The Caps are 24 games into the season and are barely hanging onto a playoff spot. Guys like Evgeny Kuznetsov, Andre Burakovsky, and Justin Williams haven’t been producing as expected. There’s been a lack of offense from the blue line, as the offensively talented trio of John Carlson, Matt Niskanen, and Dmitry Orlov have combined for one goal. The special teams, generally a strong suit among recent Caps teams, rank in the middle of the pack.
Meanwhile, Barry Trotz has stayed cool, calm, and collected through it all. He’s been given plenty of reasons to take away ice time from guys like Kuznetsov or Burakovsky, or scratch Orlov after his mistakes in the third period against the Islanders. But, instead of running out of patience with certain players, Trotz has gone to bat for his guys. He kept a level-headed approach in reacting to Orlov’s miscues against the Isles and expressed confidence that Williams will soon break out of his slump.
In other words, much like Buck Showalter, Trotz likes his guys. And, while some may mistaken his calm for complacency, I think Trotz deserves credit for the approach he’s taken through the bumps of the first 24 games.
There are reasons to be concerned about this Caps team. But there’s also reason to think things will get better. While the former approach may be easier right now, that’s not where the snapshot is headed today. Let’s take a look at the numbers, with an attempt to focus more on what’s gone right and why things might get better.
With an 11-5-2 record, the Washington Capitals are off to another good start. They’re not amassing standings points at quite the same torrid pace as last year’s Presidents’ Trophy outing, but they’re still a damn fine hockey team.
Around this time last year, I wrote an article with the headline, “These Capitals are The Team.” What I should have said is “These Capitals are The Team that will certainly disappoint you in the playoffs once again.” That would’ve been a wordy headline, but it would have articulated something we’ve seen with the Trotz Caps every year: they are faders.
Hi, my name is Peter, and I’ll be your host for this biweekly snapshot.
Peter introduced the weekly snapshot during the 2013 season. The snapshot is a weekly look at Caps players in a few key statistical areas. Looking at these numbers can help us not only analyze what has happened but also allow us to take a more educated guess as to what is going to happen in the future.
People have told me they feel intimidated by advanced stats or think they aren’t good at math, and so they’ve never tried to understand them. Here’s the good news: the stats are really easy to understand and use elementary school-level math.
Photo: Justin K Aller
The Caps have their first must-win game of the season on Saturday night against the Penguins. Down 3-1, the Caps have to win three straight against one of the best teams in the league (granted, the Caps are also in that group) or else their season will be over.
If this series hasn’t driven home the point that the margin for error in the playoffs is razor-thin and sometimes a few bad bounces (like a goal off a player’s back, for crying out loud) can make a world of difference, nothing will. Have the Caps looked dominant? Absolutely not. But have they more than held their own and are down 3-1 in part because hockey can be cruel and unjust? Oh yes.
Hey everyone, they did it: the Caps beat the Flyers.
Some national pundits may tell you that this series was close. While the 5-on-5 play was more even than the series score made it seem after three games, this series really wasn’t very close.
The Flyers needed a Caps own goal and three games of heroic goaltending to force this series to six games. The Caps were the better team, and rightfully they move on to the next round.
The Caps, of course, got great play from Braden Holtby in net. They also completely dominated the special teams battle. These were major factors in the series victory. But the 5-on-5 play has some good nuggets in it too. Below, we’ll take a look at some of the 5-on-5 numbers from the series.
Photo: Amanda Bowen
The Caps enter Monday’s Game Three with a 2-0 series advantage. The guys in red need to win two of the remaining five games before the Flyers win four. Obviously, we’d all appreciate a quicker victory.
The series so far has been a great example of why this Caps team is so tough to knock off in a seven-game series, and something we hit on repeatedly in the Sunday snapshot throughout the season: Even if a team manages to outplay the Caps at 5-on-5, as the Flyers have done, especially in Game Two, the Caps still have Braden Holtby as well as elite special teams units that can help cover up for games in which the 5-on-5 process is deficient.
Photo: Amanda Bowen
We’re entering the final week of the regular season, which means the weekly snapshot for 2015-16 is nearing a close. Taking a look back, even just at the titles, the tone tells the story. The Caps have had an amazing regular season that, as it has begun to wind down, has caused some guarded concern. Give a scroll down the titles and let your heart soar as you relive the winningest regular season in franchise history.
