Week 19 Snapshot: Hold That Thought

Evan Vucci

Photo: Evan Vucci

Everyone sees how tough the Caps schedule will be after the Olympic break. It’s not pretty. Fortunately, the team won three of its four games this week. Those six points are going to matter, big time, come April.

But now we’re at a moment of reflection. With no games until Thursday the 27th, we’ve got an abundance of data to pore over before we see any more actual Caps hockey. Looking at the ledger this morning, I find myself surprisingly optimistic for the team’s future. Not because the Capitals have a strong roster or winning corpus of tactics; they don’t. But because the distance from here to there isn’t that far.

I’m not saying it’ll happen and I’m not even saying I’m confident it will. All I’m saying is a combination of not-all-that-major trades, some deployment adjustments, evidence-based lineup decisions, a few prudent scratches, smart goalie management, and one massive defensive systems overhaul could put this team back where we thought they’d be at the end of last summer.

Well, now that I type it all out, it seems like a lot.

Shucks. Oh well. Let’s take stock of the team one last time before we go crazy with Olympic fever. (Go USA!)

These are the numbers as of a little before noon on Sunday, February 9th. 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, week 18

Forwards

Player Pos GP TOI GF GA SA% Sh% Sv% PDO ZS%
Aaron Volpatti L 40 195.9 3 5 39.3% 4.6% 94.7% 99.4 52.7%
Alex Ovechkin L 55 524.7 17 22 50.5% 5.8% 92.4% 98.1 59.7%
Brooks Laich C 44 352.6 10 10 47.1% 6.6% 94.3% 100.8 50.1%
Eric Fehr R 50 408.4 12 17 51.1% 5.9% 91.5% 97.4 48.5%
Jason Chimera L 59 478.4 23 24 47.6% 9.2% 91.1% 100.3 45.6%
Jay Beagle C 39 233.6 2 5 45.6% 2.2% 95.1% 97.3 50.5%
Joel Ward R 59 461 21 22 49.3% 8.9% 91.1% 100 47.3%
Marcus Johansson C 59 503.6 16 24 47.7% 6.9% 91% 97.9 54.1%
Martin Erat R 51 371.3 17 17 51.2% 9% 91.1% 100.2 50.1%
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 59 545.8 17 24 50.1% 5.8% 92.1% 97.9 56.1%
Tom Wilson R 59 273.2 7 9 45.8% 6.6% 92.7% 99.3 56.3%
Troy Brouwer R 55 479.1 15 14 47.1% 7.6% 94.4% 102 49.2%

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 31 296.8 13 14 47.2% 9.4% 90.6% 100 46.9%
John Carlson D 59 610.1 18 28 46.6% 6% 91.8% 97.8 50.4%
Karl Alzner D 59 612 17 23 47.4% 5.8% 92.9% 98.7 50.6%
Mike Green D 51 594.4 18 20 53.7% 5.8% 92.9% 98.7 56%
Connor Carrick D 20 182.6 5 8 44.7% 6.5% 91.7% 98.2 49.4%
Dmitry Orlov D 33 397.6 9 14 53.4% 4.5% 92.3% 96.9 52.3%

