Week 18 Snapshot: Thinning the Herd

Greg Fiume

Photo: Greg Fiume

The Capitals managed to earn half the points available to them this week, a good reversal from the last month, but not enough to put them back on pace for a postseason just yet. To make matters worse, a slew of injuries now imperil the team’s ability to even maintain their middling performance. Top-four defenceman Mike Green went down with an injury this week (he may or may not return on Sunday), as did top possession center Mikhail Grabovski, whose leg injury has him “a ways away” from returning. Brooks Laich is struggling with an injury of his own that he says is unrelated to his nagging groin problems and will be a game-time decision as well.

Those injuries will result in diminished team play for sure, but they’ll also lead to some new lineups and pairings. Players who haven’t gotten a lot of ice so far are about to get promoted in a Grabo-less, Green-less, Laich-less world. How those players will fare in their bigger roles may go a long way to determining this team’s life after April 13th.

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Francois Lacasse

Photo: Francois Lacasse

Finally. The Caps got positively crushed over the past few weeks, but it’s over now. Before they lost that game to Buffalo on the 12th, the Caps had a 60% chance of making the playoffs. It got as low as 12% before they finally won on Saturday. That losing streak hurt badly, but as we’ve seen from the last two weeks it has been driven by bad shooting and save percentages, not overall awful play (unlike the Habs, who really are eroding).

The streak ended in spectacular fashion, a five-goal shutout that typified everything we’ve learned about this team: their puck possession is getting better, their shooting percentage couldn’t possibly stay so low, their opponents’ shooting percentage couldn’t possibly stay so high. Saturday was a perfect metaphorical storm of regression and solid underlying play asserting itself.

None of that means the Caps won’t get ice cold again, but it should help us remember a simple truth: no team is as bad as it looks during a seven-game losing streak.

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Week 16 Snapshot: Waiting Out the Percentages


Photo credit: Jamie Sabau

I’m writing this late on Friday night after the Capitals have lost their fourth game in a row. My process for putting these stats together usually starts with scraping data from ExtraSkater.com and then reviewing the previous weeks’ reports. I noticed the title I chose for last week was “Need Points Now.” The Capitals got two of eight points this week.

So that’s bad. I’m tempted to be plucky, to point out again how the team’s underlying play– as measured by its shot-attempt differential– predicts future success. The team truly is improving, but at this point in the season it also matters what the rate of that improvement is, and what is its expected ceiling, and how much time they have left, and how likely they are to reverse the trend.

My guesses: not fast enough, not high enough, not long enough, and kinda likely.

The Capitals aren’t a good team right now. It’s fatuous and unfactual to put it another way. I have maintained and still maintain that they can be better. What I no longer know is if it matters.

That was fun. Let’s do the numbers.

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Week 15 Snapshot: Need Points Now

buds Patrick McDermott

Photo: Patrick McDermott

The Washington Capitals had four days off this week, during which the rest of the Metro started raking in standings points. Now the Caps are back in action, and they’re about to play one of the busiest parts of their schedule with nine games in the back half of January. That’s gonna be tough, and it’s only gonna get worse. After the Olympics, in March, the Caps’ opponents are almost all great teams. The end of the regular season will be a meatgrinder, so the team would be wise to grab every point they can now. Starting with Sunday. Starting with Buffalo.

Do the team’s lineup choices reflect a “win now” attitude? I’m leaning towards hell no, dude. With Connor Carrick getting some experimental shifts with John Erskine, a reconstituted Laich-Brouwer singularity, and the Aaron Volpatti > Martin Erat fiasco, there’s a whole lot of inefficiency on this Caps roster. You can interpret that as bitter criticism, but I think of it another way: this team can get better. That’s not so bleak, right?

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Ovi belly - Nick Wass

Photo: Nick Wass

The Caps are 42 games into their 82-game season. I could’ve offered my halfway analysis after the customary 41, but I figured the four days off between now and Thursday’s game in Tampa will offer us more time for careful reflection.

