This is my final solo snapshot of the season. My first and most sophisticated thoughts about the 2016-17 so far goes like this:
The Caps have dominated the regular season. With 100 points and a plus-69 goal differential, the team has already locked up a playoff appearance. The remaining questions are few:
I think the answers to one and two are yes. The answer to three is back-to-back Vezina good. But I wonder sometimes if Holtby’s excellence might be lulling the Caps into complacency. The team is not without weaknesses, and I’d rather see them addressed now than in an offseason that comes too soon.
Let’s do the snapshot.
The Washington Capitals continue to roll. After a slight sputter coming out of the bye week, the guys in red have won five or their last six and a franchise-record 15 straight at home. This is the best team in the NHL.
But, things could slow down at some point. Back in January, Peter asked if the Caps are lucky or if they’re good. He correctly concluded that they are both lucky and good. To say that there’s some luck baked into the Caps results isn’t a slight. While getting lucky is often associated with bad teams, good teams are lucky just as often as bad ones. In fact, it takes a whole lot of luck to be the last team standing in June.
Just how lucky has this Caps team been? Well, the difference between the Caps goals for percentage and expected goals for percentage is the biggest of any team for a single season since 2007. By a mile. Here’s a look at the top 30.
I cut out the individual season markers to make the graph less cramped. That’s the 2016-17 Caps in first and the 2009-10 team in fourth.
The good news, even if the Caps’ luck turns, is that their underlying numbers tell us they’re still one of the top teams in the league. But the Caps shouldn’t merely count on their underlying numbers mitigating the effects of a slump, they should be looking for ways to continuously improve the process that results in those strong underlying numbers. The Caps should be looking to maximize every part of their roster so, if the hockey gods stop smiling on them, the fall is as soft and padded as possible.
With that in mind, let’s take a look at the numbers.
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.
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