Week 5 Snapshot: Orpik, Ovi, and Optimization

Scott Rovak

Photo: Scott Rovak

When the Caps were losing games early in the season, it wasn’t a big deal. The Capitals were playing well when you measured their shot-attempt differential, but the goalies were letting in too many goals. Because goalies’ cumulative save percentages are extremely volatile early in the season, and because Braden Holtby’s career save percentage is pretty high, there wasn’t much cause for concern.

Now, after deflating losses to the Blues and Devils– both great possession teams– the Capitals’ possession seems to have eroded a bit. The goaltending, at least Holtby’s 96.4-percent effort on Friday, hasn’t been bad since early November. The problem now is that the Capitals can’t do the thing crucial to winning games: score goals.

You can chalk it up to urgency, and to some extent I do, but there is also mounting evidence that the Capitals are failing to optimize their offense. That’s the topic of this week’s snapshot.

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Week 4 Snapshot: Patience Pays Off

Alex Brandon anteater

Come! Hug me, for I am an anteater! (Photo: Alex Brandon)

Kevin Klein at Japers Rink wrote a piece about the correlation between puck possession during close games (measured in unblocked shot-attempt percentage) and success. It’s compelling stuff. Here’s my own version of that research.

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Since 2009 and excluding the short season, the top five teams in the league based in the standings control an average of 53.1 percent of unblocked shot attempts. Below them, the solid playoff teams (ranked 6 through 10) get about 51.5 percent of the shot attempts.

Teams 11 through 15 get 50.5 percent and teams 16 through 20 get 49.2.

The not-so-good teams own just 48.3 percent of shot attempts. The bottom-5 teams, who are basically your draft lottery teams, get 47.2 percent.

Last season the Caps most closely represented a draft lottery team. This year, with 54.25 percent possession according to fenwick-stats.com, the Caps look more like a Stanley Cup contender.

That doesn’t mean they are one; the season is still way too young. In the coming weeks we will learn for sure. In the meantime, next time save percentages throw the Caps into a five-game slump, look back at that chart and remind yourself that the Caps climbed from the far right to the far left in just five months.

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Week 3 Snapshot: Patience, My Young Padawan

Scott Iskowitz

I don’t like this angle because you can’t see Schmidt’s smile. (Photo: Scott Iskowitz)

The Caps aren’t winning the game they’re supposed to. They’re playing the right way on a pattern level, but a few turnovers here and bad bounces there have led them to a winless week. That stinks, and it’s definitely causing some dissension in Caps fan ranks.

But the team is gonna be alright. The Caps are still doing the big stuff right. There’s cause for mild alarm in a few places, but this is still a playoff team. I’m confident about that.

The snapshot shows us numbers that help us project future success better than just goals or the team’s position in the standings. Those projections still look good. This is a challenge not of the team’s constitution, but of the fans. Do we have the nerve to stay calm? I think so, and here are some numbers that’ll help us do so.

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Week 2 Snapshot: How High?

Gerry

Photo: Gerry Thomas

Okay, so I wasn’t expecting this. The Caps are good, which is what we thought, but they seem to be really good. Like really, really good. The Caps are outshooting the opposition, they’re limiting shots against, they’re getting dependable goaltending, and the goals are coming from all over the lineup. They’re a good hockey team again– that’s settled. The only question is this:

How good are they?

We just don’t know yet. The Caps have seven games under their belt, just 8.5 percent of the season. That little sample looks lovely, but who knows what the coming weeks will bring. And there are already things the Caps could do to be better. Starting with Alex Ovechkin.

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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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Head coach Adam Oates of the Washington Capitals is. That sentence is still correct in the present tense. I’m astonished.

This is not another article listing the problems with Adam Oates, or even the problems with George McPhee. This is an article, the last in a series, describing the Capitals on a week-to-week basis using quantified analysis. If at any point the following article reads like a hitpiece against Caps coaching or management, that’s only because the math totally hates them. It’s not me, I swear.

Also, I think Dmitry Orlov is gonna be real good someday. Let’s do the numbers one more time!

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Week 25 Snapshot: The Wonderful Future

Bruce Bennett

Photo: Bruce Bennett

This was the week the Capitals’ playoff hopes effectively died.

Sports Club Stats says the Caps have a 2.7% chance of making the postseason. To help you better understand the probability there, that’s the same as the chances I will NOT go to Chipotle today.

We should not be surprised by this. The Capitals were never good at even strength. In week one we said, “These numbers do not describe a good even-strength team at all.” Almost eighty games later, and that has not changed. The only teams who do worse than the Caps during 5v5 (which is how about 75% of their season has been played), are the following: the Avalanche, Oilers, Leafs, Sabres. That is poor company.

So while this season is a foregone conclusion, the Caps must now decide who they will become in the future: a bottom-five team or not.

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Photo: Mitchell Layton

With eight games left to play, the Capitals are two points out of a wild card spot. Columbus (reminder: apparently now they’re good a team) and Detroit have 82 points to Washington’s 80. In the final two weeks of the regular season, the Caps must close the gap.

They’re not going to do it playing like they have been. According to Sports Club Stats, the Caps have a one-in-four chance of making the playoffs right now. That’s a fun coincidence, because they also have just one forward line out of four that doesn’t look like hot garbage.

In this week’s snapshot, we take another look at the Caps’ chances of making the playoffs and suggest one painfully obvious way to improve them. (Hint: it’s in the headline.)

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Week 23 Snapshot: Victory in California!

Don Smith

Check out all the sad faces in the stands (Photo: Don Smith)

Alright, now it’s getting interesting. If you predicted the Caps would go winless in California, you would not have been unreasonable. Those were three tough teams on a big road trip at a crucial juncture in the schedule. Instead of sinking, the Caps took five of six available points and now have a real chance of making the playoffs again.

Sportsclubstats had the Caps at 8.1% last week. Right now they’re at 26.4%. If today’s games go right, the Caps could peek over 30% for the first time since January.

Now we enter into a period of rapt scoreboard watching. From here on out, we’ll be watching Detroit, Toronto, and Lumbus with wide eyes. But that shouldn’t mean the team’s fate is entirely out of its hands. If they can fix their top two lines and stay out of the penalty box, these guys really could pull it off. More on that in this week’s snapshot!

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Week 22 Snapshot: Wagons West!

Nick Wass

Photo: Nick Wass

For the second week in a row, the Capitals took just two standings points out of a possible six. The Caps are three points behind Philly for the wild-card spot, but Philly has two extra games holstered. Sports Club Stats puts the Caps’ chances of making the playoffs at 8.1%. For them to have a chance, they’d basically have to play like the best team in the league from here on out.

It doesn’t look good.

And then there’s the small matter of California. After Sunday’s date with the Leafs, the Caps go west. The way of Horatio Alger, Davy Crockett, the Donner Party for games against the Ducks, the Kings, and the Sharks. Wuh oh.

I’m trying over here to find a positive spin to put on the numbers, but I’m thinking if you’re looking for solace you might want to look elsewhere. I promise to keep this short and mildly interesting.

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