Six Capitals Predictions to Warm Your Heart

The Caps last played meaningful hockey on April 13th. Here’s what I wrote in that game recap:

…this is the end of this. Whatever’s next, it won’t ever feel like this again. The roster, the coaches, the front office– the sword of Damocles looms above them all. A shining new era is tip-toeing nearer.

And then everything changed. New coach, new system, new GM, new defense, new forwards, and I think I saw a few new gray hairs on Ovi’s head. The tumult of the last six months has been discomforting for some, but I’m excited.

I bet I can get you excited too. Lemme try.

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Karl Alzner and John Carlson: The Disaster Duo

Karl Alzner skates off the ice after the Habs score in the second period

Photo credit: Rob Carr

Nothing is going right for the Washington Capitals right now. But one of the biggest problems is clear: the misfortunes of Karl Alzner and John Carlson. Of the 14 goals the Caps have allowed this season, Carlson has been on the ice for nine of them and Alzner for eight. Until they were broken up at the start of third period, this was the team’s number one defensive pairing. That’s not how you win hockey games, something Washington has demonstrated.

“I have no idea,” Alzner said when asked what was going wrong for the two.

“We’re not getting the bounces, plays that I normally would do, an easy poke check — it’s happening for the both of us,” he added. “We weren’t contributing anything good to the team.”

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Ovechpunch! Ovechpunch! (Photo credit: Jim McIsaac)

On Wednesday, the Washington Capitals will take on the New York Rangers in Game One of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals. The Caps haven’t faired well against New York this season, losing three out of four regular season games including 6-0 and 7-0 shutouts. In fact, the 7-0 shutout was so bad, Alex Ovechkin found it necessary to fight. However, that was then. This is now. Let’s take a look at the numbers to preview what should be an interesting matchup.

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Overtime = OV Time: Caps Shock Islanders, 2-1 (OT)

It feels so good! Alex Ovechkin's OTGWG Against the Islanders

Your new desktop background. Click to enlarge. (Photo credit: Greg Fiume)

The new-look Washington Capitals featuring Jason Arnott, Marco Sturm and Dennis Wideman took to the ice Tuesday night. After 61 minutes and 55 seconds of hockey, they had done exactly what the old team did only three days ago: came from behind and squeaked out a win against the New York Islanders, though it certainly it wasn’t how they originally expected to do it.

The Capitals controlled play early on, outshooting the Islanders 10-1 midway through first frame. Washington had a numerous quality chances in the period but Nathan Lawson — who came into the game with a record of 1-4-1 and a GAA of 4.56 — shut the door, and the game was scoreless after one period of play.

The second stanza was even more lopsided than the first for the Caps in terms of shots on goal — but not on the scoreboard. Just after the 10 minute mark of the period, the Islanders’ Matt Moulson finally netted the game’s first tally, scoring on a two-on-one odd man rush. But that would be all Washington netminder Michal Neuvirth would allow as he became impenetrable for the rest of the contest.

The third period looked grim for Caps fans as nothing seemed to be able to get past Lawson — that is, until the final minute of play. With just 48 seconds remaining and Neuvirth pulled, new Cap Arnott delivered a perfect pass to Brooks Laich in the crease. He chipped in the puck and just Laich that (See what I did there? It’s awful, I know.) we had ourselves a whole new ballgame.

In overtime, well, this happened:

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Capitals Almost Back To Normal

ovechkin-celebrates

After a miserable eight-game losing streak, the Caps are finally starting to see some puck bounces go their way and are 5-0-1 in their last six. Good times ahead? We’ll see, but this is sure better than losing.

The scoring chances showed us this was just a matter of time. Remember, I use a specific definition of what I consider a scoring chance based on shot quality data and log everyone who is on the ice at the time using the script from Vic Ferrari. As always, you can find the spreadsheet online.

At even strength, the Caps put the scoring chances in their favor throughout the season, but when they failed to get the puck bounces to go their way it was a tough stretch of eight games. Once the bad luck started to even out, bringing their conversion percentage back to their season average, the Caps were able to right the ship:

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fehr-second-goal

Ovi tackles his teammates after Mike Knuble's second period goal.

