Photo: Amanda Bowen

Editor’s note: Pat Holden has written about Caps hockey over at Brooks Laichyear since 2012. We’ve asked him to pitch in here at RMNB to smarten us up a bit. Please give Pat a warm welcome. Follow him on Twitter.

During the preseason, Barry Trotz said that he prefers to keep forwards in pairs when shuffling lines. So far, that has proven to be the case. The Caps’ four persistent pairs through the first five games have been Ovechkin-Backstrom, Burakovsky-Johansson, Ward-Chimera, and Kuznetsov-O’Brien.

There’s a lot of noise in the numbers this early in the season, but with that disclaimer, a look at Trotz’s deployment so far shows many things we’d expect and some things we wouldn’t. But the biggest story is that the Caps fourth line is struggling, and Barry Trotz clearly doesn’t trust them.

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Week 1 Snapshot: Good Things are Coming Our Way

Patrick McDermott all smiles

They are all smiles. We are all smiles. (Photo: Patrick McDermott)

Welcome back, everybody! This is the Sunday Snapshot, where we take a peek at how players performed when the game was on the line. Here’s how it works.

For each player, I’ll dump a bunch of stats about what happened he was on the ice– possession, scoring, and deployment– during the last week. I’ll highlight in “powderpuff pink” (I didn’t name it) the stuff that jumps out at me, and then I’ll discuss them below.

If this were last season, I’d also be a cranky jerk and you guys would have to cheer me up in the comments. As you’ll see below, that is no longer the case. The Capitals are pretty damn good again. They’re 3-0-2 with positive possession, a deep defense, and a top line that should terrify the rest of the league. This is going to be fun.

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Editor’s note: Pat Holden has written about Caps hockey over at Brooks Laichyear since 2012. We’ve asked him to pitch in here at RMNB to smarten us up a bit. Please give Pat a warm welcome. Follow him on Twitter.

Alex Ovechkin won the Calder Trophy for NHL rookie of the year in 2006. That season, Ovechkin totaled 52 goals and 54 assist in 81 games. His 106 points is the 3rd highest total ever for a rookie.

But 2005-06 was also Sidney Crosby‘s rookie season. Crosby scored 39 goals and recorded 63 assists. According to Wikipedia, the only other time two rookies scored over 100 points in the same season was in 1992-93, when Teemu Selanne and Joe Juneau did it.

Voting for the Calder was not especially close. Ovechkin got 125 out of 129 first-place votes. He also received 4 second-place votes. Crosby got 4 first-place votes, 95 second-place votes, and a number of third- and fourth-place votes. Scoring 52 goals as a rookie is going to grab the attention of voters. Ovechkin’s highlight-reel goals and physical play were credited for helping him win the award nearly unanimously.

Advanced stats are more prevalent than ever before in the NHL, and are certainly more of a going concern than they were in the 2005-06 season. While many voters still pay them no mind, I want to take a look at how the Ovechkin’s and Crosby’s rookie seasons match-up from an advanced stats perspective.

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After another eventful summer, Alex Ovechkin has returned to the USA. To mark the occasion, I’ve been revisiting something we looked a few times last season: why Ovi’s linemates couldn’t score during even strength.

During 5v5 last season, Ovechkin was on the ice for 33 Caps goals, 20 of them came from Ovi himself. Either Ovi was making his teammates worse (no), or the Caps weren’t doing enough to supplement their captain’s scoring. They were one-dimensional, and that one dimension was Ovi.

When on the ice with Ovechkin during 5v5, center Nick Backstrom scored 4 goals. Two were scored by Eric Fehr, who shared under 100 minutes with Ovechkin, and another two by Casey Wellman, which I can’t even. A bunch of other guys scored single goals, though Marcus Johansson, who shared 600 minutes with Ovi, scored not a one.

I’m gonna try– and fail– to figure out what’s going on here.

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Update on a Replacement for


I miss it already.

I’ve had a bunch of conversations with people since writing a proposal for a new stat site to fill the void left by There are a lot of exciting developments, so I’ll just use this space to fill you in and solicit more input from you.

First, to all the folks who have left comments and sent emails: thanks! We’ve got a big pool of talented and passionate geeks who are eager to help out. I’ve not responded to anyone yet as I’ve been taking your notes under advisement and speaking to some folks who are working on similar (but not identical) projects. To everyone who is waiting on a reply from me: I should be in getting in touch soon.

Second, there’s some serious competition out there. That’s a very good thing, and I’m using “competition” facetiously. I’ve been on a few email threads with stat geeks and developers who are well on their way to publishing new sites. These sites look primed to meet some of the core features of Extra Skater and even provide a surprising amount of novel stuff. It’s early, but I’d be surprised if at least one of these sites isn’t up by October. It’s exciting, and the people behind these projects should and will be congratulated.

