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.

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, week 19, week 20

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 61 558.3 19 24 49.5% 6.2% 92.3% 98.5 60%
Brooks Laich C 49 382.5 12 12 46.8% 7.3% 93.6% 100.9 51.2%
Dustin Penner R 3 17.5 0 0 44.4% 0% 100% 100 45.8%
Eric Fehr R 56 444 13 18 50.1% 5.9% 92% 97.8 47.2%
Jason Chimera L 65 508 25 25 46.7% 9.5% 91.4% 101 44.9%
Jay Beagle C 45 264.4 3 6 46.1% 2.9% 94.7% 97.6 51.7%
Joel Ward R 65 491.3 24 23 48.2% 9.6% 91.4% 101.1 46.6%
Marcus Johansson C 64 532.1 18 24 47.7% 7.3% 91.5% 98.8 53.6%
Michael Latta C 17 67.6 3 4 48.1% 10.3% 88.2% 98.6 48.5%
Mikhail Grabovski C 50 432.6 20 14 50.5% 8.7% 93.9% 102.5 51.7%
Nicklas Backstrom C 65 582.8 20 26 49.6% 6.5% 91.9% 98.4 56.3%
Tom Wilson R 65 300.5 7 9 45.7% 6.2% 93.3% 99.5 57.2%
Troy Brouwer R 65 516.6 17 15 47.6% 7.8% 94.3% 102.1 48.3%

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 35 321.8 13 14 46% 8.7% 91.7% 100.4 47.3%
John Carlson D 65 649.9 19 28 46.6% 6.1% 92% 98.1 49.9%
Karl Alzner D 65 649.3 19 23 47.2% 6.2% 93.2% 99.4 49.9%
Mike Green D 57 642.9 24 23 53.8% 7.1% 92.4% 99.5 56.2%
Connor Carrick D 26 225.2 5 9 41.6% 5.4% 93.1% 98.6 47.2%
Dmitry Orlov D 37 435 14 16 54.3% 6.3% 91.7% 98 53.1%

Observations

  • 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?

wildcard

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.

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:
 
  • Sasha Kahn

    IT”S KUZYA TIME!!!!!

  • Ben

    A 4th line of Burakovsky-Kuznetsov-Wilson would be a wrecking crew

  • Jack Conness

    We can’t see Oates screw up Kuzya. That would be devastating. I am very worried about this as we have seen the awful development of Tom Wilson. We need a coach that can bring these young players in and get everything they can out of them, like a Coach Q, Bill Belichick, or Greg Popovich. I know those coaches are just easy to come by but the Capitals have so much talent go to waste. And they have a nice group of youngsters that I want to see pan out. I don’t think Oates is the guy to do this.

    Regarding more this season, we NEED to see Grabo come back. The Caps desperately need a 2nd line center. They also need to see Dustin Penner not play junk minutes like he did against Phoenix. He cannot turn into another Marty Erat. We can’t go through that disaster again.

  • Lawrence

    I think Kuz will be just fine with Oates as his coach. I just don’t see how Oates is getting blamed for so much these last 2 seasons when in my mind the roster is the biggest issue. Oates hasn’t been given a fair go at his first head coaching job, hes an offensive minded coach that is trying to teach a bunch of grinders a puck control game. This team is built to play hunter hockey or Ranger hockey (block shots, win by out working the other team). Oates needs more players like Kuz on this team to coach. I can’t even imagine what this team would of been capable of with Oates coaching during the 2009 – 2010 caps (not that Bruce didn’t do a good job).

    Besides making a few of our players angry what has Oates done that wrong? So much of this season is a wash because of our roster. it wouldn’t matter who was the coach of this team.

  • Chris Cerullo

    Hmm what’s Peter Laviolette doing these days…

  • Chris Cerullo

    I would hope that is never a 4th line that ever happens. Ever.

  • Matt

    I’ve been instructed by my girlfriend that lumbus should be referred to a c-bus. I dont know why. But she is from the Cleve.

  • Diller M

    Peter, I’m curious what the numbers look like without the qualifiers, ie the total fenwick in all even strength situations. It just seems like we play so little hockey within your close parameters that it isn’t a true picture of the team. Any thoughts?

