A Healthy Brooks Laich is a Beautiful Thing

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Entering this season, Brooks Laich had played in just 60 of the Caps’ 130 games over the previous two seasons. So far in 2014-15, he has suited up for 23 of the Caps’ 38 games, including all of the past 17. This is noteworthy, as Laich had played in 17 or more consecutive games only twice since the start of the 2012-13 season (25 straight from Oct 1, 2013 – Nov 27, 2013 and 21 straight from Jan 2, 2014 – March 5, 2014).

Given how infrequently Laich has been on the ice lately, it’s understandable that some likely forgot, or even doubted, how effective of a player he can be when firing on all cylinders and groins (For the record, such doubts were not cast up in here). But the past 17 games have served as a reminder: A healthy Brooks Laich is a beautiful thing.

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Week 12 Snapshot: The Schmidtuation

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Photo: Amanda Bowen (See more!)

The Washington Capitals are looking pretty darn good overall. A whole lot of people saw them play a thrilling game against the Stanley Cup favorites on Thursday, and they just wrapped up a month that saw them become the hottest team in the league.

That’s the past. Looking at the schedule ahead, the Capitals face a murderer’s row of — well, just check this out:

  • Panthers
  • Leafs
  • Flyers
  • Red Wings
  • Avalanche
  • Flyers
  • Predators
  • Stars
  • Oilers
  • Blue Jackets
  • Penguins
  • Canadiens

Okay, actually, the Capitals could win a heluva lot of those games in January. Still, they should never stop trying to improve. There’s the usual stuff about optimizing forward lines and evening out defensive deployments, but one player in particular has caught my attention in the last week for his conspicuous absence from play. In today’s snapshot we ask, “What’s the deal with Nate Schmidt?”

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Week 11 Snapshot: It’s Been a Weird December

Gregory Shamus

Here’s Jay Beagle and Brooks Orpik celebrating a goal. (Photo: Gregory Shamus)

This is the final snapshot of 2014. What a weird year– capped off by an even weirder month. With one game left to play, the Caps took 18 out of 24 possible standings points in December, and there’s one thing above all others that is responsible for that success.

(If you’re wondering what that thing is, here’s a hint: People on Facebook spent October debating if he’s an average goalie “at best” or if he’s just terrible.)

This week’s snapshot takes a look back at the streak, the Holtbeast who made it happen, and what the Caps should do to extend it.

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On Barry Trotz, Lineup Decisions, and Big Mistakes

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Photo: Bruce Bennett

Nate Schmidt recently found himself watching from the press box for two games while Jack Hillen took his spot beside Mike Green. Hillen is an adequate player, but should be seventh on the Caps defensive depth chart among those healthy.

That isn’t to say that Hillen should never get a sweater. Over the course of a season, it’s fine and good to work in a guy like Hillen here and there so rust doesn’t build up, but Barry Trotz has made it clear that the reason Hillen was given a sweater recently is because, in his opinion, Schmidt had played his way out of the lineup. Schmidt’s recent benching is another questionable lineup decision by Barry Trotz, wherein he seems to focus on the “big mistake” as opposed to the underlying processes and actual patterns of play

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The Curious Case of Joel Ward

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Most NHL players make their NHL debut between ages 20-22. and hit their peak point production around age 25.

And then we have Joel Ward.

Ward played his first full NHL season at the ripe age of 28 and has been most productive during his age-33 and -34 seasons. I’ve written before that Ward’s rise in production isn’t sustainable. I’m still not convinced it is fully, but I’m less skeptical than I used to be. What Ward is doing now, namely crashing the net, might be behind the late bloom.

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Week 9 Snapshot: Finally Getting Paid

Patrick McDermott

Photo: Patrick McDermott

We’re going streaking! The Caps have won four of their last five games and taken points from all of them. Wins finally seem to be catching to the team’s generally good underlying play. Not every week is going to be smooth sailing like this one, but I think the hockey we saw over the last seven days is a reliable indication of what this team is: pretty good.

It’s tempting to chalk the recent success up to Green’s return, Chimera’s benching, or Backstrom’s heroics. Those are certainly big (and loud) factors, but I kind of see it as the whole team finally getting rewarded for playing well. If only the team had got these results in the season’s opening weeks, they might still be playing like they did in October.

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Mike Green, Bottom-Pairing Defenseman: Part Two

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Photo: Amanda Bowen

Last week, Peter offered up some thoughts on Mike Green and his deployment as a “third-pair” defenseman.

Some commenters believe that, and I’m paraphrasing here, Green is a dominant possession player primarily because he plays against weaker competition. But is quality of competition that much of a driving force behind why Green is doing so well at shot-attempt differential? Does Brooks Orpik suffer at the same because of the tougher opponents he faces? If they swapped assignments, would Green would become Orpik in possession and vice versa?

I have doubts.

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Week 8 Snapshot: The Sound of Settling

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Wins are paramount. In the end, this sport is measured in wins. Goals scored or prevented are the component parts of wins, and shot attempts generated or prevented are the component parts of goals. So when the Capitals got two important divisional wins this week– both in regulation– I reminded myself that those Ws are ultimately more important than the stuff happening under the surface.

That under the surface stuff, as we’ve been documenting, has been degrading since the end of October. But if this is the basement for the team, it ain’t so bad. The Capitals could presumably get a lot of wins and make the playoffs based on their current performance (plus a little more luck). They’re not gonna win a Cup, and we’ll all know deep down that they’re capable of more, but maybe we should just be grateful for what we’ve got. At least they’re not the Skins.

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Mike Green, Bottom-Pairing Defenseman

Tommy M gave me a hard time in the comments the other day.

I’d like to point to Green and Schmidt’s fancy stats. Are those two really our best defensemen? Should they be seeing the opposing teams toughest competition as Orpik and Carly are?

Tommy was kind of sticking it to me, which is totally fair, but I think he raises an interesting point. What does it mean for Brooks Orpik to be a first-pair guy and Mike Green to be a third-pair guy? How would they fare if roles were switched?

For background, Schmidt and Green, when healthy, are undoubtedly the Capitals’ third defensive pair. The best way to judge that is ice time, but it’s also reflected in the quality of competition they face. Whatever the measurement, Orpik is tops and Green is bottom. Even compared to defenders across the league, Green and Schmidt are in the bottom third. Green is at the very top of that bottom third, but he’s still down there.

That’s curious. His usage means that Barry Trotz has adjudicated Green to be inferior to as many as four other Caps defenseman, who all get more ice time, but Green’s performance is actually among the best in the league. Maybe Tommy is right and Green’s deployment against weaker competition is making look Green better than he is.

(Nope.)

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Photo: Geoff Burke

A couple weeks back, I looked at how the Caps are doing a great job of limiting their opponents’ shots under Barry Trotz. While shot suppression is crucial, if a team prioritizes it too much it can come at the expense of generating their own shots. In other words, being a great defensive team is important, but getting a good balance of offense and defense is imperative.

Coming into last weekend, the Capitals were generating 52.87 shot attempts per 60 minutes of 5-on-5 play, which ranks 20th in the league. If you look back over the past 5 season (2009-10 through 2013-14), this would place the Caps in the bottom 40% of teams in terms of generating shot attempts. A look back at teams over the past five seasons shows that this is cause for concern.

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