The Capitals used to be an easy team to describe. From 2007 through 2010, they were an offensive juggernaut that scored at will on the strength of puck-possession dominance and the world’s best scorer in Alex Ovechkin. Defensive worries (or perceptions thereof) tainted the team’s success, and a couple bad breaks– a hot goalie in the Montreal playoff series of 2010, a spot of bad goaltending to begin the 10-11 season, and the exit of several strong depth players– turned the team’s fortunes towards the mediocre.

Now, halfway through Adam Oates’ first full season as the Capitals’ coach, we have a better idea of who this team is. It is not nearly as strong as the Boudreau model, but it’s also not as wearying as Hunter Hockey. There’s a lot of gray in this painting, but there’s also a lot to learn from it.

Plus: Adventure Time GIFs!

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i Bruce Kluckhohn

Photo: Bruce Kluckhohn

The Capitals lost all four games this week. They weren’t even playing particularly good teams. None of the Caps’ opponents ranked in the top half of possession teams. None of them had a positive goal differential. None of them were in the playoff picture. One of them was Buffalo.

But they all beat the Caps.

That kind of stuff happens when your team shoots under 3% (vs Ottawa and Buffalo) or saves under 90% (vs Carolina and Minnesota). The good news is that those percentages jump around all the time, and they don’t mean much for the future success of the team. The bad news is the Caps took two points from a week where they easily could have had eight. That’s gonna hurt in April.

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Week 13 Snapshot: The Unsustainable Lifestyle

8 Patrick McDermott

Photo: Patrick McDermott

In 2004, the DC band Beauty Pill released an album called The Unsustainable Lifestyle on Dischord. It’s a great record, but it can tend to bum you out. The band seems to be aware of all this stuff wrong with the world that you might otherwise not be aware of. If you don’t listen to the album, you might think everything is okay.

So feel free to skip this week’s snapshot.

The Capitals played only two games this week thanks to the holiday. They split the pair, but they could have won both had they not given up a two-goal lead to Anaheim on the 23rd. That’s the party line at least. In truth the Capitals got dramatically outplayed in both games they played. That they held a temporary lead over the Ducks and snuck out with a win over the Rangers is thanks to some of the most unreliable stats in our sport: shooting percentage and save percentage. The more stable numbers describe a Capitals team that is about to lose games– a lot of of them, and badly– unless something changes.

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Photo credit: Elsa

Philipp Grubauer has played a little over five games of NHL hockey this season, and he’s been spectacular. Sporting a .940 save percentage, Grubi has been relied on to field a lot of pucks– 184 to be precise. Meanwhile, as Braden Holtby has struggled all December, there’s an understandable tendency to rank Grubauer above Holtby and dub him the team’s number-one goalie.

This would be unwise. In just six games of hockey, a .940 tell us very little. And in just six games of hockey, even the best goaltender in the world can look like a bum.

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Week 12: Everybody, Goalie Panic!

Grubi - Patrick McDermott

Photo: Patrick McDermott

Like I said the other night, the Washington Capitals never make it easy. They took five points from four games this week, but they hardly had the puck at all. On Friday, the Hurricanes neutralized Alex Ovechkin on the power play, but three other guys scored instead. On Saturday, their possession time  was barely one third of the game, and yet they scored four goals during even strength.

This team doesn’t make any sense.

And now, as we near the halfway mark, it looks like we’ve got some full-blown #goaliedrama going on, which is just baffling to me as it seems to miss the entire point of everything we’ve learned from these snapshots. Usually, I reserve this space for skaters only, but we’re making an exception today as we talk about Caps goalies. Let’s get it on.

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oates - Marianne Helm

Three-piece. (Photo: Marianne Helm)

Inspired by an article about the Winnipeg Jets on Arctic Ice Hockey, Tyler Dellow, aka mc79hockey, created a nifty color-coded chart to visualize how puck possession is distributed throughout the Edmonton Oilers lineup.

Basically, you build a grid of players– with the forwards along the left and defensemen along the top, and you rank them by ice time. Then you list the possession percentage for each forward/defenseman pairing. Because coaches typically give better players more ice time, you’d expect to see the higher numbers at top left and the lower percentages at bottom right. There are exceptions, but that’s the basic idea.

It’s a novel way to get a quick, visual impression of a team’s makeup, plus it gives us a chance to reap some insight from how Adam Oates uses his roster.

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