  • yv

    I think the best chance for Caps is to get 2-3 place from Flyers or less probably Rangers. Too many teams fighting for WCs, which means high probability that Caps will end with the same amount of points and they will lose in tie beaker.
    Caps now 4p behind Rangers and 3p Flyers , who also have game in hand, implying that Caps need to win 3 more games than both teams. If they will end with very attainable 10-7 record, Caps will need to have 13-4 or 12-4-1?!? That seems very unlikely, unless Kuzya will indeed propel Caps, especially 1 line that usually loosing battles at ES. Without first line Caps don’t have any chances.
    It is really a puzzle why AO keeps Carrick , and Erskine. They might OK at home, but in away games they’d be totally exposed, especially in California trip. Even Pens barely escaped with 2 SO points despite been hugely outshot 2 to 1 in both games.
    It seems that after 65 unimpressive games the Caps only chances are that they will get back Grabo, and outstanding mind out game from Kuzya and Halak .

  • Fellitov

    I agree with these posts, obviously stats don’t lie, BUT you also have to account for misplays, bad breaks, offensive pushes (time of the game)
    etc. I know these are unmeasurable and I’m not trying to make
    excuses…but in a salary cap world where every team is solid PLUS with
    the defense that the Caps have, I feel like Oates is doing a good job.

    AND
    on the Kuzya note, you can’t compare him and Wilson just because of
    their age. They are two completely different players that (hopefully)
    are used in different situations. Kuznetsov is Oates’ type of player and
    I believe this will not only benefit kuzya’s development but Oates’
    coaching development too. He’s a rookie coach, he’s a brilliant dude,
    he’s learning everyday just like the players and you can’t expect him to
    whip together a Stanley Cup winning formula with the defense he has
    been given.

  • Guest

    The weakest teams still in the race are the Devils and Wings. I think it’s between the Caps and the Jackets for the final spot.

  • Bugs Fire

    As much as I would like to see Caps win the Cup this year, it just does not seem to be in the cards. Hence it matters little whether Dustin Penner experiment turns into another unmitigated disaster. I think GM got Penner because Penner became available, not because he is part of the team future. In fact, Penner trade makes little sense (although admittedly it hurts nobody), because Caps will either miss the playoffs or exit in the first round, at which point Penner is UFA and walks.

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

    Great point.

    With Fenwick Close, the problem is smaller sample size. With Fenwick overall, the problem is score effects.

    When we had only a few weeks of games, it was a big difference. Now it’s not so much. About half a percent. Unless you’re Marty Erat,

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

    You’re totes right about having MORE information with the misplays and bad breaks and stuff. I think good understanding of Caps defense requires all of that.

    HOWEVER, a lot of that information is already included in possession scores. A player who is bad at shutting down odd-man rushes will allow more shots against. A player who is bad at making NZ passes will create fewer shots for. These data aren’t as precise about HOW those things happen (we still uses our eyes for that mostly), but they do indicate that they happened.

    Regarding your last point, my criticism of Oates’ coaching doesn’t mean GMGM has given him a winnable roster. There are problems with the coach and there are problems with the GM, and neither excuses the other entirely.

    More on this soon.

  • riggorules

    Yes, the roster isn’t “complete” to say the least. But I think there’s plenty wrong with what Oates has done. Aside from Ovi, and really Ovi on the PP, this Caps roster as individuals and as a unit has largely regressed. I hated the Erat trade, but Oates stubbornly burying him while handing Laich and Brouwer an unlimited leach in the top 6 was baffling and ultimately a failure. He seems to go out of his way to make illogical lineups that predictably don’t pan out.

    Secondly, I think the fiery screaming coach wares thin and I appreciate that Oates doesn’t pull that schtick. But at some point the team needs a kick in the pants and there have been too many occasions where you’d expect the Caps to come out all fired up, but instead look flat and listless. The first two periods in Philly, for example. How could they not be amped for that game? But they looked barely interested. So as a tactician and a motivator, hard for me to really see many positives, although I admit liking the hire at the time.

  • Diller M

    It would be interesting to see what a good team does in each situation, for example down 2 a good team gets 70% sof shot attempts and how the caps compare to that

  • Lawrence

    You bring up good points and I agree about his roster decisions on Laich and Brouwer, but honestly Erat is a player that fills a similar role to Laich and Bouwer (and for some god known reason every coach in this organization loves laich and brouwer so they got special treatment). All of the issues with this team stem down to not having the right personnel. This roster lacks talent, lacks maturity, and most importantly lacks defenseman. When you take all that into consideration, does it really matter that Oates hasn’t played a certain rookie? Or made a few expendable players upset? At the end of the day it wouldn’t matter who was coaching this team, this roster just isn’t there. Blaming the coach is an easy way out and I wish we would stop doing that with this team or the real problem will not get resolved.

