Sizing Up the Islanders: Puck Possession


The Caps will play the New York Islanders in round one of the Stanley Cup playoffs. The action kicks off Wednesday from Verizon Center. Here’s the entire NHL playoff schedule.

The Isles are a really good 5v5 team. Their possession numbers on the season are strong. They have one of the best players in the league in John Tavares. This is going to be a tough series for the guys in red.

This is a look at how the possession numbers shake out. Included along with the season-long numbers for each team are the numbers over the last 25 games of the season, as possession metrics over the span have been shown to tell us a lot about how a team might fare in the playoffs.

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Week 25 Snapshot: This Was a Triumph


I’m making a note here: huge success.

The Washington Capitals had a great 2014-15 season. That’s true for dozens of reasons, some of which I outlined in a thoroughly non-statty article on Friday. But here in the snapshot, we can look at this objectively.

Only two teams improved their shot-attempt differential from last season more than the Capitals: The Nashville Predators (boo) and the New York Islanders (hiss). With a 4.5 swing in score-adjusted possession, the trend has finally ended, and the Capitals are good again. Exactly how good– by the reckoning of the playoffs– remains to be seen, but looking back, I’m over the moon about this season.

But, in this week’s snapshot, the last of its kind, we ask, is the cake a lie?

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Week 24 Snapshot: The New Young Guns

The Capitals’ new young gun.

Understanding 5v5 hockey using shot attempts starts with a number: 50 percent. That is even possession– one for the other team, one for your team, repeat. If your team is above 50 percent, you’ve either denied your opponent some attempts or you’ve managed to create a few extra of your own. Being “in the black,” with a possession number above 50 percent is a sign of an above-average team.

The Capitals are above 50 percent. They’re a 52-percent team– or just about. But I’m not so sure they’re truly or significantly above average. And it’s Buffalo’s fault, dammit.

If you ignore the Sabres (using some sloppy, back-of-napkin math), then the league’s average isn’t 50 percent– it’s more like 50.4 percent. And over on, the median teams have around 51.2-percent score-adjusted possession. It’s like grade inflation for hockey– making the Caps look just a bit better than they are because they, just like everyone else, got to beat up on the worst possession team of the modern era (and maybe longer; I’d love to know the 74-75 Caps’ shot-attempt differential.)

That has nothing to do with what’s in this week’s snapshot, but I thought it was curious.

What’s actually in this week’s snapshot: the Caps have really good young players, but are they fast enough for the Islanders?

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In this week’s snapshot, Peter offered his assessment of the Caps’ chances this Spring in the playoffs:

However they looked in October and whatever hot streaks we’ve seen this season, the Capitals are not a championship team. (Or, if they are, we haven’t seen evidence of it lately.) They’re not bad like under Adam Oates (and for that I am grateful) but they’re not great. They’re just good. They’re a good team with a good coach.

Unless the bounces go bad or they draw a tough team, these Capitals should make it into the second round of the playoffs. No further.

I tend to agree with Peter. The Caps are a solid team. And while anything can happen once you get into the playoffs, I wouldn’t put any kind of money on this being the Caps’ year. They are a good team, but they are not currently a Cup-caliber team.

But, like I said, anything can happen once you’re in the playoffs. So let’s look at three reasons the Caps could win the Cup, beyond the fact that hockey, much like life, is often more random and unpredictable than we can comprehend. And then to be end on a downer, we’ll look at three reasons the Caps won’t win the Cup.

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Week 22 Snapshot: At Least We’ve Got Ovi

Lance Thomson

Photo: Lance Thomson

For me, the snapshot has been about opening up the analytic process on a micro level– adding transparency and immediacy to my journey to understanding of how the Caps play every week. In the interest of furthering that transparency and because I can’t stand being insincere here, lemme say this: my enthusiasm is waning.

Part of that is me not having enough time to do the in-depth research and number-crunching, and part of it is acknowledging that the Capitals merely are what they are: A marginal playoff team with good special teams and one very special player.

However they looked in October and whatever hot streaks we’ve seen this season, the Capitals are not a championship team. (Or, if they are, we haven’t seen evidence of it lately.) They’re not bad like under Adam Oates (and for that I am grateful) but they’re not great. They’re just goodThey’re a good team with a good coach.

Unless the bounces go bad or they draw a tough team, these Capitals should make it into the second round of the playoffs. No further.

In this week’s snapshot, which isn’t 36 hours late you’re just imagining it, it is what it is, but at least we’ve got Ovi.

