Check out all the sad faces in the stands (Photo: Don Smith)
Alright, now it’s getting interesting. If you predicted the Caps would go winless in California, you would not have been unreasonable. Those were three tough teams on a big road trip at a crucial juncture in the schedule. Instead of sinking, the Caps took five of six available points and now have a real chance of making the playoffs again.
Sportsclubstats had the Caps at 8.1% last week. Right now they’re at 26.4%. If today’s games go right, the Caps could peek over 30% for the first time since January.
Now we enter into a period of rapt scoreboard watching. From here on out, we’ll be watching Detroit, Toronto, and Lumbus with wide eyes. But that shouldn’t mean the team’s fate is entirely out of its hands. If they can fix their top two lines and stay out of the penalty box, these guys really could pull it off. More on that in this week’s snapshot!
These are the numbers as of noon on Sunday, March 23rd. 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, week 21, week 22
- The needle hardly moved on team puck possession (i.e. even-strength shot-attempt percentage when the score is close), down to 49.31% from 49.37%. Playing against two terrific puck possession teams in San Jose and Los Angeles, it’s pretty darn impressive the Caps held on as much as they did. The Caps controlled between 42 and 45% percent of 5 on 5 shot attempts in those games– and almost half of them when the games were close. Impressive, though I guess my expectations were modest.
- Those games were all expected losses, so what helped the Caps pull out the Ws (and OTL)? I’d start with Jaroslav Halak, who stopped 49 of 52 during even strength in his two starts. Braden Holtby did fine (92 Sv%) in his start on Saturday night, but I’d say the win over the Sharks is owed to some hot shots. Chris Brown’s NHL debut and Eric Fehr’s “goal” were two of only 17 shots generated by the Caps during 5 on 5 on Saturday, and really Ward didn’t even shoot. The bounces just happened to go the right way and then *poof*, the decades-long losing streak in San Jose disappeared.
- I suppose there are two ways to look at the ridiculous success of the Jason Chimera – Eric Fehr – Joel Ward line. One is that they’re super lucky, as evidenced by Ward’s and Chimera’s 10-plus on-ice shooting percentages (Sh%). That would imply regression is coming– and it is– but there’s more going on here. Eric Fehr, although not a natural center, is a proven driver of play. If your recollection of the third line this week is them surging in the offensive zone, that may be because Fehr made sure about 56% of shot attempts belonged to his team while he was playing (against some really strong possession teams). The best example was that slapshot he took from south of the faceoff circle before the SJS own goal. Fehr rules, the the third line rules. If the Caps go the distance (distance in this case is defined as the quarterfinals), this line will be why.
- Meanwhile, in the top six… not so much. There are parts of the Jay Beagle / Alex Ovechkin chemistry that I actually do like: Beagle endeavors to carry the puck in and then find Ovi in the o-zone with regularity. The “regularity” is the problem there. Beagle and Ovechkin are getting swamped in their own zone (low 40s in SA% this week). Seeing as the 2nd line is also struggling (under 40% of shot attempts and four goals against this week), I can’t think of any reason to keep these lines together. Well, except for the whole 5 of 6 standings points thing. Considering how slim Adam Oates’ center pickin’s are right now, I’m guessing we’ll see these lines again next week. If that formulation costs Ovi shot attempts, it might also cost the team a playoff shot.
- But that’s just even strength. The Caps still destroy on the power play, which is where I’d expect and hope Ovechkin to excel in these finals weeks. But the Caps are gonna have to hold on to the puck more during evens to keep pulling penalties. And on the flip side, it is very, very, very important for the boys to stay out of the penalty box in the last ten games. Caps goaltenders were perfect on the PK in California, but they still faced 29 shots in 20.4 minutes. That’s atrocious. I’m not expecting the Caps to suddenly change whatever is stinking up their PK unit in the final phase of the season, so instead they should aspire to keep it to evens and hope their goalies stay hot.
- Worried about Jack Hillen. 38.8 shot attempt percentage (SA%). Don’t wanna talk about it. Hoping it was just good Cali teams polluting his sample.
- Dustin Penner had a really bad game against his old Ducks, on ice for 3 Caps shot attempts and 11 Ducks attempts in under nine minutes on the ice. Since then, he’s gotten more ice and more possession and more results– namely the primary assist on Chris Brown‘s freaking huge goal. Here’s the interesting part: ice time for the fourth line has been increasing. Rookie pariah Tom Wilson saw 3 to 5 extra shifts per game this week, topping out at 10:30 on Saturday. At long last, is Oates finally evolving his attitude regarding the grinders? Let’s hope so.
- Final note: the Leafs play the Devils today and the Blues on Tuesday. If they lose both, which could totally happen, it’s so freaking on. Buckle up.
- 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.