    Do I agree with what Oates has done with certain players? No, but I don’t think it would make a difference either way.

  • riggorules

    Fair enough.

  • MuzzMuzzington

    Just read that “Final decision is up to Oates whether or not we see Kuznetsov on the ice on Monday.”

    I’m not so sold we will see him knowing these Oatsisms about “chemistry” and that bulshozzle.

  • Graham Dumas

    Ugh. If the Rangers win a cup this year, life in NYC will be insufferable for years to come.

  • MuzzMuzzington

    My money is on the Hawks to repeat if Hossa gets healthy. They’re just so damn deep up front, in back, and straight scary when they really want a game. Don’t think anyone can win a 7 game series unless they steal a few early games.

    Blues are damn good too. Living near Dallas, I have been watching a lot of western conference games… The teams seem better than the East in my opinion.

  • Austin

    Really looking forward to seeing Kuzya physically skate on Verizon Center Ice tomorrow night. Pray Oates lets him play.

  • Austin

    on a side note, can someone tell me what western conference teams we have left to play?

  • Hockey mom

    I can only imagine! UGH!! Thankfully, I don’t live there anymore!!

  • Hockey mom

    Totally agree about the coaching. I said it in a post last week that the Strong, Silent approach isn’t getting through to these guys.

    Not that he needs to be yelling, but the need to be called out and corrected immediately to improve. Waiting for the intermissions or until they review the play the next day is far too late in many cases.

    By addressing things as they arise on the bench it shows that he cares about their play and the outcome for the the team. It also shows that THEY are accountable for whatever they are or in many cases aren’t doing to get us a W.

    We have a lot of young players and they still need guidance and direction on how to improve. I think that earns his players trust and makes them want to play better.

  • johnnymorte

    MacDonald logged a lot of minutes on a very bad team. He fits in well as the offensive Dman for that club. I do agree that as a poor man’s Green he would have done us no good. Got to give Holmgren props he found a way to bounce back. Bay’s gonna crumble without MSL and Detroit might croak any minute. That’s our best shot.

  • Bugs Fire

    I like Oates, I really do. But I don’t buy the “he is doing his best with players he got” apology.

    Coach has one job, and that is to maximize output of the roster he got. It is probably correct that this year’s Caps are not the best match for his style. Nevertheless, he obviously mismanaged some players (Erat, Laich/Brouwer, Wilson, Orlov, all of the goalies). I would argue that all the bright spots (Grabovski, Fehr, Ward, Chimera) are not really exceeding their potential. He is credited with “return of the Ovie”, and that is fair. But Ovie is pure gold to begin with, and head coach should be a bit more than than a personal trainer to team’s superstar. You know, walk and chew gum at the same time?

    As much as I like Penner trade, he is only here till July. If Oates understands the game (and he certainly does), he must have begged for upgrade on the blue line. Whether he mismanages a player who will walk at the end of the season in which Caps will either exit in the first round or missl playoffs entirely does not matter much.

  • Shaun Phillips

    That’s the problem with Oates, he saw Erat as playing the same role as the Black Hole Twins. Erat is actually a puck possession guy (when he’s not turning it over into goals for the Caps, Thanks Marty!), while Laich and Brouwer are dump/chase/grind guys.

  • Shaun Phillips

    Actually Detroit is more likely to get grounded/need a timeout with all of the youth on the team right now. The average age of the starting lineup last game for Detroit was 28.1. Without Bertuzzi (who has been scratched a lot) and Alfie (who has missed several games due to injury), the age drops to 26.6 which is the same avg age as the Caps last game (Wilson and Carrick are keeping the Caps age down). The whole “Detroit’s old” schtick got old a long time ago. :P

  • Shaun Phillips

    Unfortunately, we’re only missing 1 of those 3 for tonight’s game’s 4th line…

  • Shaun Phillips

    And Kuzy on the 4th line… #WillyBaby all over again. Hope they get more than 7-9 minutes of ice time, otherwise Kuzy’s probably going to rethink his decision.

  • Shaun Phillips

    And now the 25 yr old (Joakim Andersson) is out indefinitely with a broken foot. FML