbro Benjamin Scarbro

    Also I’ll be in 404 if anyone wants to party.

  • prut

    I kind of want another garbage outing today. Fire Oates.

  • Stardawg

    I know that plus/minus is a bad stat and people see that Ovi is -15 and use that as proof that he’s a bad 2 way player, but I think its wrong to completely dismiss the argument because +- is used to prove it. At the start of last season Ovi was terrible, he wasn’t scoring and he was hurting the team with his lack of interest in the defensive side of the game. The end of last season, Ovi played (in my opinion) the best he has ever played in his career. He was a 2 way player and seemed to realize that he could generate offence by back-checking and taking the puck away. This season he is scoring at a level unparalleled by anyone else in the league, but I think its fair to say he’s gone back to old habits. If he scores it masks his defensive weaknesses, if he doesn’t, the team struggles to win games.

  • Langway

    Too early for flapjacks?

  • Jack Conness

    This long season of high hopes and dreams is slowing coming to an end unfortunately. Just bad hockey, bad coaching, bad management, and bad injuries. It sucks to see this team play the way it is. I had a good feeling about this season. It just hasn’t panned out. Unload what we can now, score some picks and prospects, and let’s look forward to 2015.

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

    Wellman is showing promise.

    Perhaps we’ll see more of Schmidt, Urbom or even Oleksy in terms of D. Like you said…anything’s better than Erskine…

  • Elvis Rk

    and he has a plus rating overall in his career.

    when the team does bad, it shows on +/-, especially when you get huge chunks of ice time

    Ovi is still one of the greatest. screw +/-

  • Stardawg

    I don’t get it. Those guys allow more shot attempts against so that means Ovi is a good defensive forward? Make no mistake, Ovi is possibly the greatest goal scorer the game has ever seen, but he could be so much more. I think the last half of last season showed that.

  • MuzzMuzzington

    I am a critic of Green fairly often. But he is so much better than 3/4 of what we got on our roster. The fact of the matter is we have young guys leading this defense and no defensive defense/physical leadership. Erskine is physical, but people just skate around him because he is so damn slow.

    I really really hope Green isn’t out for long. But maybe that is the spark to light the fire under the asses of GMGM and Oates to finally address the gorilla in the express elevator that is taking us straight to the basement of the league.

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

    Calling Ovi a bad two-way forward means he’s not good defensively (since he’s one of the GOAT at offense). Looking at the stats, there are many players who have worse numbers in their own end but don’t have the reputation as a bad two-way player. It’s bad analysis.

  • Stardawg

    Right, but I’m not comparing him to other players. I’m watching the way he plays the game. He coasts back to his own end, he makes big circles away from the puck when someone takes it from him. Saying he’s not a bad 2 way player because plenty of guys have worse stats is like saying the Oilers are a good team because they have more points than the Sabres.

  • Chris Cerullo

    Has a 10-84 combo ever been used this season? I feel like it has and I’m just blanking.

  • Jack Conness

    When Grabo comes back, I think it should be 8-19-10 and 90-84-16. I love this 1st line today.

  • Chris Cerullo

    Marty looks like a new man on the top line.

  • dylan wheatley

    hahahah

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

    No, it’s not.

    If the Sabres weren’t characterized as bad, but the Oilers were, then your analogy would be apt.

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

    For 36 minutes of 5v5, yes. They got 59.4% of the shot attempts in that time.

  • Stardawg

    I’m still confused. Are you stating that Ovechkin is a good 2 way player and you have the stats to back it up? Or are you just saying that he has been unfairly cast as a bad defensive player by guys like Campbell because they are using plus/minus as their argument? I agree that using plus/minus to prove an argument is shotty to say the least, but Corsi and Fenwick have their weaknesses too. They are better than plus/minus but still give only generalizations. There is no reliable statistical analysis that can tell you how much Backstrom’s defensive play helps Ovi, or vice versa. My argument is that I think Ovi can be a very good 2 way player if he wants to, and the last half of last season proved that. However, this season he seems to have chosen not to be a good 2 way player and focus on scoring goals. Oates echoed this statement recently when he said, “you’re not just here to score goals” in reference to Ovi (although he didn’t specifically call out Ovi)

  • Owen Johnson

    Urbom didn’t clear wavers. He’s back with the Devils.

  • Eric Schulz

    People are jumping on Oates too fast. Sure, there are things I’d like him to change, but it’s very early in his tenure. Yes, it’d be nice to have a seasoned coach for Ovie’s prime, but if he gets fired, we’ll just start from scratch. He WILL get better with more experience. GMGM won’t. Fire GMGM.

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

    Ahh, I see the disconnect now.

    So I’m saying that these articles picking on Ovi are arbitrary because they don’t have equal criticism for players with similar defensive problems but without the reputation.

