Before the bye week, the Washington Capitals had been on a 119-point pace. Since the bye week, with just one loser point in two games, the Caps are now on a 20.5-point pace, making them the worst team not just in the league, but in the history of the league — edging out the 1974-75 Capitals by half a standings point.
Yes, one weekend of shooting 4.3 percent has been devastating for what was once the league’s best team. As we all know, taking a week off from hockey has a well documented depressive effect on shooting percentages. Now we’re left to reconcile with the post-Valentine’s Day Caps, who — it turns out — are still really good.
In this week’s snapshot, let’s take a look at what happens if and when the bottom falls out.
The Caps are at it again. They are piling up points at a dizzying pace and are one of the best teams in the league. Skeptics may point to the team’s 10.3 percent shooting percentage or 65.5 goals-for percentage as unsustainable, and they wouldn’t be entirely wrong. But even if the Caps percentages regress to a seemingly more sustainable level, they are still one of the best teams in the league.
“But,” they say “will this last?” Or will the Caps have another juggernaut of a regular season end in playoff disappointment?
I’ll spare you the details of why I believe regular season success is more meaningful than playoff success and how randomness can sometimes cause the better team to lose a seven-game series. Instead, we’ll hear from a couple smart, insightful folks from around the league. I asked both of them the same question: in about two sentences, do you think this is the Caps’ year? Here’s what they said:
(If you aren’t already following these great folks on Twitter, I highly recommend it. Click their names.)
Just like many seasons during the Ovechkin era, this could be the year. But maybe it won’t be.
Let’s dig into the numbers through 53 games for a Caps team that is again considered a legitimate threat to win it all.
The win streak is over. Long live the points streak.
The Capitals are still the hottest team in the league, but they’re not perfect, and that’s a crying shame. Because we’ve all grown accustomed to two standings points every game and an offense that has scored on 18 percent of its shots since New Years Eve.
But lean days are coming. Just last night we learned that the Capitals will not score at least five goals every game (they scored four), and that revelation has been sobering. So let us all come to grips with a more mild future, where the Capitals are just pretty great instead of flawless.
Let’s do the snapshot.
We’re now into January, and the Caps are sitting in good shape. The team has 55 points, good for fifth in the league. The team is fourth in the Metro division. Yes, the Caps are the fifth best team in the NHL yet sit in only fourth in their division. The Metro division is the best division in hockey this season and the Caps are one of the reasons why. They are sitting among elite company.
Take a look at the top-5 NHL teams in the standings, as four of these teams come from the Metro.
The same is true for league-wide goal differential. four of the top six teams are in the Metro.
This all just goes to show that the concept of divisions for playoff seeding, as well as divisional playoffs, are a complete failure. Chances are this season, once again, an elite team from the Metro will be knocked out in the second round.
But I digress. Let’s dig into some Caps-specific numbers.
On the day of the last Sunday snapshot, the Washington Capitals had 14 wins and 31 standings points, enough to own 4th place in the Metro Division.
But after that, the Caps went on a wild winning streak, adding five wins and 10 standings points, vaulting them up to — 4th place in the Metro Division.
In the standings, hard work just isn’t being rewarded right now. It’s tough to know who’s good, who’s great, and who’s just catching a lot of breaks. The same could be said for players on this Caps team, and that’s the theme of this week’s snapshot.
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.
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