With roughly a quarter of the season gone and lots of great hockey already in the books, it’s time to take stock in the Washington Capitals. It’s a yearly tradition we call Twenty Games In because we’re not very creative.
There’s a lot of information in this article, so I’ll put the conclusion up top:
This is The Team.
Let me be precise. I don’t mean that in an obvious The name of the band is the Washington Capitals way; I mean it like this could be the team that does what no other Caps team ever could. We’re just twenty and change games into the season, but I think this is the best team this franchise has ever assembled.
Ahoy, snapshot people! The season is almost a quarter of the way over (not to be confused with the quarter pole) and the Caps are trucking right along as one of the best teams in the league. As of the start of play on Sunday, the Caps 27 points (13-5-1) is good for fifth in the NHL.
The Caps score-adjusted shot-attempt percentage of 54 percent is tied for second, trailing only the Kings of Los Angeles. I could go on and on about how everything is turning up Caps so far this season, but I’ll let our friend Muneeb take the mic for a second.
Per game, Caps are now 4th in GF, 6th in GA, 5th in SF, 2nd in SA. At 5v5, 4th in S-A shots, 7th in chances, 4th in HD chances.
It’s a great time to be rooting for this team and it’s okay to want to party a little bit over how well they’ve played. I’m not planning a parade or anything, as the season is far from over and the playoffs are more a crapshoot than anything else. But, I’m saying it’s okay to listen to some Andrew WK to celebrate where the Caps are after 19 games.
The Caps grabbed three of six available standings points this week against teams that are far from the NHL’s elite. Their performance was uneven and uninspiring at times, particularly at even strength. So, it is time to take a long look within to right the ship before their play slides further? No. In fact, it’s time to stay the course.
Uneven play is inevitable over an 82-game season, and standings points can be fickle. In the end, the standings are what matter, but over a week’s time a team’s W-L record can be random and cruel. The process is what a team has more control over and the Caps process remains strong, despite the admission above that they looked a bit uneven at time this pass week.
The Caps 54.8 score-adjusted shot attempt percentage is second in the league and they are also on the right side of the scoring chances at 52.7 percent. The song remains the same: This is a very good hockey team who continues to play very good hockey.
10-3-0. Through thirteen games the Caps are 10-3-0 good for fifth in the NHL with 20 points. The team’s possession numbers are dynamite and their plus-12 goal differential ranks fourth overall. The first snapshot of the season focused on the Caps being who we thought they were (i.e. good) and, two weeks later, that remains true. During an 82-game season, rough patches are inevitable so all these points the Caps have banked so far will come in handy when a cushion is needed.
Often in the snapshot we perform a full weekly physical on the team. We look at all the different parts, point out things that are going really well, but we also diagnose areas of concern and get out our prescription pad to try to find the right remedy.
This week, there’s less prescribing than normal. This isn’t due to a hesitation to diagnose problems when things are going so well, as a team should never get so comfortable that they rest on their laurels and don’t strive to improve. But sometimes it serves to be a listener rather than a fixer. So, today we’ll do more listening to our patient and engaging in a conversation with them, rather than relying as heavily on our prescription pad.
Over coffee this morning I asked myself if the Caps’ power play and Alex Ovechkin’s role specifically are in turmoil. The answer may surprise you. Unless you read the headline, in which case nevermind.
There didn’t seem to be a lot of anxiety surrounding Dmitry Orlov being penciled in on the Caps third defensive pair entering this season. After all, what could go wrong with a guy who only had 119 NHL games under his belt and had just missed an entire season due to injury? But so far, so good for the Caps Russian defender. Actually, so far, so great. Orlov has been great on the Caps third pair, tilting the ice at an elite level.
The Caps are now 10 games into the season, which means we can start to put our guard down about sample sizes. But don’t put your guard down regarding the roller coaster of emotions that is an 82-game season. There will be ups and downs so, as the team embarks on this long road, it’s best to try to keep an even keel.
Even with an opening ten games that went really well, there have been ups and downs for the Caps. There was that awful, Ovechkin-less game against the Sharks, but then a marvelous trip out to western Canada. A disappointing loss to the Penguins was followed by a nice win over the Blue Jackets. So again, keep your eyes focused upon the bigger picture as we follow our team down this long, 82-game road.
An even keel and the bigger picture are also important to keep in mind when reading this snapshot or other analysis of this team. A noted grievance here or a concerned tweet there shouldn’t be taken as an indictment of any one player or coach. The fact is — this team is really good. But that doesn’t mean we should stop thinking critically about ways it could be improved.
Let’s take the long road, which we’re on cheering for a very good hockey team that has a very good coach. Keep this context in mind with these snapshots, or anything written here about the team. The purpose here isn’t to merely be a cheerleader for a team that is in great shape at the moment, but also to examine what can be done to help maximize the odds that this long road stretches into June.
Your feedback has been heard. While some prefer raw shot attempt numbers and others prefer relative numbers, having them both is probably the most informative approach. Goals-for numbers are only raw, not relative. I reserve the right to change my mind on that at any point. Zone starts are gone because, while they can provide a caveat, they aren’t as important as you may think.
Barry Trotz rules and Adam Oates drools. We all know this. But sometimes, and by sometimes I mean as often as you can, it’s important to stop and smell the roses. We’re all set to expire sometime, so why not appreciate what we have while we’re here?
Today, we’re appreciating Trotz and just how much better he is than the last guy.
Pat documented this well over the weekend, but there’s no harm in repetition: the Washington Capitals look fantastic. After seven games they’re ranked third in puck possession, and they’re somewhere in the top five in standings points per game. They’ve got the second best goal differential in the league and they look like they’re having super duper mega fun times.
That does not mean they’ll win the Stanley Cup. Pardon me for pooping on the party, but at this point last season, the Caps’ score-adjusted possession was just 0.1 percent lower than it is right now. I think the Caps are a better team today than they were in October of 2014, but we’re still only eight percent of the way through the season. It’s too early to draw grand conclusions. This first month of hockey is like a funhouse mirror: nothing is quite what it seems.