With the All-Star break upon us, I’m going to use the opportunity to check in on a few stories from earlier in the season and give a quick update. Specifically, I’m going to look at the Caps shot generation and suppression, as well as special teams.
The Washington Capitals are a dangerous team when they’re trailing. We saw this twice last weekend as the Caps erased multi-goal leads by both the Predators and the Stars. And though they lost both those games, we learned a lot about how the Caps can perform when facing adversity.
When down a goal, the Capitals are the fourth most aggressive team in the league, possessing 59.7 percent of shot attempts. That’s a big jump from tie games, when the Caps hold a still-respectable 10th place shot-attempt percentage with 52.4 percent.
But when the Caps manage to get the lead, which they do most of the time, their possession drops to 46.9 percent, a stark drop-off, and a middling 13th in the league. That partially explains why the Caps rarely win by more than two goals.
All teams do this to some extent, but the Capitals’ meekness with the lead has been one of their noted weaknesses– even during that torrid winning streak last month.
Coaches often direct their teams to become less adventurous once they gain the lead, which is a primary factor in relatively lower possession. Barry Trotz does that to some extent (you can see it in the forecheck), but his personnel choices based on score are playing a role as well.
What do you make of a week like that one? The Caps split the week with two wins and two losses– winning over the bad teams and losing to the good teams. Are we to conclude that the Caps bullied the weak teams but couldn’t compete with the dominant possession teams?
And what about those defensive mistakes that cost the Caps both games this weekend? Matt Niskanen’s giveaway lost the game on Friday, and a half dozen blown assignments lost the game on Saturday. What even does “defense” means in a game like hockey where players transition from attacking to defending in the blink of an eye?
And what can we conclude about back-up goalie Justin Peters based on last night’s game?
In this week’s snapshot, we cut the game in half and question everything, because what do we really know anyway?
Jay Beagle has 19 goals in 229 career games. Six of those goals have come this season, surpassing his previous career high of four despite the Caps being just one game past the halfway point. When Chris spoke to Beagle last month, the Caps dogged Center credited his offensive surge to the faith Barry Trotz has placed in him, as well as his own renewed commitment in the off-season to becoming a better offensive player in 2014-15.
“Trotz puts a lot of faith in me and puts me in big situations,” Beagle told RMNB in December. “I’m grateful for it. I don’t want to let him down, I don’t want to let my team down, I don’t want to let myself down. You get those opportunities and you make the most of them.”
Beagle’s producing more points than ever before in his NHL career. He’s made plays that have left Alan May speechless. His production rate during 5v5 has increased dramatically this season.
Here’s a look at what may be driving Beagle’s breakout offensive season.
We are 41 games in to the 2014-15 season, exactly halfway, so now is a good time to take stock.
Let’s start with this: The Capitals are good again. After spending the last year or four wandering into the wilderness, the team is finally improving, a feat owed mostly to the hiring of Barry Trotz and the firing of Adam Oates.
The standings, which don’t necessarily tell us much about a team right now, look good. The Caps are 12th in the league with 52 points. That’s a 104-point pace. The Caps are fourth in the division behind the Rangers (who have been even hotter than the Caps lately), and they own the first wild card spot in the Eastern Conference. At a glance, it looks like the Caps are a playoff team, which is accurate, but there’s a heckuva lot more going on.
In today’s supersized snapshot special, we do the usual stuff– plus a whole lot more. I’ve got six essential conclusions that should inform what the Caps do in the back half. Get comfortable. This is a long one, and I’ll need you to share your thoughts at bottom.
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.
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:
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?”
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.
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.