Matt Niskanen: A Case Study in Context

Matt_Niskanen

Matt Niskanen, late of the Pittsburgh Penguins, is one of the marquee defensemen expected to go to free agency tomorrow. New Caps beat writer Alex Prewitt covered the buzz around Niskanen in the Post this morning.

A move to Washington would keep Niskanen with his old defensive coach, Todd Reirden, who coached the blueliner in Pittsburgh and can speak knowledgeably about the player to the Caps front office. And at a glance, Niskanen looks like a very strong player.

Let’s check out ExtraSkater.com, which is the best site on the internet next to the Benedict Cumberbatch Name Generator. Last year with Pittsburgh, Niskanen saw 53.4 percent of shot attempts belong to his team during 5v5– a number 7.3 percent better than when he was off the ice. In 2012-13, he had a 51.2 percent shot-attempt percentage, a 3.6 percent improvement compared to when he was on the bench.

That looks fantastic, but hold on a second.

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awards

The NHL Awards will be handed out in Vegas tonight. Alex Ovechkin will be there to collect yet another Rocket Richard Trophy for scoring the most goals during the regular season. Sidney Crosby will almost certainly win the Hart and Lindsay. If you ask me, Chara, Bergeron, and Rask should make the Norris, Selke, and Vezina a sweep for the Bruins. But we’ll see.

Thing is– the awards handed out during the televised ceremony only scratch the surface. There’s a ton of exceptional and superlative stuff that happened in the league this season. After peeking at the stats, we’re ready to hand out some more.

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“The Pittsburgh Penguins are proud to select, out of nowhere, a guy you will never hear from again.” (Photo: Bruce Bennett/Getty Images North America)

After the Pittsburgh Penguins collapsed against the New York Rangers, some readers suggested that the Caps should hire Dan Bylsma and Ray Shero, both of the Pittsburgh Penguins, should they get fired from their current jobs. In regards to Shero at least, we’re a bit leery.

Here’s one reason why.

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Caps PK

Embiggen.

If you ask the NHL, the Washington Capitals penalty kill was the 16th best in the land this season. They allowed 51 goals and escaped 82% of their shorthanded sessions unscathed, which doesn’t sound so bad. But actually the Caps PK was really, really, really, really bad. They were one of the worst ever, as far as I can tell.

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Head coach Adam Oates of the Washington Capitals is. That sentence is still correct in the present tense. I’m astonished.

This is not another article listing the problems with Adam Oates, or even the problems with George McPhee. This is an article, the last in a series, describing the Capitals on a week-to-week basis using quantified analysis. If at any point the following article reads like a hitpiece against Caps coaching or management, that’s only because the math totally hates them. It’s not me, I swear.

Also, I think Dmitry Orlov is gonna be real good someday. Let’s do the numbers one more time!

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Patrick Smith

Tuesday’s 4-1 win over the St. Louis Blues required the Washington Capitals to withstand a protracted comeback effort in the second and third periods. The effect of protecting a lead meant most Caps players got outpossessed. That’s not really surprising, and it’s totally fine considering how strong the Blues are on the puck and the game’s eventual outcome. A bit more surprising, however, was Troy Brouwer‘s shot-attempt differential that night.

In 10 minutes of 5v5 play, Brouwer was on the ice for 17 Blues shot attempts …and zero by the Capitals.

That’s like 0% possession*.

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holtby face

Photo: Bruce Bennett

Braden Holtby quietly achieved a milestone over the weekend. In Sunday’s shootout win over the New York Islanders, Holtby faced his 3000th shot. That’s a big deal. Young goalies are really hard to forecast. Half of the ones that play over ten games wash out before they hit 3000. When they finally get enough reps, we should bask in the increasing clarity.

.917 Holtby’s career save percentage
3023 Number of shots faced in career
45.5 Percentage of career shots faced under Adam Oates

He’s looking pretty good, and I think he can get better.

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Week 25 Snapshot: The Wonderful Future

Bruce Bennett

Photo: Bruce Bennett

This was the week the Capitals’ playoff hopes effectively died.

Sports Club Stats says the Caps have a 2.7% chance of making the postseason. To help you better understand the probability there, that’s the same as the chances I will NOT go to Chipotle today.

We should not be surprised by this. The Capitals were never good at even strength. In week one we said, “These numbers do not describe a good even-strength team at all.” Almost eighty games later, and that has not changed. The only teams who do worse than the Caps during 5v5 (which is how about 75% of their season has been played), are the following: the Avalanche, Oilers, Leafs, Sabres. That is poor company.

So while this season is a foregone conclusion, the Caps must now decide who they will become in the future: a bottom-five team or not.

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Molly Riley

This photo of Beagle and Ovi celebrating a goal is from 2012. (Photo: Molly Riley)

As reported by Adam Vingan, Alex Ovechkin failed to get a single even-strength point in March. He finished the month in grand style by getting outshot* 15 to 5 against the Nashville Predators. Ovechkin is still the favorite to win the Rocket Richard Trophy for most goals scored during the regular season, but when that happens it won’t be because of what’s happening during even-strength play. Ovi’s struggles with puck possession mirror those of the Capitals overall, but what’s happened in the last two weeks is particularly noteworthy.

Since March 16th, Ovechkin has shared the top line with Jay Beagle. Usually a fourth liner, Beagle’s promotion up the ranks has been surprising, though not totally unexpected. Injuries to Mikhail Grabovski and Brooks Laich depleted Adam Oates’ options at the center position. The big road trip in California gave Oates another reason to boost Beagle: splitting up Backstrom and Ovechkin should have created two scoring lines that would have made match-ups harder for home teams.

It didn’t turn out that way. Possession and production among the top six has been scant, and the Ovechkin-Beagle pairing has been the worst of all.

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Photo: Mitchell Layton

With eight games left to play, the Capitals are two points out of a wild card spot. Columbus (reminder: apparently now they’re good a team) and Detroit have 82 points to Washington’s 80. In the final two weeks of the regular season, the Caps must close the gap.

They’re not going to do it playing like they have been. According to Sports Club Stats, the Caps have a one-in-four chance of making the playoffs right now. That’s a fun coincidence, because they also have just one forward line out of four that doesn’t look like hot garbage.

In this week’s snapshot, we take another look at the Caps’ chances of making the playoffs and suggest one painfully obvious way to improve them. (Hint: it’s in the headline.)

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