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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Week 23 Snapshot: Victory in California!

Don Smith

Check out all the sad faces in the stands (Photo: Don Smith)

Alright, now it’s getting interesting. If you predicted the Caps would go winless in California, you would not have been unreasonable. Those were three tough teams on a big road trip at a crucial juncture in the schedule. Instead of sinking, the Caps took five of six available points and now have a real chance of making the playoffs again.

Sportsclubstats had the Caps at 8.1% last week. Right now they’re at 26.4%. If today’s games go right, the Caps could peek over 30% for the first time since January.

Now we enter into a period of rapt scoreboard watching. From here on out, we’ll be watching Detroit, Toronto, and Lumbus with wide eyes. But that shouldn’t mean the team’s fate is entirely out of its hands. If they can fix their top two lines and stay out of the penalty box, these guys really could pull it off. More on that in this week’s snapshot!

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ovi-schultz

A Boston writer named Michael Hurley wrote an article about how Alex Ovechkin‘s plus-minus rating is really bad and therefore Alex Ovechkin is really bad. I’m going to link to it here because that’s the responsible thing to do, but please don’t read it. Hurley, who actually gets paid for this dreck, goes through some half-hearted apologia for plus-minus (“As everyone knows, plus-minus is a greatly flawed stat”), and then he uses it as the centerpiece of his argument (“Still, it’s not completely meaningless, as some would like you to believe.”)

He also uses a GIF as part of his proof. You know which one.

So, real quick, I’m just gonna bust out a couple reasons why a) Alex Ovechkin’s plus-minus is low, b) plus-minus is not an indicator of talent, and c) Michael Hurley’s column is bad and he should feel bad.

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Week 22 Snapshot: Wagons West!

Nick Wass

Photo: Nick Wass

For the second week in a row, the Capitals took just two standings points out of a possible six. The Caps are three points behind Philly for the wild-card spot, but Philly has two extra games holstered. Sports Club Stats puts the Caps’ chances of making the playoffs at 8.1%. For them to have a chance, they’d basically have to play like the best team in the league from here on out.

It doesn’t look good.

And then there’s the small matter of California. After Sunday’s date with the Leafs, the Caps go west. The way of Horatio Alger, Davy Crockett, the Donner Party for games against the Ducks, the Kings, and the Sharks. Wuh oh.

I’m trying over here to find a positive spin to put on the numbers, but I’m thinking if you’re looking for solace you might want to look elsewhere. I promise to keep this short and mildly interesting.

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What will Kuzya’s usage tell us about Adam Oates as a coach? (Photo: Chris Gordon)

The Capitals got two out of six points this week. They’re currently 18 points behind the division-leading Penguins and two points out of third place, behind the Rangers, who have a game in hand. While the team’s distance from first illustrates how far they are from challenging for the Cup, their proximity to the playoffs might be a bit misleading.

The Caps haven’t won a lot of games in rego or overtime this season (just 22), which is the basis for tiebreakers in the standings. Finishing the 82-game season with the same number of points as the last wild card team would mean the Caps are bound for the golf course, so they’re gonna have to leapfrog a team– or hope someone else melts down.

In this week’s snapshot, we’ll look at which teams might helpfully implode to make way for the Caps!

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Tom Wilson is Getting a Raw Deal

Photo: Chris Gordon

Yesterday Fedor shared a great story about how Tom Wilson is one of the most penalized rookies in the history of the NHL. Wilson has been of particular interest to me since the beginning of the season, when I worried about his OHL/NHL contract status, ruminated about how a rookie might distinguish himself in the NHL, and wondered aloud what his fourth line usage portended for his future. In raking in some of the most penalty minutes ever for a teenage rookie, Wilson kind of answered most of that, but I want to repeat Fedor’s closing:

Maybe other parts of Tom’s game will follow his record-breaking ability to get to the penalty box when he starts playing actual hockey.

That’s really important, I think. Because for all of his 133 PIMs, Wilson has played only 468 minutes total. That’s low even for a fourth liner. It seems at a glance that Wilson hasn’t had a lot of chances to prove himself this season, which may have been a factor in his choices to fight or make iffy hits. He’s gotta make an impression somehow, and he hasn’t been given a chance to do it the traditional way.

If you rank skaters by the quality of their teammates, Tom Wilson is second to last based on ice time and in the bottom 4 percent going by puck possession. Rookie or not, the way Adam Oates has deployed Tom Wilson makes him one the most disadvantaged skaters you’re gonna see. 

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erskine-orr

Photo: Rob Carr

We’ve assumed for so long that the problem with the Caps is lack of defensive depth. I’d wager 90% of everything written about the Caps and Wednesday’s trade deadline states that the team lacks a solid, number-four, right-shooting defenseman. It’s been pretty obvious that filling that one spot would help fill the ranks of Washington’s defense.

That makes a lot of sense. Since October, the Caps defense had essentially been Mike Green, Karl Alzner, John Carlson, and any other three guys.

But I’m not so sure anymore. Indeed, I’m starting to wonder if the Caps wouldn’t be able to succeed merely by upgrading their bottom pairing– namely John Erskine and Connor Carrick.

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