Observations

  • The Capitals’ year-to-date puck possession (i.e. even-strength shot-attempt percentage) continues to inch upwards. It is now at 49.76%, up ever-so-microscopically from last week’s 49.67%. Depending on who’s healthy after the Olympics and despite a really really really tough schedule, I think I’d stake my lunch money on the Caps being an even possession team by the end of the season.
  • Martin Erat‘s 44th shot was an empty-net goal. In the history of the league, only 14 forwards took 44 or more shots in a season without scoring a goal. Also, I still don’t know what the word shneid means. Erat ranks 1st among Caps forwards in close-score puck possession, 2nd among forwards in 5v5 assists, but he’s in a 3-way tie for 13th in goals. I’d expect that last one to change.
  • Aaron Volpatti got just 3.5 close-game minutes in his one game this week. He’s the only forward with a sub-40 possession score (SA%), so I’m glad to see him get very little ice and/or a seat in the media area. On the other hand, protecting and sheltering weak players on the fourth line means limiting opportunities for scoring dudes on the top lines. For example…
  • Alex Ovechkin rightfully takes most of his zone starts (ZS%) in the offensive zone– 59.7%, more than any other forward on the Caps. But there are 29 guys in the league who get even more favorable zone starts, including Mike “Jokes” Ribeiro at the tippy top. Adam Oates does optimize his players to an extent, but I posit that the weakness of his bottom six forwards limits his ability to do so effectively. And I’d add that it has probably cost Ovi goals and the Caps wins.
  • John Erskine‘s on-ice save percentage (Sv%) is 90.6%, lowest among all defense with more than two games played. Statistical analysis tell us that most of that number is probably due to random chance. Intellectually I agree, but sometimes I’m like, watch the game, nerds. John is obviously struggling– both in driving play and covering assignments, and Oates seems to have taken his sweater away. While we’re probably all relieved that Ersk is scratched, we’re probably less enthused that he’s basically been supplanted by the Hershey Bears defense.
  • Julien Brouillette isn’t in the snapshot yet. With only two games and just 13.3 minutes of 5v5 with the score close, he’s driven 48.6% of unblocked shot attempts in his team’s favor. He’s also got two points, a perfect on-ice save percentage, a 14.3% on-ice shooting percentage, and  a 114.3 PDO. That tells us almost nothing. If this were an election, it’d be to (Way) Too Early to Tell.
  • I had a discussion with Ian the other day about Karl Alzner and John Carlson‘s viability as a top pairing. Carlzner have been negative possession players (SA% below 50%) for the last three seasons, but they’ve also been taking on the toughest opponents. While there are shutdown defenders in this league who can eat tough minutes and still tilt the ice in their team’s favor, these two aren’t among them. The question we had for each other I now open up for you: do you think Carlson and Alzner’s possession scores are accurate reflections of their talent or just the systems they’ve played under Oates and Hunter?
  • Jay Beagle has basically been promoted under these injury-depleted Caps. In his last ten games, he’s had a 50+ shot attempt percentage (including blocked shots, regardless of the score) just three times. He’s been under 30, i.e. blowout territory, three times as well. Playing the Devils on Saturday, the Caps got 18.2% of the shot attempts while he was on the ice. Now consider this: the difference between Jay Beagle’s salary this year and Mathieu Perreault‘s is $100,000. Look at ExtraSkater’s usage chart. Whoops, George.Player usage chart - 2 players
  • So what happens after the Olympic break? Here’s what I’d like to see: Mikhail Grabovski and Mike Green healthy and playing. Michael Latta called up and taking some tough shifts on the fourth line. Tom Wilson getting more than 10 minutes a night, some of it spent in the top six on an experimental basis. Aaron Volpatti and John Erskine playing Flappy Bird in the press box. Alex Ovechkin taking damn near 70% of his zone starts in the offensive zone with Grabo and Erat flanking him. John Carlson and Karl Alzner being free to be a bit more aggressive once the opponent attacks the blue line. Michal Neuvirth and Braden Holtby splitting starts almost down the middle with no one playing back-to-back games. Hershey defensemen playing defense for Hershey (radical, I know). Marcus Johansson scoring his second five-on-five goal of the year and maybe even a third. Troy Brouwer and Brooks Laich refusing to even make eye contact let alone share the ice. And George McPhee making a trade for better defensive depth.
  • What do you want to see?

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.

Tagged with:
 
  • Adam Schwager

    Kuya, I want Kuya

  • Cooper

    I want to see Kutza

  • Mesut

    I want to see a certain package finally arrive from Russia “wink wink”

  • Jack Conness

    Peter, I have to agree with absolutely everything you just said. IF Grabo and Green are back after the break, the Caps could be in okay shape. I’ve been so down on them lately but the Eastern Conference is so bad they can still make it. If those two are back and Erskine sits, the Caps might be alright. I’m telling you, Marty Erat will get in a groove, if he isn’t already. With him on the 1st line, he will kick ass. He does kick ass. Redemption story of the year baby. Martin Erat. Look out.

    I will admit, Troy Brouwer has looked much better as of late. He has played well, along with MoJo. If this team gets healthy and Peter, if they do bring up Latta, this could be an much more interesting and exciting team to watch. Holtby and Neuvirth are real fun to watch when there is a defense in front of them. They are both awesome goaltenders.

    Let’s see how this goes. But first, let’s enjoy the Olympics! Good luck to our guys!

  • Craig Arras

    I agree for the most part… But I’d like to see Brouillette kept up in place of Erskine. And yes, definitely Kuzya. Or possibly Kuzya just sitting and rehabbing until next year since you almost have to assume he’s still struggling with injuries.

  • Michael Reschly

    What would you give up in a trade for defensive depth? Do the caps have anyone to offer that’s not untouchable (8, 19) and not on a bad contact (42, 21, 10, 20) and not old (25). That leaves 16, 90, and (god forbid) 84 right? Maybe Neuvy?

    Also if you have 10/84/8 on a line, who do you put with 19?

  • Matt Lauer

    The lines I want are:

    Erat-Nicky-Ovi
    Kuzya-Grabo-Fehr
    Wilson-Latta-Ward
    Laich-Johansson-Chimera

  • Roy Schue

    Looks good but johansson is not a fourth liner

  • MuzzMuzzington

    Now the bad news… Erskine will probably be somewhat healthier after the break and will be eating up minutes as well as our hopes of winning games.