    I’m not saying Ovi is a great two-way player. I am saying he’s better than I PERCEIVE others to be rating him. And I’m also saying that having the puck all the damn time makes someone a good two-way player (which is how Ovi does it).

    “You’re not just here to score goals” is a good quote, because we all know you’re also supposed to prevent the other team from scoring goals as well. A good way of doing that: having the puck more than they do.

    I also think “when he wants to be” is a meaningless phrase and we should judge a player based on his average performance instead of our psychic abilities to tell when a player “chooses” to “care.” That is the same malarkey that people hang on Alex Semin, and it withers in the face of serious logical criticism.

  • Stardawg

    Serious logical criticism involves using statistical analysis of a players performance in combination with actually observing a players performance. “‘When he wants to be’ is not a meaningless phrase if you can observe someone making a conscious decision. This does not require someone to have ‘psychic abilities’, it only requires careful observation. For example, If you are on the ice following the play, and in a position to get involved in the play and perhaps stop the opponents from getting a scoring chance, and you do not get involved in the play and coast into the defensive zone simply observing the play, you are making a choice. Why that choice is made is unknown and can be debatable, but it is clearly a choice. This scenario can be aptly applied to both Ovechkin and Semin.
    I feel that using a players average to judge them is poor analysis in extreme cases, such as these two players, because there are too many outliers from the median performance. By this i mean too many fantastic performances and too many terrible performances. To judge these players on their average performance is setting the bar too low, regardless of whether this is fair or not. If a player is putting in a solid effort game in and game out but has inconsistent performance outcomes, then an analysis of average performance is relevant. For you to say my observation of Ovechkin making a choice to play defence or not is ‘malarkey’, is extremely poor analysis. I honestly feel that if you think actually observing a players performance withers in the face of logical criticism, then you have become far too dependent on statistics to make your point.
    I also disagree that having the puck all the time makes someone a good 2 way player. This may just be a difference of opinion of what exactly a 2-way player is. To me, a good 2-way player is someone who competes as hard with the puck as without the puck in both the offensive and defensive zones, aka Datsyuk or Fedorov. You can make the argument, and I think you are, that having the puck more than your opponents prevents them from scoring, thus making you a better defensive player. This is a very relevant point, however, if you use this to refute criticism of a players defensive play you are arguing the wrong point. This is because criticism of Ovechkin’s defensive play mainly involves his play without the puck. Using his possession stats skews this specific argument, ‘is Ovechkin a good defensive player?’
    Good debate, BTW, and good blog, nice to see a blog out there that covers a specific team in a fan friendly way but with a fairly open mind.

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

    You can’t observe someone wanting something. You can’t observe caring. You can observe actions which might reflect caring or wanting, but it’s an assumption and a presumption to interpret it that way. In my experience, it’s unfair and unproductive.

    Further, a player’s output is the average of all his output– not an exclusive collection of “when he wants to try.”

    I’m glad you mentioned Datsyuk because he’s been an overrated two-way player his whole career based on faulty home stat counting (cf. takeaways). He’s a great player, but less great without the puck than he’s been given credit for.

  • Stardawg

    Yes, its unfair and unproductive…if thats all you look at, but you can’t dismiss it when used in combination with other observations, statistical or otherwise.
    Of course a players average is the average of all his output, but when you have huge ups and downs you can’t ignore it. Whats wrong with asking why are the lows so low?
    Your mention of Datsyuk is empty. Make a solid statement! Saying he is over-rated and less-great is ‘unfair and unproductive’. Do you think he is a poor defensive player? He is over-rated than what? He is less great than what? I think he is a fantastic defensive player, I don’t care where he ranks in public opinion or takeaway categories. This is obvious to any serious hockey fan. His takeaways being over inflated due to home bias doesn’t change that fact. Maybe he isn’t as great as people make him out to be, sure thats fair, but it doesn’t prove anything.
    This gets us back to the original point, you aren’t making any solid statements, you are only refuting arguments by poking holes in their analytical methodology. Ken Campbells article used plus/minus to criticize Ovi. Bad stat to use. But he states that in his article. He also used compelling video evidence. Sure, one game is a small sample size, but is this the only game this has been observed? I think not.
    If you are going to refute an argument, I would appreciate you backing it up with some solid evidence to the contrary rather than just shooting down part of it and dismissing the rest. Don’t assume that my belief that Campbells article has been unfairly dismissed means I share his viewpoints. He made some good points and some bad points. Dismiss the bad points and discuss the good ones. Thats good analysis.

  • http://www.russianmachineneverbreaks.com Ian Oland

    I think this is great for Damien Cox’s first try at Photoshop!

    [Wait, I'm being told an actual paid designer made this.]