Looking at Shots From the Blue Line

Greg Fiume

Photo: Greg Fiume

One of the biggest differences between the Caps under Barry Trotz and the Caps under Adam Oates is the role of defensemen in offense. In February, Alex Prewitt described that role like this:

Blue-liners in Coach Barry Trotz’s system hold the freedom to pinch inside the offensive zone, collapsing onto pucks along the boards to keep possessions alive, but they also are asked to do their fair share of long-range flinging.

Last week, I looked at how badly the Caps’ forwards other than Alex Ovechkin struggle to generate shot attempts. But with Prewitt’s insight on the role of defenseman in Trotz’s system in mind, here’s a look at shot generation from the Caps defensemen, from a bit of a different angle.

There’s a glossary at the bottom, so be sure to check that out if the chart doesn’t make sense. We’re going to look at what percent of the overall shot attempts by Caps defenders each regular blue liner takes, as well as how effective each defensemen is at getting his individual shot attempts through and getting them on net.

While we use shot attempts as a proxy for meaningful puck possession, this doesn’t mean that all shot attempts are of equal value during game play. Generally, an unblocked shot attempt is preferred to one that is blocked, and a shot on goal is preferred to a shot attempt that goes wide. With that in mind, here’s a look at the six Caps defenders who have a sample size worth looking at.

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What Will it Cost to Re-Sign Mike Green?

mike-green-caps

Photo: Greg Fiume

Last night, Ian wrote about pending UFA Mike Green’s desire to stay with the Caps until death or retirement do them part. Already this season, I’ve looked at what it could cost to re-sign Marcus Johansson and how much Braden Holtby is worth, both of whom will be RFA after the season. Green’s case is a bit different, as he is set to hit unrestricted free agency come July 1st.

Some have pointed to Johnny Boychuck‘s 7-year, $42-million extension with the Islanders as a floor of where Green’s negotiations should begin. It’s a decent comp, but I’m going to dig a little deeper to look for salary comps for Green.

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Shot Generation Is a Problem for Caps Forwards

Alex Brandon

Photo: Alex Brandon

The Washington Capitals have one of the most prolific goal scorers in NHL history in Alex Ovechkin. One of the main ingredients in Ovechkin’s success is his ability to generate an insane amount of shots. Since entering the league, Ovechkin has 2252 shots on goal during 5v5 play, 553 more than the next player, Rick Nash. In terms of shot attempts, Ovechkin has 4326, which is 1,479 more than the next closest player. Here’s one stat I can’t wrap my mind around:

This season is no exception. Ovechkin is once again pacing the league in shot attempt rate.

But here’s the problem: After Ovechkin, the 2014-15 Caps’ forward corps struggles mightily to generate shot attempts.

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Week 21 Snapshot: Everything Falls Apart

alex-brandon

Photo: Alex Brandon

There’s a stat called CHIP, as in salary Cap Hit of Injured Players. It measures the impact of injuries to a team based on how many games the players miss and how much they get paid. Up until recently, The Capitals had fared very, very well on the injury front this season. They had Dmitry Orlov and John Erskine missing from the blue line but were otherwise mostly unscathed. The Caps had one of the lowest CHIPs in the league.

Then March happened. Ovechkin missed a game, both Brookses are banged up, Peters got hurt, Latta is out, are and there’s a stomach bug going around. Just as the Capitals are mounting their final push for the playoffs, they’re all of a sudden a shambling mess.

Add to that the team’s performance since the all-star break (except for the week they roughed up the scrubs), and you’ve got some genuine worry about this team. They’re barely holding on to a playoff spot, and they’re one game away from squandering their longest home stand of the season.

It seems like everything’s broken for the Caps right now.

In this week’s snapshot, everything is fixable.

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trotz

Photo by Amanda Bowen

David Johnson of Puckalytics and Hockey Analysis released a new feature over the weekend called Super WOWY. Super WOWY allows you to select up to 6 teammates and 6 opponents and see how the groups fare in head-to-head matchups dating back to 2008-09. For those of you who like to play armchair coach by considering different line combinations and matchups, you’ll love this new tool.

