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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Week 7 Snapshot: Erosion and Corrosion

Darren Calabrese

Photo: Darren Calabrese

The primary source of frustration last season was knowing that, deep down, the Capitals had the potential to be a good team. Knowing that the Caps had decent players and that they merely needed to be freed of bad coaching was vexing, but it was also comforting in a strange way. We could wave away game-by-game results because careful, informed analysis told us they’d soon be better.

And when Barry Trotz’s Caps started the season as one of the best teams in the league, we felt vindicated. But for ephemeral reasons, the wins didn’t come in October. That’s okay; we knew they would.

Except then they didn’t. The reasons for the Caps’ losses were not static. The goalies got better (wayyyyyy better), but then the offense’s shooting percentages plummeted. Then the team stopped possessing the puck so much. And now, who knows.

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The Caps just aren’t as good as they were in October. Punishing losses to the Sabres and Leafs this week have led to some quiet reflection and some not-so-quiet caterwauling from the community. And rightfully so.

In this week’s snapshot, let’s do some reflecting of our own.

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Photo by Amanda Bowen

About a quarter of the way into his first season of a 7-year, $40-million deal, it’s time to take a look at the other defenseman the Caps signed over the summer, Matt Niskanen.

In 2013-14 Niskanen set career high in goals (10), assists (36), and points (46). At the time of the signing, I said “don’t evaluate this deal solely based off of the offensive numbers Niskanen puts up next season. For reasons not within his control, they are almost certain to drop, even if he is playing well.” This is because Niskanen wasn’t likely to see as much power-play time this season (be was on the ice for 55.4 percent of Pens PP time last season. He’s been on the ice for 22.78 percent of all Caps’ PP time so far this year) and his PDO of 103.1 wasn’t likely to be duplicated (it’s currently at 97.55 for the season).

With that in mind, but while also not ignoring or outright excusing a drop in offensive production, Niskanen has been a solid player for the first 1/28th of his contract. But the Caps should expect more from him and give him more of a chance to do so. Here’s a closer look at his first 20 games in a Caps uniform.

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Lines aren’t everything. The players a team chooses to ice are more important than the manner in which they get iced. Still, when the beat writers tweet the morning lines, it’s fresh grist for the anguish mill. It’s an infinite stream of content to react to– our of excitement or despair. I’m as guilty of it as anyone else.

Though it’s not as if Barry Trotz has been particularly good at assembling his lines effectively, at least according to the evidence. After twenty games, the Capitals’ best lines have been used irregularly at best. Their most effective trio of forwards hasn’t even skated together since game eight, though Trotz has also found some surprising strength in the team’s depth.

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Photo: Christian Petersen

There are lots of different ways to look at hockey information. The Sunday snapshot is just one of those ways, and it’s far from being comprehensive or fully circumspect. Sometimes the numbers sort of lose their meaning– as if in a vacuum.

Is a 2.14 CorsiRel good or bad? How good or how bad? Is it a percentage or a rate? How does it compare to the rest of the league? What is a CorsiRel anyway?

As a community, we need more and different ways of presenting and intuiting data that can sometimes be untidy and inscrutable.

Here’s one idea. Now that the Capitals have twenty games under their belt, let’s look at Cap forwards in the context of the whole league. No hard numbers here, just big-picture, stack-ranking stuff– a new way of looking at familiar stuff, but with pretty colors this time.

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Twenty Games In: Where We Stand

Rob Carr

Photo: Rob Carr

With about a quarter of the 2014-15 season gone, we’re running a series on RMNB about where the Caps stand and where they’re heading. I’ve already gone into some detail, and I’ll have more analysis and opinion coming in the next few days, but for now let’s take a bird’s eye view.

Forgive me, I’m about to draw some pretty broad conclusions.

The Capitals are mediocre, but keep reading.

At scoring, they’re neither good or bad; they’re just about even. They’ve got a coin flip’s chance at making the playoffs.

But the Caps’ goaltending and shooting are both below average and are both likely to get better. The Caps are outshooting their opponents convincingly, suggesting that they’ll start outscoring their opponents in the future, although the team will continue to get into trouble when protecting a lead.

Special teams look stable. Washington’s power play is second best in the league and looks to remain that way. The penalty kill is in the middle of the league, and projects to stay there as well.

In short, the Capitals’ record is unremarkable, but there are encouraging signs below the surface– and the team has opportunity and motive to get even better.

Lemme break it down.

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Christian Petersen

Photo: Christian Petersen

Editor’s note: The snapshot should be up first thing on Monday morning. Instead, now that the Capitals are twenty games into the season, we’ll be running a series on how they look so far.

Barry Trotz is a huge improvement over Adam Oates. It’s not even close.

But as the season goes on, it’s becoming apparent that Trotz has chosen his favorite players and will place them wherever he wishes in the lineup despite evidence that it’s hurting the team. For all his many, many successes, Trotz is not exercising good evidence-based decision making in his distributing ice time.

Now that we’re twenty games in, this is a good opportunity to understand how Trotz is apportioning time, and how it’s working (or not working). To do that, I’m gonna use a visualization introduced by Tyler Dellow about one year ago that was later adopted a lot of places, including here, back with the top-Heavy Oates!Caps.

It’s not going to be pretty.

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Blind Item: A Tale of Two Teams

Totonto Maple Leafs v Florida Panthers

Pic not related

Here’s a little experiment that might shed light on our current situation. I’m gonna share a couple key, even-strength stats from two teams, but I’m not going to tell you which is which.

Team A Team B
Possession 54.38% 50.18%
Goals 56.24% 42.11%
Shooting 9.14% 7.51%
Goaltending 91.67% 89.37%
Attempts / 60 38.78 38.15
Opponent Attempts / 60 32.53 37.87

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Mike Green Doesn’t Get Enough Respect


Photo: Getty Images

During a recent broadcast, CSN displayed a graphic showing where Nick Backstrom and Alex Ovechkin currently rank on the Caps all-time assist leaderboard. It wasn’t the first time this season we’ve seen graphics showing those two, plus Mike Green, sitting near the top on Caps all-time leaderboards. Allow me to quote myself:

I know Ovechkin’s play frustrates some people. Mike Green has taken criticism as well– whether it be about his health or purported weakness in the defensive zone. Let’s put that last part aside for now, but I’ll come back to it.

Let me get this out of the way: Mike Green is a great hockey player. No matter how bad some people claim he is at defense or how “soft” he may be in the defensive zone, the Caps are a much better team when Mike Green is on the ice.

(And no, he shouldn’t be made a forward.)

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Photo: Sergei Belski

Last week, Brian MacLellan spent time answering questions from the media. During the session, MacLellan spoke about his two big off-season acquisitions, Brooks Orpik and Matt Niskanen. “I think they’ve added a lot of stability to [John] Carlson and [Karl] Alzner,” MacLellan said of Orpik and Niskanen. When it comes to Orpik, MacLellan is wrong. Very, very wrong.

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