Ovi tackles his teammates after Mike Knuble's second period goal. (Photo credit: Dave Sandford)

Photo credit: Gregory Shamus

After a year of build-up and three glorious episodes of HBO’s 24/7, the Washington Capitals and Pittsburgh Penguins finally met at Heinz Field in front of 68,111 loud, screaming fans to compete in the 2011 Winter Classic. Much like the 39 games before and the 42 games to follow, this game counted the exact same amount in the standings: two points.

But both you and I know it meant waaaaaay more than that. You could see it in how the Caps played, celebrated and spoke after the game. This was the biggest game they had ever played in their NHL careers. And it showed.

At 8:17pm the first puck dropped. It would then take over twenty-two compelling game minutes to see the 2011 Classic’s first goal. In the second period, Marc-Andre Fleury made a routine stick save along the ice on Alex Ovechkin. Kris Letang then took the rebound and alertly flung the puck up ice where he found a streaking Evgeny Malkin. The Capitals’ defense, caught on a bad change, allowed Malkin to go in all alone on Semyon Varlamov. Malkin went five-hole and the the Penguins took a 1-0 lead.

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The Constant Changing Of The Linemates

bruce-make-up-your-mind

The Caps blew out Tampa Bay 6 to nothing, and– just when we thought sitting Fleischmann was the answer the lines were clicking– we got more change. Admit it: you thought line combos were chosen using random ping pong ball selection. How else can you explain the constant Changing Of The Linemates?

This week we’ll take a quick look at how the top 6 line combos and blueline pairings are doing at even strength and how the goalies are doing overall, with respect to scoring chances. In the following weeks (as I get more comfortable with SQL) I will add goals scored for and against. For now it’s just scoring chances. I use a specific definition of what I consider a scoring chance based on shot quality data and log everyone who is on the ice at the time using the script from Vic Ferrari. As always, you can find the spreadsheet online.

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Zone Starts and Expected Scoring Chances

alex-ovechkin-vs-flyers

Ovechkin is out of sorts. Does anyone know why? (Photo credit: Mitchell Layton)

Semin cooled off, Marcus Johansonn started to heat up, Ovechkin is un-Ovechkin-y, and we saw the Caps get shut out for the first time in almost a year. Quite an up-and-down week. Despite it all, scoring chances are once again preserved for posterity.

I use a specific definition of what I consider a scoring chance based on shot quality data and log everyone who is on the ice at the time using the script from Vic Ferrari. As always, you can find the spreadsheet online.

Coach Boudreau used every line combo imaginable this week (except for the much ballyhooed DJ King-Steckel-Ovechkin line), so I thought we would look at expected scoring chance percentage (SC%). Scoring chance percentage is the amount of scoring chances-for (SCF) that go in the Caps favor when a particular player is on the ice. For example, if a skater is on the ice for 6 scoring chances-for and only 4 against his  SC% would be 60% (6 chances for divided by all 10 chances when on ice). If we know how often a player is deployed in the offensive zone, we can calculate their expected scoring chance percentage. Then it is simple subtraction: subtract the actual from the expected and we can see each player’s true efficiency. All numbers are for even strength only.

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Read Neil Greenberg’s Debut with WaPo

Neil Greenberg's debut with WaPo

A year ago, you might have known Neil Greenberg only for his razor-sharp analysis on 5ive Hole, but the most controversial acquisition during the season last year might have been Neil’s signing with RMNB.  Since then, he’s become the Examiner’s hockey photographer of record, the Washington Post’s hockey statistics nerd, and Samantha Casey’s new BFF.

Capitals Insider posted Neil’s first file today, an incisive piece comparing Karl Alzner and John Carlson to their predecessors.  With the exception of the Carlzner portmanteau, it’s a huge success.  Please, go read the piece and leave him some love in the comments.

No excuse not to read the article when there’s a link this big.

Congratulations, Neil.  Please don’t forget the little people.