Week 12: Everybody, Goalie Panic!

Grubi - Patrick McDermott

Photo: Patrick McDermott

Like I said the other night, the Washington Capitals never make it easy. They took five points from four games this week, but they hardly had the puck at all. On Friday, the Hurricanes neutralized Alex Ovechkin on the power play, but three other guys scored instead. On Saturday, their possession time  was barely one third of the game, and yet they scored four goals during even strength.

This team doesn’t make any sense.

And now, as we near the halfway mark, it looks like we’ve got some full-blown #goaliedrama going on, which is just baffling to me as it seems to miss the entire point of everything we’ve learned from these snapshots. Usually, I reserve this space for skaters only, but we’re making an exception today as we talk about Caps goalies. Let’s get it on.

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oates - Marianne Helm

Three-piece. (Photo: Marianne Helm)

Inspired by an article about the Winnipeg Jets on Arctic Ice Hockey, Tyler Dellow, aka mc79hockey, created a nifty color-coded chart to visualize how puck possession is distributed throughout the Edmonton Oilers lineup.

Basically, you build a grid of players– with the forwards along the left and defensemen along the top, and you rank them by ice time. Then you list the possession percentage for each forward/defenseman pairing. Because coaches typically give better players more ice time, you’d expect to see the higher numbers at top left and the lower percentages at bottom right. There are exceptions, but that’s the basic idea.

It’s a novel way to get a quick, visual impression of a team’s makeup, plus it gives us a chance to reap some insight from how Adam Oates uses his roster.

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Week 11 Snapshot: No, Really, Mike Green is Good

Eliot J. Schechter

Of course. (Photo: Eliot J. Schechter)

The Capitals have won a point or more in 7 of their last 10 games. How they have done that despite some really funky starts, some holey goaltending, retreating puck possession, and Mike Green’s singularity of awfulness is beyond me.

Wait, no it’s not. Alex Ovechkin went buckwild on special teams, Grubauer did some sturdy work in relief of Holtby, and the defense all of a sudden started scoring. It was an exciting week, if not reassuring.

So in the short term: a great 7 days for the Capitals. They still have second place in the division, and those games were fun to watch. In the longview, some stuff needs fixing ’cause winning like that can’t last forever. And with some big questions about talent evaluation about to pop up– like in the next hour, I think we’re about to learn a lot about what makes the Caps tick.

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Photo credit: Geoff Burke/USA Today Sports

Washington Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin probably won’t hit 50 goals in 50 games. Even with his four-goal night against the Tampa Bay Lightning the other night, his chances of hitting 50 goals in his last 50 regular season games seems unlikely. Going by the NHL standard (and arbitrary) definition of 50 goals in a team’s first 50 games of a season, it’s even more unlikely.

But that shouldn’t lessen what he’s is doing right now. Ovechkin’s 2013-14 season could be historic yet.

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Take Troy Brouwer to #TheBank


Photo: @tbrouwer20

The struggles of Troy Brouwer have been a long-running subplot in our weekly stat snapshot series. With just two goals and one assist at 5-on-5, Brouwer’s production has been way below what had been expected for him, and his underlying stats have been among the lowest on the team. Indeed, the numbers have been quite unkind to Troy, and at times they have even endangered our friendship with the Brouwer Rangers.

But I think it’s all about to turn around.

As I discussed in Sunday’s snapshot, and as Y.B.J.P. mentioned on Thursday, Troy’s imminent rebound is thanks to his recent divorce from Brooks Laich.

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Why the Capitals Suck After Scoring a Goal

Holtby - Patrick Smith

Photo: Patrick Smith

Fifteen times this season the Capitals have surrendered a goal within 2:30 of scoring. Nearly one-fifth of the total goals scored against the Caps have come in that 150-second window after a goal. That’s a startling number. Way back in October, Adam Vingan of WaPo Express spoke to the team about the pattern. “We have to find a way to stay on the gas pedal,” Steve Oleksy told Vingan when that number was only 8 goals-against.

The Capitals have not stayed on that metaphorical gas pedal. Instead, they’ve allowed another 7 goals within the two and a half minutes after scoring. The most recent was on Saturday, during the Capitals-Predators game, when Eric Nystrom responded to Nate Schmidt‘s goal by scoring one of his own just 23 seconds later. The Capitals had a good goal cushion by that point, but weak shifts like that after Caps goals have cost the team wins.

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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


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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