One result of that good news is the appetite and pressing concern for the project I defined– a free, open-source solution for extensible hockey stats– will be much lower. But I don’t think it’s gone entirely.

I’m gonna reiterate my plan and explain why it’s a) still valid, b) novel, and c) kind of easy.

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It’s the twilight of the nerds. Along with Cam Charron, Darryl Metcalf (creator of Extra Skater) has been hired to join the nascent analytics department in Toronto. That’s terrific news for them personally and for Leafs fans in general, but it means a massive brain drain for NHL fans.

I expect to be gone for good. Metcalf likely won’t have time to devote to it, and it might represent a conflict of interest to work on it. With that hiring, the Maple Leafs have taken away the single best resource for hockey fans and geeks and writers and coaches. Plus the other 29 GMs.

We can’t allow that. We need to replace Extra Skater.

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Ed. note: Here’s F.O.T.B. Ben Lutz, aka the DC Sports Dork, with an RMNB guest spot all about head coach and GM hires. You can see more of Ben’s work on If you enjoy his stuff, feel free to join his facebook page.

While hockey fans were paying attention to the Stanley Cup Finals, a handful of NHL teams were focused on hiring a new head coach and/or general manager. The Capitals found their guys by hiring Brian McClellan and Barry Trotz as GM and coach, respectively. Pittsburgh pulled off the unthinkable by hiring ex-Hurricanes GM Jim Rutherford as their new general manager.

Hires like these inevitably lead to questions about the candidates’ credentials and organizational philosophies. Is it a good idea to hire a coach that has experience or one with a fresh set of ideas? Does the same apply to hiring a general manager?

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The End of the Trend

trotz and co

I’m really excited about the upcoming Caps season. After replacing Adam Oates with Barry Trotz, I predict the Caps will– finally– reverse their five-year decline and start to get better in 2014-15.


But people who expect a coaching change to immediately transform the team into a Cup contender won’t find solace in the literature.

Teams changing coaches saw their Fenwick Close % increase about 0.35%; after a coaching switch, teams averaged one more Corsi attempt for and 0.4 more Corsi attempts against per 60 minutes, and saw very slight decreases in shooting and save percentages.

Nick Emptage,

Long-term, there seems to be a 1-point boost (from 48.4% to 49.4%) once a team replaces its coach.

Gabriel Desjardins (I think), Arctic Ice Hockey

By that math (and before accounting for roster changes) we might expect the Caps to have around 48-percent puck possession next season. That would kind of suck. I’m a bit more optimistic.

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Offensive Defensemen and the Orlov Myth

Photo: Chris Gordon

First, a quick literature review.

“Orlov is a talented, smooth skating offensive defenseman who prefers to press the attack and create scoring opportunities at all times.”

 – Hockey’s Future. No date provided.

Q: The public at large in the U.S. knows only that Orlov is a D-man. Is he a “stay-at-home” defenseman or an offensive defenseman?

A: I would say it’s offensive… But we don’t know what the coach says in the locker room. He’s not a “stay-at-home” defenseman, that’s for sure. His attacking skills have actually led him to play some games as a forward. He scored twice that game.

- Evgeni Starikov, a Metallurg Novokuznetsk fan, to RMNB. January 2010.

“He loves to attack on the rush and this will lead to him earning points on a team like the Capitals (though they have become more defense-minded).”

Dobber Hockey. April 2012.

He’s a great offensive player. He’s very effective on the power play and everything. It definitely hurts when he’s not there.”

Cam Schilling to the Washington Times. December 2012.

Since even before Dmitry Orlov made his Caps debut back in 2011-12, we’ve heard that he’s an offensive defenseman, the eventual successor to Mike Green’s throne as the Caps blue liner most likely to attack.

I’m not so sure.

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The Washington Capitals’ defense was really bad last season. Adam Oates and George McPhee suited up fourteen (!) defensemen over the course of the season and got little success for their effort. Fixing the blue line was priority one in free agency for new GM Brian MacLellan, and he delivered in a big way, bringing ex-Pens Matt Niskanen and Brooks Orpik to town (as well as their former defensive coach, Todd Reirden).

The new Caps D-corps is definitely improved– but at a great cost. Orpik and Niskanen cost a combined $11.25M per season. Washington now sports the most expensive defense in the league (more than Philly once you factor in Chris Pronger’s sadly never-ending LTIR). With all that– rather pricey– new blood, let’s explore how the Caps might line up in October.

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