chimera-ward

Lines aren’t everything. The players a team chooses to ice are more important than the manner in which they get iced. Still, when the beat writers tweet the morning lines, it’s fresh grist for the anguish mill. It’s an infinite stream of content to react to– our of excitement or despair. I’m as guilty of it as anyone else.

Though it’s not as if Barry Trotz has been particularly good at assembling his lines effectively, at least according to the evidence. After twenty games, the Capitals’ best lines have been used irregularly at best. Their most effective trio of forwards hasn’t even skated together since game eight, though Trotz has also found some surprising strength in the team’s depth.

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the-guys-Christian-Petersen

Photo: Christian Petersen

There are lots of different ways to look at hockey information. The Sunday snapshot is just one of those ways, and it’s far from being comprehensive or fully circumspect. Sometimes the numbers sort of lose their meaning– as if in a vacuum.

Is a 2.14 CorsiRel good or bad? How good or how bad? Is it a percentage or a rate? How does it compare to the rest of the league? What is a CorsiRel anyway?

As a community, we need more and different ways of presenting and intuiting data that can sometimes be untidy and inscrutable.

Here’s one idea. Now that the Capitals have twenty games under their belt, let’s look at Cap forwards in the context of the whole league. No hard numbers here, just big-picture, stack-ranking stuff– a new way of looking at familiar stuff, but with pretty colors this time.

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Twenty Games In: Where We Stand

Rob Carr

Photo: Rob Carr

With about a quarter of the 2014-15 season gone, we’re running a series on RMNB about where the Caps stand and where they’re heading. I’ve already gone into some detail, and I’ll have more analysis and opinion coming in the next few days, but for now let’s take a bird’s eye view.

Forgive me, I’m about to draw some pretty broad conclusions.

The Capitals are mediocre, but keep reading.

At scoring, they’re neither good or bad; they’re just about even. They’ve got a coin flip’s chance at making the playoffs.

But the Caps’ goaltending and shooting are both below average and are both likely to get better. The Caps are outshooting their opponents convincingly, suggesting that they’ll start outscoring their opponents in the future, although the team will continue to get into trouble when protecting a lead.

Special teams look stable. Washington’s power play is second best in the league and looks to remain that way. The penalty kill is in the middle of the league, and projects to stay there as well.

In short, the Capitals’ record is unremarkable, but there are encouraging signs below the surface– and the team has opportunity and motive to get even better.

Lemme break it down.

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Christian Petersen

Photo: Christian Petersen

Editor’s note: The snapshot should be up first thing on Monday morning. Instead, now that the Capitals are twenty games into the season, we’ll be running a series on how they look so far.

Barry Trotz is a huge improvement over Adam Oates. It’s not even close.

But as the season goes on, it’s becoming apparent that Trotz has chosen his favorite players and will place them wherever he wishes in the lineup despite evidence that it’s hurting the team. For all his many, many successes, Trotz is not exercising good evidence-based decision making in his distributing ice time.

Now that we’re twenty games in, this is a good opportunity to understand how Trotz is apportioning time, and how it’s working (or not working). To do that, I’m gonna use a visualization introduced by Tyler Dellow about one year ago that was later adopted a lot of places, including here, back with the top-Heavy Oates!Caps.

It’s not going to be pretty.

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Blind Item: A Tale of Two Teams

Totonto Maple Leafs v Florida Panthers

Pic not related

Here’s a little experiment that might shed light on our current situation. I’m gonna share a couple key, even-strength stats from two teams, but I’m not going to tell you which is which.

Team A Team B
Possession 54.38% 50.18%
Goals 56.24% 42.11%
Shooting 9.14% 7.51%
Goaltending 91.67% 89.37%
Attempts / 60 38.78 38.15
Opponent Attempts / 60 32.53 37.87

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Mike Green Doesn’t Get Enough Respect

green

Photo: Getty Images

During a recent broadcast, CSN displayed a graphic showing where Nick Backstrom and Alex Ovechkin currently rank on the Caps all-time assist leaderboard. It wasn’t the first time this season we’ve seen graphics showing those two, plus Mike Green, sitting near the top on Caps all-time leaderboards. Allow me to quote myself:

I know Ovechkin’s play frustrates some people. Mike Green has taken criticism as well– whether it be about his health or purported weakness in the defensive zone. Let’s put that last part aside for now, but I’ll come back to it.

Let me get this out of the way: Mike Green is a great hockey player. No matter how bad some people claim he is at defense or how “soft” he may be in the defensive zone, the Caps are a much better team when Mike Green is on the ice.

(And no, he shouldn’t be made a forward.)

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Photo: Sergei Belski

Last week, Brian MacLellan spent time answering questions from the media. During the session, MacLellan spoke about his two big off-season acquisitions, Brooks Orpik and Matt Niskanen. “I think they’ve added a lot of stability to [John] Carlson and [Karl] Alzner,” MacLellan said of Orpik and Niskanen. When it comes to Orpik, MacLellan is wrong. Very, very wrong.

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Week 5 Snapshot: Orpik, Ovi, and Optimization

Scott Rovak

Photo: Scott Rovak

When the Caps were losing games early in the season, it wasn’t a big deal. The Capitals were playing well when you measured their shot-attempt differential, but the goalies were letting in too many goals. Because goalies’ cumulative save percentages are extremely volatile early in the season, and because Braden Holtby’s career save percentage is pretty high, there wasn’t much cause for concern.

Now, after deflating losses to the Blues and Devils– both great possession teams– the Capitals’ possession seems to have eroded a bit. The goaltending, at least Holtby’s 96.4-percent effort on Friday, hasn’t been bad since early November. The problem now is that the Capitals can’t do the thing crucial to winning games: score goals.

You can chalk it up to urgency, and to some extent I do, but there is also mounting evidence that the Capitals are failing to optimize their offense. That’s the topic of this week’s snapshot.

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Ovi backchecking? You better believe it. (Photo: Luis M. Alvarez)

Jen Lute Costello of Puck Daddy recently wrote a nifty post about shot suppression. I’m paraphrasing her, but the basic idea is that there’s more to being a great possession team than simply having more shot attempts than the other team. While having more shot attempts than your opponent is the essential ingredient, it is optimal to also limit the number of overall shot attempts or “events” (the combined number of shot attempts between two teams in a game). Again, my paraphrasing does not do Jen’s great work justice, so I recommend reading her work.

The Capitals are a much better shot-possession team this season compared to last. But our optimism shouldn’t stop there. The Capitals aren’t just owning a higher percentage of overall shot attempts, they are also allowing fewer overall opponent shot attempts, so they’re owning the puck more AND better suppressing shot attempts against.

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To All the Caps I’ve Loved Before

goodbye

There’s really no need to read this piece. Your life will be no better for having read what’s below. Your life might actually get worse. You should probably stop right now.

(Last chance.)

So the Caps have freed some players over the last few years, and it feels like all of them have turned into beautiful hockey butterflies. The team had good reasons to trade or release some guys; others… not so much. In this still very young season, those hockey butterflies are playing so good it’s like they’re trying to make you jealous. Well, it’s not going to work, hockey butterflies.

Okay, yeah, it is.

I’m gonna take a peek around the league, in a totally non-Facebook-stalker-y way, just to see how certain ex-Caps forwards are doing in their new homes. Pretty freaking well, it turns out. Starting with prospect-bust-turned-Calder-standout Filip Forsberg, lemme run down who has moved on and how they’re doing.

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