Finding Roles for the Caps’ Misfits

Evgeny Kuznetsov is among the players for whom Barry Trotz has struggled to find a consistent spot in the line-up. (Photo: Bruce Bennett/Getty)

To break out of their slump, the Capitals needed offensive contribution from their second line. Marcus Johansson and Andre Burakovsky scored four points each in the last three games, all Caps wins. Before that, when the Capitals struggled to get points, their third line featuring Joel Ward and Jason Chimera shone. Right now, the Caps have an eight-plus goal-scorer on each of their top three lines in Alex Ovechkin, Johansson, and Ward.

Coach Barry Trotz has found three successful pairs so far: Ovechkin-Backstrom, Johansson-Brouwer, Chimera-Ward. Andre Burakovsky seems to have secured second-line center position for now, which leaves two main vacancies in top nine: top-line right wing and third-line center.

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Photo: Alex Brandon

The Caps power play entered Tuesday’s game against Columbus having converted 28 percent  of their opportunities so far, good for second in the NHL, behind only Pittsburgh. A quick look at their PP shooting, 16.7 percent, might suggest that their success is unsustainable. While maintaining their current conversion rate over a full season is unlikely, there is reason to believe this power play could still one of the best in recent memory by the time this season is over.

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Photo: Geoff Burke

The Caps penalty kill is currently ranked 23rd in the NHL, killing off 77.1% of all shorthanded situations. This may give you a ‘here we go again’ feeling due to how truly awful the Caps penalty kill was last season (They would have been much worse than 16th place if not for very strong goaltending.)

But rest easy, Caps fans. This Caps penalty kill is actually really good and could very well end up among the top in the league once goaltending improves. It could be even better if Barry Trotz starts deploying the penalty killers in a more optimized manner, as it seems he’s been giving the wrong penalty killers the most ice.

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Week 4 Snapshot: Patience Pays Off

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Come! Hug me, for I am an anteater! (Photo: Alex Brandon)

Kevin Klein at Japers Rink wrote a piece about the correlation between puck possession during close games (measured in unblocked shot-attempt percentage) and success. It’s compelling stuff. Here’s my own version of that research.

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Since 2009 and excluding the short season, the top five teams in the league based in the standings control an average of 53.1 percent of unblocked shot attempts. Below them, the solid playoff teams (ranked 6 through 10) get about 51.5 percent of the shot attempts.

Teams 11 through 15 get 50.5 percent and teams 16 through 20 get 49.2.

The not-so-good teams own just 48.3 percent of shot attempts. The bottom-5 teams, who are basically your draft lottery teams, get 47.2 percent.

Last season the Caps most closely represented a draft lottery team. This year, with 54.25 percent possession according to fenwick-stats.com, the Caps look more like a Stanley Cup contender.

That doesn’t mean they are one; the season is still way too young. In the coming weeks we will learn for sure. In the meantime, next time save percentages throw the Caps into a five-game slump, look back at that chart and remind yourself that the Caps climbed from the far right to the far left in just five months.

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After Half a Season, Nate Schmidt Looks Real Good

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If I were to tell you that the Caps have a new young defensemen whose first half season compares very respectably relative to the first half a season of Mike Green, John Carlson and Karl Alzner, you’d probably be excited, right?

Okay, be excited.

Tuesday’s game against the Flames was Nate Schmidt‘s 41st in the NHL. Regular readers of the site know that Peter is a huge Nate Schmidt fan. While I haven’t written much about Schmidt here on RMNB, I’ve written about him elsewhere and think the Caps made a great decision in keeping him in Washington this season.

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The Capitals have lost four games in a row, so some indignation seems justified.

“That is not how I operate,” Barry Trotz said after Sunday’s loss. “That’s not how you win in this league.”

The Coyotes game was a mess, plagued by turnovers, all of which seemed to end up in the back of the Capitals’ net. Justin Peters didn’t have a great night, the Caps squandered a 3-1 lead, and the team seemed to surrender at the start of the third period. It was embarrassing.

“That behavior has to change or we have to change people,” Trotz said with no shortage of gravity.

I can’t argue that Sunday was bad, and the Caps certainly need to make adjustments, but I’ve still got a hunch that this team is capable of being really, really good. Miles better than they used to be.

Maybe I can find someone who agrees with me.

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Week 3 Snapshot: Patience, My Young Padawan

Scott Iskowitz

I don’t like this angle because you can’t see Schmidt’s smile. (Photo: Scott Iskowitz)

The Caps aren’t winning the game they’re supposed to. They’re playing the right way on a pattern level, but a few turnovers here and bad bounces there have led them to a winless week. That stinks, and it’s definitely causing some dissension in Caps fan ranks.

But the team is gonna be alright. The Caps are still doing the big stuff right. There’s cause for mild alarm in a few places, but this is still a playoff team. I’m confident about that.

The snapshot shows us numbers that help us project future success better than just goals or the team’s position in the standings. Those projections still look good. This is a challenge not of the team’s constitution, but of the fans. Do we have the nerve to stay calm? I think so, and here are some numbers that’ll help us do so.

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Photo: Amanda Bowen

Last week we looked at the Caps forward deployment thus far under Barry Trotz. This week, I’m going to take a look at the defense. In doing so, we’ll find the Caps have a shutdown pair fairing questionably, a steadying pair that may be better suited to shutdown than our current shutdown pair, and then a pair of possession monsters who are owning the minutes they are being given.

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Michael Latta fights current teammate Kris Newbury in a game last year.

According to Alex Prewitt of The Washington Post, Eric Fehr will return to the lineup this weekend and the healthy scratch will be one of four players currently practicing on the fourth line. They are: Jay Beagle, Michael Latta, Liam O’Brien, and Tom Wilson

Scratching Michael Latta would be a mistake and here’s why.

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Photo: Amanda Bowen

This morning at Kettler Capitals Iceplex, Barry Trotz took a hammer to the lines that have been so successful in the early part of the season. Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom have been split up. The team’s second line, consisting of Marcus Johansson, Andre Burakovsky, and Troy Brouwer, has been blown to smithereens as well.

The Capitals also made a roster move this morning, recalling Tom Wilson from AHL Hershey and demoting Chris Brown. Brooks Laich, who suffered what appeared to be a shoulder injury last week, did not skate with the team and will not play Wednesday. Trotz believes Laich may practice later in the week. Come on, baked goods, I thought you had magical healing powers!

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