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Photo: Bruce Bennett

The Caps enter game four trailing the Islanders 2-1. Given that the Caps season doesn’t end if they lose game four, this game is not a must win. If someone tells you this game is a “must win”, please tell them they are factually incorrect. A loss would reduce their chances of winning the series though.

But, before the puck drops for game four, here’s a look back at the first three games, courtesy of usage charts from War on Ice.

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Earlier, we looked at how the Caps stack up against the Isles in terms of possession, as well as how they can best stop John Tavares. Next up is goaltending and special teams. Let’s get right into it.

Braden Holtby is a better goalie than Jaroslav Halak. What this means is that there’s no possible way Halak could steal this series for the Isles. But, Caps fans know all too well that any goalie, such as Halak, can get red hot in a seven-game series and carry his team to victory. Nonetheless, going into the series, the Caps have the edge in goal.

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Photo: Nick Wass

Editor’s Note: Derek Miller’s back with some pretty graphs. You can read more of Derek’s stuff at Capital Precession. Please give him a warm RMNB welcome.

Peter was willing to let me bore all you with a ton of plots again, so buckle up for the season-sized comparison. I’m going to look at a lot of the same plots/data I ran last time RMNB had me on, but this time I’ll include the Isles’ data with the Caps’. I’ll try to keep things consistent, where the Caps’ data will be the navy blue and red traces, while the Isles will be royal blue and orange.

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Caps Need Efficient Usage to Beat Islanders

As Pat wrote earlier, how the Washington Capitals line up against the New York Islanders will factor largely in which team escapes the first round. Generating a little more offense and shutting down John Tavares during 5v5 are key.

With that in mind, I thought we’d revisit a fun visualization of how the Caps are most and least effective. I promise it’s pretty.

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Photo from NHL.com

John Tavares is one of the best hockey players on the planet. If the New York Islanders hope to take down Alex Ovechkin, the best hockey player on the planet, and the Washington Capitals, Tavares will have to play a leading role. So, quite obviously, one of the Caps primary concerns when game planning is shutting down the Isles superstar center.

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Sizing Up the Islanders: Puck Possession

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The Caps will play the New York Islanders in round one of the Stanley Cup playoffs. The action kicks off Wednesday from Verizon Center. Here’s the entire NHL playoff schedule.

The Isles are a really good 5v5 team. Their possession numbers on the season are strong. They have one of the best players in the league in John Tavares. This is going to be a tough series for the guys in red.

This is a look at how the possession numbers shake out. Included along with the season-long numbers for each team are the numbers over the last 25 games of the season, as possession metrics over the span have been shown to tell us a lot about how a team might fare in the playoffs.

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Week 25 Snapshot: This Was a Triumph

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I’m making a note here: huge success.

The Washington Capitals had a great 2014-15 season. That’s true for dozens of reasons, some of which I outlined in a thoroughly non-statty article on Friday. But here in the snapshot, we can look at this objectively.

Only two teams improved their shot-attempt differential from last season more than the Capitals: The Nashville Predators (boo) and the New York Islanders (hiss). With a 4.5 swing in score-adjusted possession, the trend has finally ended, and the Capitals are good again. Exactly how good– by the reckoning of the playoffs– remains to be seen, but looking back, I’m over the moon about this season.

But, in this week’s snapshot, the last of its kind, we ask, is the cake a lie?

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Week 24 Snapshot: The New Young Guns

The Capitals’ new young gun.

Understanding 5v5 hockey using shot attempts starts with a number: 50 percent. That is even possession– one for the other team, one for your team, repeat. If your team is above 50 percent, you’ve either denied your opponent some attempts or you’ve managed to create a few extra of your own. Being “in the black,” with a possession number above 50 percent is a sign of an above-average team.

The Capitals are above 50 percent. They’re a 52-percent team– or just about. But I’m not so sure they’re truly or significantly above average. And it’s Buffalo’s fault, dammit.

If you ignore the Sabres (using some sloppy, back-of-napkin math), then the league’s average isn’t 50 percent– it’s more like 50.4 percent. And over on Puckon.net, the median teams have around 51.2-percent score-adjusted possession. It’s like grade inflation for hockey– making the Caps look just a bit better than they are because they, just like everyone else, got to beat up on the worst possession team of the modern era (and maybe longer; I’d love to know the 74-75 Caps’ shot-attempt differential.)

That has nothing to do with what’s in this week’s snapshot, but I thought it was curious.

What’s actually in this week’s snapshot: the Caps have really good young players, but are they fast enough for the Islanders?

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In this week’s snapshot, Peter offered his assessment of the Caps’ chances this Spring in the playoffs:

However they looked in October and whatever hot streaks we’ve seen this season, the Capitals are not a championship team. (Or, if they are, we haven’t seen evidence of it lately.) They’re not bad like under Adam Oates (and for that I am grateful) but they’re not great. They’re just good. They’re a good team with a good coach.

Unless the bounces go bad or they draw a tough team, these Capitals should make it into the second round of the playoffs. No further.

I tend to agree with Peter. The Caps are a solid team. And while anything can happen once you get into the playoffs, I wouldn’t put any kind of money on this being the Caps’ year. They are a good team, but they are not currently a Cup-caliber team.

But, like I said, anything can happen once you’re in the playoffs. So let’s look at three reasons the Caps could win the Cup, beyond the fact that hockey, much like life, is often more random and unpredictable than we can comprehend. And then to be end on a downer, we’ll look at three reasons the Caps won’t win the Cup.

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Week 22 Snapshot: At Least We’ve Got Ovi

Lance Thomson

Photo: Lance Thomson

For me, the snapshot has been about opening up the analytic process on a micro level– adding transparency and immediacy to my journey to understanding of how the Caps play every week. In the interest of furthering that transparency and because I can’t stand being insincere here, lemme say this: my enthusiasm is waning.

Part of that is me not having enough time to do the in-depth research and number-crunching, and part of it is acknowledging that the Capitals merely are what they are: A marginal playoff team with good special teams and one very special player.

However they looked in October and whatever hot streaks we’ve seen this season, the Capitals are not a championship team. (Or, if they are, we haven’t seen evidence of it lately.) They’re not bad like under Adam Oates (and for that I am grateful) but they’re not great. They’re just goodThey’re a good team with a good coach.

Unless the bounces go bad or they draw a tough team, these Capitals should make it into the second round of the playoffs. No further.

In this week’s snapshot, which isn’t 36 hours late you’re just imagining it, it is what it is, but at least we’ve got Ovi.

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