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Looking at Shots From the Blue Line

Greg Fiume

Photo: Greg Fiume

One of the biggest differences between the Caps under Barry Trotz and the Caps under Adam Oates is the role of defensemen in offense. In February, Alex Prewitt described that role like this:

Blue-liners in Coach Barry Trotz’s system hold the freedom to pinch inside the offensive zone, collapsing onto pucks along the boards to keep possessions alive, but they also are asked to do their fair share of long-range flinging.

Last week, I looked at how badly the Caps’ forwards other than Alex Ovechkin struggle to generate shot attempts. But with Prewitt’s insight on the role of defenseman in Trotz’s system in mind, here’s a look at shot generation from the Caps defensemen, from a bit of a different angle.

There’s a glossary at the bottom, so be sure to check that out if the chart doesn’t make sense. We’re going to look at what percent of the overall shot attempts by Caps defenders each regular blue liner takes, as well as how effective each defensemen is at getting his individual shot attempts through and getting them on net.

While we use shot attempts as a proxy for meaningful puck possession, this doesn’t mean that all shot attempts are of equal value during game play. Generally, an unblocked shot attempt is preferred to one that is blocked, and a shot on goal is preferred to a shot attempt that goes wide. With that in mind, here’s a look at the six Caps defenders who have a sample size worth looking at.

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What Will it Cost to Re-Sign Mike Green?


Photo: Greg Fiume

Last night, Ian wrote about pending UFA Mike Green’s desire to stay with the Caps until death or retirement do them part. Already this season, I’ve looked at what it could cost to re-sign Marcus Johansson and how much Braden Holtby is worth, both of whom will be RFA after the season. Green’s case is a bit different, as he is set to hit unrestricted free agency come July 1st.

Some have pointed to Johnny Boychuck‘s 7-year, $42-million extension with the Islanders as a floor of where Green’s negotiations should begin. It’s a decent comp, but I’m going to dig a little deeper to look for salary comps for Green.

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Shot Generation Is a Problem for Caps Forwards

Alex Brandon

Photo: Alex Brandon

The Washington Capitals have one of the most prolific goal scorers in NHL history in Alex Ovechkin. One of the main ingredients in Ovechkin’s success is his ability to generate an insane amount of shots. Since entering the league, Ovechkin has 2252 shots on goal during 5v5 play, 553 more than the next player, Rick Nash. In terms of shot attempts, Ovechkin has 4326, which is 1,479 more than the next closest player. Here’s one stat I can’t wrap my mind around:

This season is no exception. Ovechkin is once again pacing the league in shot attempt rate.

But here’s the problem: After Ovechkin, the 2014-15 Caps’ forward corps struggles mightily to generate shot attempts.

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Week 21 Snapshot: Everything Falls Apart


Photo: Alex Brandon

There’s a stat called CHIP, as in salary Cap Hit of Injured Players. It measures the impact of injuries to a team based on how many games the players miss and how much they get paid. Up until recently, The Capitals had fared very, very well on the injury front this season. They had Dmitry Orlov and John Erskine missing from the blue line but were otherwise mostly unscathed. The Caps had one of the lowest CHIPs in the league.

Then March happened. Ovechkin missed a game, both Brookses are banged up, Peters got hurt, Latta is out, are and there’s a stomach bug going around. Just as the Capitals are mounting their final push for the playoffs, they’re all of a sudden a shambling mess.

Add to that the team’s performance since the all-star break (except for the week they roughed up the scrubs), and you’ve got some genuine worry about this team. They’re barely holding on to a playoff spot, and they’re one game away from squandering their longest home stand of the season.

It seems like everything’s broken for the Caps right now.

In this week’s snapshot, everything is fixable.

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Photo by Amanda Bowen

David Johnson of Puckalytics and Hockey Analysis released a new feature over the weekend called Super WOWY. Super WOWY allows you to select up to 6 teammates and 6 opponents and see how the groups fare in head-to-head matchups dating back to 2008-09. For those of you who like to play armchair coach by considering different line combinations and matchups, you’ll love this new tool.

I’ve been noodling around with Super WOWY, specifically by looking at Caps’ line combinations for this season. While our admiration and respect for Head Coach Barry Trotz has been well documented here on RMNB, so too has been our bewilderment over some of his line combinations, though we acknowledge Trotz is in a no-win situation when he puts together his lines.

Here are the best four lines the Caps could possibly ice– based on a nifty new data set.

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