Week 10 Snapshot: Addition by Subtraction

Ward's face - Patrick McDermott

Look at Ward’s face. (Photo: Patrick McDermott)

The Capitals line-up has been changing lately. Brooks Laich‘s groin is acting up again, Tyson Strachan has been sent down to the AHL, Patrick Wey and Dmitry Orlov have been called up, and Alex Urbom and Steve Oleksy are regular scratches. Martin Erat is somehow back in good graces, and Michael Latta is elsewhere. Despite– or perhaps because of all that upheaval, the Capitals are making real inroads towards improving their even-strength play.

My working theory for that improvement goes like this: the less-awesome players are playing less, the more-awesome players are playing more. I know that sounds radical, but hear me out.

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Alex Ovechkin and the One-Dimensional Offense

iamphotonate

Photo: Nate Congleton

Your boy J.P. shared a stat today that worries me: Alex Ovechkin has just one assist during even-strength play this season. As I’ve been ranting all season [no, seriously, a lot, a whole bunch, really], the Ovechkin line has been a one-dimensional threat. Luckily, that single dimension happens to be the best goal-scorer on Earth, so it’s not so bad, but it could be much better.

Alex Ovechkin has fired 91 shots during 5-on-5. He’s scored 11 goals for a solid 12.08% shooting. But while he’s on the ice, other Caps have fired 133 shots, resulting in just one goal. One. That’s 00.75% shooting. Wow.

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Week 9 Snapshot: Scratching, Benching, Winning

Bruce Bennett - Backstrom

“I’m an anteater!” “I, also, am an anteater!” (Photo: Bruce Bennett)

Some time in the last seven days, Adam Oates became unsatisfied with his lineup. Perhaps not winning a game in regulation since November 17th was the reason why; no matter. On the 23rd, Oates scratched Martin Erat, who had requested a trade, from the Toronto Maple Leafs game. In Erat’s spot was Eric Fehr, who played every game this week and recorded three points. On the 29th, Oates restored Jay Beagle, who had not played since October 16th but apparently is in awesome shape, to active service. And with Brooks Laich still laid up with a lower-body injury on Saturday, Martin Erat got his sweater back and reclaimed the spot where he started the season: the 4th line.

That’s more moving and shaking than we’ve seen all season, and our numbers reflect it. It seems that the Capitals are now motivated to make changes, and some of those changes have already paid off. The losing streak is over, and the even-strength Capitals are stronger than we’ve seen all year.

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Week 8 Snapshot: R.I.P. The Black Hole Line

lupul scoar - Graig Abel

Joffrey wins it. Someone get him some wine. (Photo: Graig Abel)

In last week’s snapshot I said the Caps were facing down a gauntlet in their next four games. The Caps lost 3 of those 4 games. While Alex Ovechkin is doing incredible things and working on what could be a historic season, the team as a whole doesn’t seem to be able to beat the league’s best teams reliably.

In an effort to turn that around, Adam Oates tried a few moves. After a failed attempt to solve the “black hole” line (Troy Brouwer, Brooks Laich, and an unsuspecting victim) by putting Erat at center, he decided to just break it up altogether. That certainly worked against the Leafs and resulting in the Caps dominating puck possession, though I have a feeling the Hershey Bears could have won the possession game against Toronto on Saturday.

It’s likely the team’s fortunes have not changed much this week. Let’s find out why.

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John Carlson celebrates - Derek Leung

Photo: Derek Leung

The Washington Capitals remain weak at even-strength, so they’ve been relying dearly on their electric power play to win games. The Caps have scored a respectable 42 goals at even strength, but they lead the league in power play goals with 21. I’d say those power play goals are primarily responsible for the team’s plus-10 goal differential.

The PP unit’s de facto quarterback has always been Mike Green, at least when he’s healthy. Green has played 79.5% of the Caps’ power play time, second only to Alex Ovechkin. Green had recorded 7 points, all assists, all primary, on the power play before suffering a lower-body injury in the overtime win over the Blue Jackets on November 12th. In Green’s absence, the position of PPQB1 has fallen to John Carlson. 

Unlike the goalless Green, Carlson has scored twice on the power play this season– once in Glendale and again vs St Louis. So it makes sense that reader Chris R. would ask:

A good question, and one that may be pressing as early as Wednesday night when Green may return to play the Pittsburgh Penguins.

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Alex Steen is Great, Alex Ovechkin is Greater

steen leader

Alexander Steen leads the NHL in offense. He’s got 17 goals and 9 assists in 18 games– including a 13-game point streak. He should be congratulated for that.

la dee

La dee freaking da.

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Week 7 Snapshot: The Gauntlet

shootout Dave Reginek

That one time the Caps went to the shootout (Photo: Dave Reginek)

Straight up: The Capitals have had an easy schedule so far. Granted, they haven’t played the Sabres yet, but their competition hasn’t been so tough through 20 games. The Caps have taken points in 7 of their last 10 and are poised to take the Metropolitan Division lead on Sunday night– but it won’t be easy.

The upcoming week will be a tough one: three strong possession teams with tons of talent. St. Louis has a player on a ludicrous hot streak, Pittsburgh has Crosby, and Montreal as a franchise is so deep inside Washington’s head they could make Pavel Chekov steal the Genesis Device for them.

It’s great that the Caps got points where they could, but here comes the gauntlet.

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Just a quick item for your lunchtime perusal.

As Uncle Ted himself pointed out earlier, despite the Capitals in the top 5 in the league in goals for, they are currently are 20th in the league in goals against with 52.

That goals-against count comes despite strong numbers from the goalies. Braden Holtby is sporting a fantastic .922 save percentage, Michal Neuvirth a decent .913.

As that suggests, the Capitals are allowing lots of shots on goal. They are 25th in the league in allowing shots on goal during 5-on-5 in close-game situations.

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Tom Wilson - Patrick McDermott

Finally. Inevitably. (Photo: Patrick McDermott)

Riding a four-game win streak (now a five-game point streak), the Capitals made no adjustments to their lineup this week. That’s not surprising, and it seems apparent now that Adam Oates is nothing like the tinkerer Bruce Boudreau was when it came to fiddling with lines and pairings. That’s not a value judgment– just an observation.

We’re now 17 games into the season– a little over one fifth– and the Capitals are sitting three points out of the division lead. I probably don’t need to tell you that the Caps’ success so far has been driven by special teams (#1 power play, #2 penalty kill). At even strength, things seem to be improving, though you shall be the judge as to how much.

Let’s do the numbers.

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Week 5 Snapshot: Line Shuffling, Good and Bad

Greg Fiume

Photo: Greg Fiume

Thanks to Saturday’s win over the Panthers, the Capitals are a .500 team again, but in the past few weeks they’ve played just one team with a winning record: the Vancouver Canucks. The team’s underlying numbers are probably the topic of crisis team meetings in KCI, but there’s lots of good things happening as well.

Washington has the second best penalty kill in the league– going 35 straight man-down situations without giving up a goal until Tomas Fleichmann ruined everything. The power play is also top-5 thanks to the obscene amount of shots they’re generating while a man up. And despite Alex Ovechkin missing two games this week due to injury, the Caps pulled out wins in both.

With Ovi slated to return on Tuesday, it’s not all doom and gloom. Still, let’s do our weekly break down of the numbers.

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