  • MuzzMuzzington

    Wishful thinking of Brouwer not even being in the line up after staying on the second line throughout his dreadful season.

  • Spencer Zeitel

    What I’d like to see:
    For starters I’d like to see Kuzya’s team either miss the playoffs (which looks unlikely) or have first round exit. That would bring us Kuzya mid – late march.

    For roster moves I’d like to see GMGM make a move for a top 4 d man. I don’t know what the caps could possibly move. I’d say Erat but now that he’s playing better and he might have some trade value it would be better for the caps to keep him.
    I’m also concerned about who the third pairing is. Orlov and Schmidt seem to the best of the our collection of rookie D-men but I’m not an expert. Full agreement with Volpatti and Erskine. I have no idea why either of them get roster spots.

    For line deployment I’d like to see:
    Erat/Kuzya-Nicky-Ovi
    Fehr-Grabo-Brouwer
    Chimera-Laich-Ward/Wilson
    MJ90-Latta-Wilson/Ward
    I like Erat on the first line but I’d like to see how Kuzya plays with ovi when he comes over. We haven’t had a full line of primary scoring threats since Semin left and I’m hoping Kuzya will fill that void on the LW.
    Fehr seems to be the only player who can legitimately play second line LW In my opinion.
    I think MJ90 spends too much time turning the puck over and feeding off stronger line mates. Maybe he’ll be top 6 material next year.
    Putting MJ90 on the 4th line might turn the 4th line into a better scoring threat and give Oates a reason to gives his 3rd and 4th lines both around 10 minutes per night as opposed to 15/5ish split they seem to get. I want Wilson to get better minutes but it can’t be at the expensive of Brouwer or Ward who both are playing quite well of late.

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

    You named a lot of *imperfect* assets, but I’m not sure they’re unmovable. 42 in particular has a limited term and is shooting hot enough to get some attention. Similar with 20 and 25.

    I’d put 16 and 90 with 19 on the second line, I guess. Maybe 20 instead of 90?

  • MuzzMuzzington

    Wardo has been earning his paycheck this season with 17 goals and 33 points so far.

  • Jack Conness

    I like it but I’d like to see Chimera and Wardo on the same line. Bump up MoJo and have Laich play center.

  • Jack Conness

    Peter, I do disagree with you here. I think Nicky and Ovi should stick together and they should build around that.

  • Matt Lauer

    Fair enough, though I don’t necessarily see that as a fourth line. I’m putting them together primarily because I think they’re all good skaters and have complemented each other well when they’ve been together in the past.

  • Owen Johnson

    I would flip Mojo and Latta. Also put Brouwer Power over Laich.

  • M

    If we could put chimera, ward, or both on the fourth line it would do a lot of good for this team. It would allow Wilson ice time, and having really good fourth liners like chimera and ward, we could have an awesome shutdown fourth line to eat up tough minutes like chicago. Though it would be hard to reward Ward’s career year with a fourth line role.
    21-19-8

    Kuzya-84-20
    16-90-43
    25-83-42
    These lines will probably never happen but that’s what I’d like to see. Laich, Johansson, and Kuznetsov would be interchangeable to me so you could play with the lines a bit. Having wilson and fehr on the same line would be especially awesome.

  • The Mole

    It seems that the biggest part of turning things around would be the addition of that depth defense. Calling up Michael Latta and possibly Steve Oleksy to round out the Bottom6/Third pairing is a great idea, but doesn’t quite finish the job.

    Where this leaves us is Trade. And frankly, I believe that will ultimately be why this season cannot be fully turned around. We have a guy making $4.5M with absolutely zero trade value, another guy making $4.5M that is constantly injured, and a couple of forwards that play well but are considerably overpaid. We need to worry about maintaining the space to resign Grabovski, as he will become part of the backbone of this team.

    Ultimately, regardless of his intentions going forward or any new found enlightenment on how to value incoming/outgoing assets, GMGM cannot unmake the mistakes he has made. He can’t bring back MP85. He can’t bring back Forsberg. He can’t unsign the Brooks Laich contract. He also can’t talk other GMs into giving us a king’s ransom for MJ90 or Martin Erat. This team has pieces that other teams want. Unfortunately, losing those pieces would cripple the team. Trading Green or Carlson or Alzner are all foolish ideas. Letting go of either of our young goalies (young goalies with incredibly friendly cap hits) is a foolish idea. Any of our forwards not named Grabovski/Backstrom/Ovechkin make too much money to be considered safe to trade for, and losing Laich, Chimera, Brouwer or Ward would scuttle our even strength play moreso than it already is.

