Okay, so I wasn’t expecting this. The Caps are good, which is what we thought, but they seem to be really good. Like really, really good. The Caps are outshooting the opposition, they’re limiting shots against, they’re getting dependable goaltending, and the goals are coming from all over the lineup. They’re a good hockey team again– that’s settled. The only question is this:
How good are they?
We just don’t know yet. The Caps have seven games under their belt, just 8.5 percent of the season. That little sample looks lovely, but who knows what the coming weeks will bring. And there are already things the Caps could do to be better. Starting with Alex Ovechkin.
This isn’t a post about plus-minus or debating its merits. I don’t like it and neither should you, but that’s not my purpose here. You can love plus-minus and still read this post without becoming enraged. Probably.
Jeff Schultz‘s plus-50 in 2009-10 was the highest rating we’ve seen since Peter Forsberg in 2003. When Caps fans or hockey fans in general make fun of plus-minus, Schultz’s name is almost always invoked. Even Ovechkin did it.
But we don’t often look too closely at Schultz’s 2009-10 season. It was uncommon and– most importantly– really, really lucky. Below is a player usage chart for the Caps defense from that season that will serve as the foundation for examining Schultz’s season.
During the preseason, Barry Trotz said that he prefers to keep forwards in pairs when shuffling lines. So far, that has proven to be the case. The Caps’ four persistent pairs through the first five games have been Ovechkin-Backstrom, Burakovsky-Johansson, Ward-Chimera, and Kuznetsov-O’Brien.
There’s a lot of noise in the numbers this early in the season, but with that disclaimer, a look at Trotz’s deployment so far shows many things we’d expect and some things we wouldn’t. But the biggest story is that the Caps fourth line is struggling, and Barry Trotz clearly doesn’t trust them.
They are all smiles. We are all smiles. (Photo: Patrick McDermott)
Welcome back, everybody! This is the Sunday Snapshot, where we take a peek at how players performed when the game was on the line. Here’s how it works.
For each player, I’ll dump a bunch of stats about what happened he was on the ice– possession, scoring, and deployment– during the last week. I’ll highlight in “powderpuff pink” (I didn’t name it) the stuff that jumps out at me, and then I’ll discuss them below.
If this were last season, I’d also be a cranky jerk and you guys would have to cheer me up in the comments. As you’ll see below, that is no longer the case. The Capitals are pretty damn good again. They’re 3-0-2 with positive possession, a deep defense, and a top line that should terrify the rest of the league. This is going to be fun.
Alex Ovechkin won the Calder Trophy for NHL rookie of the year in 2006. That season, Ovechkin totaled 52 goals and 54 assist in 81 games. His 106 points is the 3rd highest total ever for a rookie.
But 2005-06 was also Sidney Crosby‘s rookie season. Crosby scored 39 goals and recorded 63 assists. According to Wikipedia, the only other time two rookies scored over 100 points in the same season was in 1992-93, when Teemu Selanne and Joe Juneau did it.
During 5v5 last season, Ovechkin was on the ice for 33 Caps goals, 20 of them came from Ovi himself. Either Ovi was making his teammates worse (no), or the Caps weren’t doing enough to supplement their captain’s scoring. They were one-dimensional, and that one dimension was Ovi.
When on the ice with Ovechkin during 5v5, center Nick Backstrom scored 4 goals. Two were scored by Eric Fehr, who shared under 100 minutes with Ovechkin, and another two by Casey Wellman, which I can’t even. A bunch of other guys scored single goals, though Marcus Johansson, who shared 600 minutes with Ovi, scored not a one.
I’m gonna try– and fail– to figure out what’s going on here.
I’ve had a bunch of conversations with people since writing a proposal for a new stat site to fill the void left by ExtraSkater.com. There are a lot of exciting developments, so I’ll just use this space to fill you in and solicit more input from you.
First, to all the folks who have left comments and sent emails: thanks! We’ve got a big pool of talented and passionate geeks who are eager to help out. I’ve not responded to anyone yet as I’ve been taking your notes under advisement and speaking to some folks who are working on similar (but not identical) projects. To everyone who is waiting on a reply from me: I should be in getting in touch soon.
Second, there’s some serious competition out there. That’s a very good thing, and I’m using “competition” facetiously. I’ve been on a few email threads with stat geeks and developers who are well on their way to publishing new sites. These sites look primed to meet some of the core features of Extra Skater and even provide a surprising amount of novel stuff. It’s early, but I’d be surprised if at least one of these sites isn’t up by October. It’s exciting, and the people behind these projects should and will be congratulated.
One result of that good news is the appetite and pressing concern for the project I defined– a free, open-source solution for extensible hockey stats– will be much lower. But I don’t think it’s gone entirely.
I’m gonna reiterate my plan and explain why it’s a) still valid, b) novel, and c) kind of easy.
It’s the twilight of the nerds. Along with Cam Charron, Darryl Metcalf (creator of Extra Skater) has been hired to join the nascent analytics department in Toronto. That’s terrific news for them personally and for Leafs fans in general, but it means a massive brain drain for NHL fans.
I expect ExtraSkater.com to be gone for good. Metcalf likely won’t have time to devote to it, and it might represent a conflict of interest to work on it. With that hiring, the Maple Leafs have taken away the single best resource for hockey fans and geeks and writers and coaches. Plus the other 29 GMs.
We can’t allow that. We need to replace Extra Skater.
While hockey fans were paying attention to the Stanley Cup Finals, a handful of NHL teams were focused on hiring a new head coach and/or general manager. The Capitals found their guys by hiring Brian McClellan and Barry Trotz as GM and coach, respectively. Pittsburgh pulled off the unthinkable by hiring ex-Hurricanes GM Jim Rutherford as their new general manager.
Hires like these inevitably lead to questions about the candidates’ credentials and organizational philosophies. Is it a good idea to hire a coach that has experience or one with a fresh set of ideas? Does the same apply to hiring a general manager?