What will Kuzya’s usage tell us about Adam Oates as a coach? (Photo: Chris Gordon)
The Capitals got two out of six points this week. They’re currently 18 points behind the division-leading Penguins and two points out of third place, behind the Rangers, who have a game in hand. While the team’s distance from first illustrates how far they are from challenging for the Cup, their proximity to the playoffs might be a bit misleading.
The Caps haven’t won a lot of games in rego or overtime this season (just 22), which is the basis for tiebreakers in the standings. Finishing the 82-game season with the same number of points as the last wild card team would mean the Caps are bound for the golf course, so they’re gonna have to leapfrog a team– or hope someone else melts down.
In this week’s snapshot, we’ll look at which teams might helpfully implode to make way for the Caps!
These are the numbers as of noon (or maybe eleven AM, or maybe 1 PM, stupid daylight savings) on Sunday, March 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.
- Team puck possession (i.e. even-strength shot-attempt percentage when the score is close) plummeted to 49.10% from 49.70%. Last week I was all, “the Caps will be a 50+ team by the end of the season.” Not if they play like they did this week. They’re a 45% team in the last 10 games. That’s Thrasher quality.
- Still waiting to find out what the basement is for Connor Carrick. He’s barely clutching onto the good side of 40 percent in puck possession (SA%). Without John Erskine to bring his numbers up (Yeah, I know), I think Carrick is headed to the land of Volpatti. And keep in mind that Caps goalies are putting up strong numbers when he’s on the ice during close games– 93.1 save percentage (Sv%). The Caps haven’t truly been punished for Cricket’s struggles yet. The best thing the team could do in the stretch to protect their playoff chances is give him a sit in the press box.
- Meanwhile: Dmitry Orlov. Best ice-tilting numbers on the team. I really like him. Imagine how good he’ll be under a new defensive system next season. (I kid. OR DO I?!)
- Why is Nate Schmidt still on the snapshot? Because I like him, that’s why. On the other hand, I’m still leaving off Jack Hillen, who returned to action this week after a billion games out due to a tibia fracture. Hillen is driving a little over one-quarter of shot attempts in the Caps’ favor during 5v5 in close games (SA%) with three goals against and none for the Caps, but his sample is just 38 minutes. Still, prepare the suspicious side-eye, just in case.
- Just to underline my hypocrisy, I’ve added Dustin Penner to the snapshot. Again: way too early for conclusions, but we can look at his usage. Why did D.P. play only 11 minutes– basically fourth line deployment– against the Coyotes? That’s a big drop off from his first two games in a Caps uniform, when he played 15-17 minutes. I’m putting a pin in this one; hopefully it’s just an anomaly.
- I’d put “Lovecraft-inspired cult” at 3-to-2 odds. I’d put “Rust dies” at 3-to-1. I’d put “Marty dies” at 4-to-1.” I’d put “both die / Wild Bunch ending” at 6-to-1. I’d put “supernatural deus ex machina” at 35-to-1. I’d put “lawnmower man is teh big bad” at 10-to-1. I’d put “Tuttle is teh big bad” at 7-to-2. Place your bets.
- Troy Brouwer and Tom Wilson play the same position. They have played the same number of games. But Brouwer has played 200 more minutes during close games and 350 more minutes overall. That’s how ice time works with different lines, but that’s a huge disparity.
- Alex Ovechkin dropped below 50-percent puck possession (SA%) in close games this week. His one shot on goal against the Bruins was lowest of the season– and his lowest since March of last year. I still think Ovi’s got a mortal lock on the Richard, but he needs some help during even strength– either in the form of possession or shooting percentages. Can Kuznetsov or Penner provide that? I’m gonna have a LOT more on this after the regular season is over. Like a sickening amount of lot. It’s going to be a thing.
- Next week will see the debut of Evgeny Kuznetsov. How Adam Oates deploys him will factor large in my opinion of the coach going forward. I haven’t been in love with how Oates treats young players. Wilson’s bum rap, Schmidt’s re-assignment, Orlov’s healthy scratches, Carrick’s overuse– I think we’ve got enough data points to make some unfortunate conclusions about Oates as a coach of noobs. And if Oates mismanages Kuzya in these final weeks, how will the organization feel about him stewarding Burakovsky and Bowey in coming seasons?
Alright, now let’s do this. It’s not like the Caps’ destiny is out of their hands, but everything we’ve seen so far tells us they’ll probably miss the playoffs. If they make the playoffs, it’ll be because something has changed. The bullets above detail some ways the team could make that happen. Now let’s chat about what other teams could do to flame out and then root for that to happen.
- Philadelphia Flyers. They’re an inferior puck possession team if you can believe that (during close games at least), but they’re shooting better than the Caps. As we’ve seen, those percentages can be pretty volatile. If the Flyers regress a little on the PDO stats (shooting, saving) and play strictly at the level of their possession, the Caps could catch ’em. Plus, and I love this part, the Flyers picked up Andrew MacDonald on defense. Out of the 91 defenders who have played at least 90% of games this season, Andy Mac ranks 86th in shot-attempt differential. I think GMGM was smart not to trade for MacDonald, and I think he’s an evil genius to let Holmgren get him instead.
- Tampa Bay Lightning. Stevie Y was forced to trade away last season’s Art Ross winner, Martin St Louis, at the deadline. Now that Steven Stamkos is miraculously back from injury, he’ll be playing without the guy he shared between 80% of his ice time with this season. The Bolts have depended on Stamkos and MSL for scoring for the last two years. They did pretty well with just MSL alone this season, but now the heat is on for Stamkos. If he falters, the Caps will seize on that wild card spot.
- Detroit Red Wings. Injuries and age have ravaged the league’s perennial post-season team. They’re ranked D.F.L. in Rob Vollman’s CHIP rankings (cap hit of injured players). But while star forward Henrik Zetterberg is out indefinitely after back surgery, Detroit’s eroding puck possession is still above 50%. I had guessed in the pre-season that the Wings’ playoff streak would end this season. Now I’m not so sure.
- New York Rangers. It’s not gonna happen. They’re really good this year, and they’re in my top 5 for Cup contenders.
- New Jersey Devils. They’re a good team that just happens to be underperforming– mostly due to some crummy goaltending from Martin Brodeur. Neil Greenberg wrote in the Post back in January that Marty could cost the Devils a playoff spot, and his .898 Sv% looks to be doing exactly that. Sad.
- Columbus Blue Jackets. I don’t really have an analytical justification for why or how the Jackets will drop in the final weeks of the season. I just don’t think I’m capable of acknowledging that Lumbus has a better team than Washington. I don’t want to live in a world where that is true.
- 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.