I’ve been noodling around with Super WOWY, specifically by looking at Caps’ line combinations for this season. While our admiration and respect for Head Coach Barry Trotz has been well documented here on RMNB, so too has been our bewilderment over some of his line combinations, though we acknowledge Trotz is in a no-win situation when he puts together his lines.

Here are the best four lines the Caps could possibly ice– based on a nifty new data set.

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Week 20 Snapshot: Roughing Up the Scrubs

Photo: Amanda Bowen

The Washington Capitals had a good week. With three wins in four games, the third best possession in the league, and five goals from the world’s best scorer despite him missing a game to injury, it’s hard to argue otherwise.

Okay, maybe you could say that a week of games against Buffalo, Toronto, and Columbus isn’t exactly indicative of the broader NHL’s competition level. But with only 15 games left in the regular season, every shot, goal, and win counts that much more– even if it just means the team is more confident as they face down some much tougher teams next week.

In this week’s snapshot, we look back with curiosity and forward with optimism.

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jojo and burra

Marcus Johansson has been one of the Washington Capitals’ most improved players this season. One of the main reasons Johansson has set a career high in goals is that he is shooting the puck more than he ever has in his career. I talked about this back in December. Here’s a quick recap:

In terms of shots per game this season, Johannson is averaging 2.04 shots. If he were to maintain this over an 82 game season, he would have 167 shots on goal, shattering his previous career high of 107 he set last season. If, Johansson were to pump 167 shots on net in a season and shoot at his career average of 12.8 percent, he would score 21 goals, which crushes his career high of 14 set in 2011-12.

However, Johansson’s play hasn’t appeared as strong lately. Including his empty net goal against Columbus, Johansson has just three goals over his previous 21 games. Something is up.

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Week 19 Snapshot: Out Into Nothing

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From Capstagram, which is what I call it now.

I don’t know if what I’m doing with the snapshot is really “analytics.” Hearing all the buzz at the Sloan Conference and this mostly inane Deadspin piece, there’s a lot of stuff wrapped up in that term that don’t really apply here.

The snapshot isn’t about decision-making (we don’t make any decisions), and it’s definitely not a branding effort (it probably hurts the RMNB brand by being so stodgy). For me, these statistics are just new ways to understand the game.

My educational background is in literary criticism. In that field, people discuss writing using different frameworks (formalism, deconstruction, post-colonialism, queer, etc.). The goal isn’t to decide what writing is good or bad, but to appreciate the writing in new ways and learn more about it and ourselves by looking from different– and deeper– angles.

It’s not that much different for hockey. For some people, the only metric that matters is championships. It’s a simple binary: yes you won, or no you did not. Some go deeper: how far did you make it in the playoffs: zero rounds, one round, two rounds, or more (As a Caps fan, I suspect the “more” is a myth). More nuance, more understanding, but still nothing too deep. And then you can get down to wins. And then goals. And then shots. And then– and for some reason people resist this– shot attempts.

And there are layers of rich and complex data even further below, new angles from which to look. And when we acknowledge how that low-level information can bubble up to high-level results– like championships– we create an intellectual scaffold for richer understanding of the sport. It’s miles from the championship binary.

I see why some critics consider analytics to be a retreat from complexity: because it uses numbers, which are finite, instead of descriptions, which are not. It can seem reductive. But the spirit behind the analysis is quite the opposite: it’s a framework for looking deeper, and more closely– not to blithely draw conclusions.

In this week’s snapshot: No blithe conclusions. I’ll try.

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Jussi Jokinen, Marcus Johansson,Troy Brouwer

Photo: AP

With just a few days left before a trade deadline, managers around the NHL are comparing their teams to the rest of the league and looking for the pieces needed for a playoff run. With the new playoff format, it’s especially important to overmatch the division rivals you are likely to face early in the postseason.

The Caps, despite sitting just fourth in the Metropolitan division, keep up with the teams above them in most statistical categories. But there is one area in which they are struggling: the second line.

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patrick-sharp

Photo: Chicago Blackhawks

Towards the end of the Caps’ awful 3-0 loss to the Hurricanes, Chris Kuc of the Chicago Tribune tweeted this.

That’s exciting.

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