Photo: Mitchell Layton
With eight games left to play, the Capitals are two points out of a wild card spot. Columbus (reminder: apparently now they’re good a team) and Detroit have 82 points to Washington’s 80. In the final two weeks of the regular season, the Caps must close the gap.
They’re not going to do it playing like they have been. According to Sports Club Stats, the Caps have a one-in-four chance of making the playoffs right now. That’s a fun coincidence, because they also have just one forward line out of four that doesn’t look like hot garbage.
In this week’s snapshot, we take another look at the Caps’ chances of making the playoffs and suggest one painfully obvious way to improve them. (Hint: it’s in the headline.)
These are the numbers as of noon on a rainy Sunday, March 30th. The sample is just 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, week 23
- The Capitals’ team-level puck possession (i.e. even-strength shot-attempt percentage when the score is close) is unchanged this week: stable at 49.31%. I consider that a meager victory since the Caps played two very good possession teams for a total of about 41 minutes in the sample. That said, I have completely abandoned hope that the Caps will be a 50+ team this season. The Caps get decisively outshot; they have more in common with the Leafs and the Panthers than a Cup contender.
- It was a light week, with only two games on the schedule, so most of the players saw only about ten minutes in the sample. The team’s elite players, like Jay Beagle, saw a bit more with around twelve minutes.
- That was a joke.
- Jason Chimera and Joel Ward have skated together during 5v5 for 7 and a half hours this season. They’ve been outshot during that time, but they’ve managed to outscore their opponents with 51.4 percent of goals belonging to the Caps. When they’re apart (less than two hours total), they’ve fared poorly in possession– hinting that there’s some genuine chemistry there, but I have to think they’re getting a bit lucky. That shouldn’t take away from their line being the only one of Oates’ four that is not inherently broken; they do a lot of things right– particularly skating with the puck through neutral and actually generating shot attempts in the offensive zone.
- On the other hand, Alex Ovechkin! Since March 16th, Ovi’s been taking shifts with Jay Beagle. He hasn’t been on the ice for a 5v5 goal since then (though, to be fair, it had already been three weeks at that point: Ovi’s last 5v5 success was on February 27th against the freaking Panthers. I don’t expect any changes to the top line for Sunday’s game against the Predators. Oates.
- Nick Backstrom has seen better results than Ovi on the scoreboard, but they belie how thoroughly outshot his second line is. In the last month, Backstrom has outshot the competition just once. That was yesterday. In seven of those games he’s been under 40%. The second line is just not working. I don’t expect any changes to the second line for Sundays’s game against the Predators. Oates.
- You’re probably gonna ask, so I’ll just tell you: when Ovi and Backstrom skate together during 5v5 this season, the Caps get 50.5% of the shot attempts.
- Here’s a fun game I just made up: who is the most screwed over Capitals player? Obviously there’s Erat, but you could also make an argument for Dustin Penner, acquired to be a top-six forward but instead serving strictly fourth line minutes. Maybe Jack Hillen and Brooks Laich, two players whose capabilities we don’t really know because their last couple seasons have been obliterated by injury. And there’s Tom Wilson, whose crummy usage in his is rookie year is unprecedented. But naw, it’s gotta be one of the two guys at the left of this chart.
- This chart shows how the Caps’ share of shot attempts and goals do– or do not– line up for each player. At left you see guys who see few fewer goals than you’d expect given their shot-attempt differential. Far left: Alex Ovechkin, with his even possession but awful 35% goal ratio, which we’ve already talked about. Second is my candidate for unluckiest bro in a Caps uniform: Dmitry Orlov. Orlov has tilted the ice better than any Caps player this season during close games and overall 5v5 (SA%). But his on-ice save percentage is a lowly 91%. Is that his fault? Some say yes (“Dude, use your eyeballs; lazy mistakes, he’s a defensive liability!”), but please consider this: Among defenders over the last five years, John Erskine has the 7th highest save percentage. Defenders certainly have some role in limiting dangerous attempts, but we tend to overstate how much of a role they have in their goalie’s save percentage.
Alright, onto the stretch run. Here are the remaining eight games for the Jackets and Wings– with each team’s shot-attempt differential during close games. First, Blue Jackets (50.84%):
- Avalanche (46.83%)
- Flyers (48.22%)
- Blackhawks (54.91%)
- Islanders (48.55%)
- Coyotes (49.35%)
- Stars (51.96%)
- Lightning (51.58%)
- Panthers (49.03%)
And here they are for the Red Wings (51.46%):
- Lightning (51.58%)
- Bruins (54.17%)
- Sabres (41.27%)
- Canadiens (48.11%)
- Sabres (41.27%)
- Penguins (51.03%)
- Hurricanes (48.04%)
- Blues (52.12%)
Now, on a game-by-game basis, a team’s possession score isn’t a strong predictor. This could still go a million different ways. There are some gimme games in here– two against Buffalo for Detroit for example– but it’s going come down to who gets hot in the final weeks. And who gets hot is largely an accident of probability.
That said– if a certain coach is looking to help the hotness along, maybe it’s time for Nicky and Alex to play together.
- 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.