    The situation looks bleak, and will continue to look bleak until we know what to do with one of those bloated contracts and the salary cap goes up. Until then, it’s one more season of ups and downs and one more year gone of Backstrom, Ovechkin and Green’s youth.

  • Daniel Walker

    If we had paid/kept/devoted resources to Semin, Fleischman, Ribs, Varly & Matty P instead of Schultz, Brooks, Brower, Earskine & Erat this pre-olympic recap would probabally be focused less on if we might be able to squeak into the playoffs and instead on the impending fight between us and the flightless birds for the first Metropolitan Division crown. I hate watching this team lose but I for one am rooting for a playoff miss. As hard as it is to see the forest through the trees, I think its the only way to rid this franchise once and for all of the scurge that is GMGM. If we squeek in, Ted will extend him. Remember he extended Earnie Grunfeld. His GM bar is set very low.

  • liquid8d
  • RESmith

    “but I posit that the weakness of his bottom six forwards limits his
    ability to do so effectively. And I’d add that it has probably cost Ovi
    goals and the Caps wins.” And that is why I have always harped on having good organizational depth.

  • KG

    I don’t think that’s a fair assessment. Semin’s time had passed, Ribs demanded too much, Varly just signed a huge contract that he isn’t worth, and Schultz was bought out. The Fleish trade at the time was warranted as we needed to boost our defensive depth as we took on Scotty Hannan.

    GMGM couldn’t predict the future of the durability of one of the key cogs in Brooks. Brouwer is also a key cog. Erskine, Matty P, and Matty H over Vol-potty are all things that we’d agree on and call mistakes, but show me a perfect GM in this league. You can’t.

    GMGM continues keep our prospect bin strong even without Forsburg. Consider Kuzya, Burakovsky and Riley Barber are all somewhere in the elite – good consideration.

  • Daniel Walker

    This notion that GMGM is an exceptional or even decent evaluator of tallent (one I bought into for quite some time) is false. He is 2 for a lifetime in terms of draft picks meeting or exceeding expectations. Our overall prospect pool is average as compared to the rest of the league. Kuzy is not here yet and often injured. Gustafsson & Foresberg are two completely wasted 1st round picks. Wilson & Connor C have promise but have not shown any signs they will be the special players at the NHL level and I question the impact being in the NHL before they are truly ready will have on them long term. I want a cup. GMGM has no clue what it takes to bring one here.

  • KG

    You’ll never get one with that attitude. ;)

  • Daniel Walker

    Sorry. I am just feeling a little enigmatic.

  • Diller M

    I’m torn between wanting to see the Caps tank, and sell off some of these bad contracts and wanting to see the caps pull off a big surge to make the playoffs. I love watching playoff hockey, but I don’t really see us making much noise with this roster. So, in conclusion, I want to see no bad trades, and caution with regards to the deadline. If we get lucky and the stars align, and Oates stops coaching and lets the players focus on playing, I would like to see the Cup parading down Pennsylvania ave.

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

    Who is “Kuya”

  • Danny Marx

    Best lines (without Kuznetsov, Burakovsky, salary cap / left vs. right shot consideration) :

    Erat-Backy-Ovi

    Ward-Grabo-Chimera

    Laich-Mojo-Brouwer

    Wilson- Latta or Wellman

    Carlson-Alzner

    Schmidt-Carrick

    Orlov- Kundratek

    Green

  • Shaun Phillips

    Agree with everything you said, except Laich. I don’t think losing him would hurt at all. It’s not hard to replace a 4th liner.

  • Shaun Phillips

    Laich on the top line? No way. He can barely skate these days without pulling a groan muscle, let alone try and keep up with Ovi and Nicky. Put Erat or Fehr up there for puck possession and Laich/Beagle scratched. I’d put Wilson or Fehr on 2 and drop Brouwer to 3.

  • Shaun Phillips

    Laich + Brouwer = Black Hole Line. Gotta keep them split. And you’d sit the best puck moving d-man we have for a rookie who should still be in Hershey? Yikes…

  • Eric Schulz

    Don’t know why you mentioned the “king’s ransom for MJ90″ as he is one of the few players on the team who I’d classify as a bargain. I mean, he’s not dominant or anything, but he’s paid less than $2 mil per year, and is pretty clearly a top-6 forward. On another team, maybe he’s good trade bait, but GMGM has screwed up the cap so royally that he’s one of the least dispensable players we have.

  • Eric Schulz

    I agree with all of what you want to see, save I have no idea why people want to see Grabovski with Ovie. Ovie + Backstrom = more than the sum of their parts. Just as with Alzner and Carlson, you can’t split them up.