Peter started the snapshot in the Fall of 2013. At the time, I was swamped in my last year of work for grad school, an internship, and a job. The snapshot was one way of the main ways that I kept up with the team. But it didn’t just help me keep up with the team. His insights and approach furthered my understanding of things like shot attempts, puck luck, and so on. I wasn’t yet writing for RMNB at that time and, as a reader of the site, I looked forward to reading it every single Sunday.
Long story short, it was a bit of a trip for me, two years later, to be writing the snapshots on a regular basis. We all know that Peter’s tone, thought process, and way with words are unique and insightful in a way that would be impossible to replace. So, thanks for continuing to stop by the snapshot, despite the change in writer. The comments, suggestions, insights, and complaints are what made it worth it, even when it felt like a grind to get through writing it some Sunday mornings.
Okay, enough reflection and feelings, let’s talk about hockey and numbers.
Photo: Amanda Bowen
The Caps will likely clinch the President’s Trophy within the next week, perhaps before March even ends, and they’ll soon be wrapping up one of the best regular seasons in franchise history. Yet, all is not well in Caps land. Recently, the Caps have struggled both with process and results more so than earlier in the season.
Perhaps they are just waiting to flip the switch when games become meaningful again, or maybe they haven’t been getting enough from certain key players. There’s been some prolonged trends in the team’s game that has raised legitimate concerns about how they’ll fare come playoffs.
But history can show us that there’s also reason to temper those concerns. And, as we’ve tried to note on RMNB throughout the season, and Dan Steinberg put so eloquently, it’s also okay to simply enjoy this regular season success. It’s also perfectly fine to do so while feeling antsy about how this team will perform come mid-April.
And that’s the thing: with it being a given that there is no right or wrong way to be a fan, it’s possible to appreciate this season and acknowledge the reasons that the Caps have a legitimate shot at a deep playoff while also expressing concerns about the team’s recent performance and why that casts doubts upon the team’s chances at playoff success. These two perspectives need not stand in opposition to one another.
Before we jump into the numbers, let’s give the final word to F. Scott Fitzgerald, who can help offer a reminder that it’s possible, to use the parlance of our times, to both find some chill but still keep it 100 about this Caps team:
The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.
Photo: Amanda Bowen
It’s basically late March and, since the Caps have had the conference wrapped up for a couple months now, it seems like the playoffs have approached at the pace a watched pot boils. But the playoffs really are growing near and, given that the Caps are basically a lock to enter as the number one seed in the East, the two things to worry about are health and process. In other words, don’t anyone get hurt and, regardless of results, hopefully the Caps will look like the dominant team they’ve been for much of the season and the standings suggest they are.
Before jumping into the snapshot numbers, let’s take quick stock of just how dominant the Caps have been this season. The numbers are current prior to Sunday’s game against the Penguins:
Let’s dig into the numbers, current as of noon on Sunday.
Photo: Amanda Bowen
The Caps have lost in regulation just 14 times through 68 games. They’ve had the Metro division wrapped up since the Carter administration (Jimmy, not Aaron or Nick) and are running away with the President’s Trophy. And yet, things aren’t going very well right now.
Four of those 14 regulation losses have come in the last 10 games, with an overtime loss giving the Caps five losses in their last 10 games. Since the John Scott Game break, the Caps score-adjusted shot attempt percentage is 49.9 percent, 17th best in the league. Braden Holtby’s 5v5 save percentage during that time sits at 91.3 percent, ranking 34th among the 44 NHL goalies who have played at least 300 minutes since the break.
Feel nauseous yet?
The good news is that this team is still a Stanley Cup contender. No matter what “yeah, but” or “well, actually” rebuttal someone may have to that statement, the fact remains that this team is winning more through 68 games than the majority of teams in NHL history. No, the team has not looked great for a while now. And yes, their results have outpaced their performance for quite some time. But, it’s important to keep perspective that all teams go through ebbs and flows during the grind of an 82-game season.
The Caps might lose in the first round of the playoffs. But they’re also among a small handful of teams that have a legitimate shot at winning it all. Troubling trends have arisen at a time in the season when you’d least like to see it, but this isn’t the end of the world.
We can’t have anyone freaking out. We gotta keep our composure. We’ve come too far. We’ve got too much to lose. Keep our composure.
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