Photo: Keith Allison
The Washington Capitals got embarrassed by the Dallas Stars on Saturday night.
While the Caps are running away with the division lead and are consensus favorites to win the President’s Trophy for most regular-season points, the Stars are the most exciting team in the league. They’re locked in a duel with the Hawks for the Central Division lead and they’re unbelievably fun. Led by the league’s best scoring tandem in Benn and Seguin. the Stars have an aggressive offense, generating oodles of shots and globs of goals. They look a lot like the pre-2011 Capitals, really.
We all recall how those scoar-moar-goals Caps got handled in the postseason, but their dominance in the 82-game regular season was undeniable. In 2009-2010, they earned 121 standings points. Only the 2005-2006 Red Wings ever did better, with 124.
But here comes the 2015-16 Capitals, who are on pace for 128 standings points. They could become the most dominant regular-season team of the post-lockout era, which would be a tremendous feat, but it still wouldn’t amount to a hill of beans if they allow themselves to be dominated by a team like the Stars in the playoffs.
In this week’s snapshot, first of all, hi, it’s me, Peter, because Pat’s at the beach, but also, let’s talk about how the league’s most successful team might change over these final 30 games.
Photo: Amanda Bowen
The snapshot is back. We took a two-week hiatus because the Caps played one game over a 74-year period due to the snow and the John Scott Game break. But alas, we are back.
February is the dog days of the hockey season. The excitement of the start of the season has long since worn off, the holidays and Winter Classic have passed, and now we’re waiting for the stretch run and the playoffs. If ever there is a time in a hockey season that a team’s going to be on autopilot as a response to the monotony, this is the time.
If monotony has begun to strike the Caps, you wouldn’t know it from the results, as they are 7-2-1 in their last 10. They’ve found a way to keep rolling the rock. And, more often than not, when the rock returns to the bottom of the hill, two points are in tow.
Let’s do the numbers. They are current as of the completion of Saturday’s win over the Devils.
Photo: Patrick Smith
The snapshot is a weekly colmn that isn’t focused only on the previous week but also on the season-to-date. But let’s talk about Saturday night in Buffalo.
The Caps threw up a dud. They looked lifeless for much of the game and lacked the sharpness we’ve come accustomed to seeing from them as they’ve run roughshod over the rest of the league.
I couldn’t be less concerned. The Caps were due for a bad performance with a bad result. Heck, the Caps are probably due for a 5-10 game stretch where they throw up multiple duds, simply because it’s very hard to keep up the pace they were on for 82 games. And that’s okay.
Our eyes should still remain fixed on the prize: Winning 4 sets of 7-game weighted coin flips in the spring.
The numbers are current as of noon on Sunday.
Photo: Bruce Bennett
This team, y’all.
Whether it be through elite goaltending, top-notch special teams, strong 5v5 play, luck, some sort of Calvinistic predestination, or a of combination of all of the above, the Caps just keep winning. They’ve lost just seven times in regulation through the first 41 games entering Sunday’s tilt against the Ottawa Senators.
The good news is that the 5v5 play continues to come back to life after a prolonged stretch in which the Caps were relying heavily upon MVP-caliber play of Braden Holtby and elite special teams. The bounce back comes at a time when perhaps it’d be understandable if the process and results dipped, as injuries and suspensions have forced the team to call upon their depth recently, particularly on the blue line.
Hockey is fun and this team should be cherished. This group of players won’t be together forever.
Here’s a look at the numbers as of noon on Sunday.
The Capitals have played sixteen games since the beginning of December. In that time, the team added 24 standings points, making them one of the hottest teams in the league, but their 5v5 performance was actually in the league’s bottom third, between Philadelphia and Saturday night’s victors, the Columbus Blue Jackets.
Possession doesn’t tell the whole story. Braden Holtby has been spectacular, and Washington’s special teams have been brilliant. Still, there’s reason for alarm: the 5v5 Caps of the last month were better than the 2013-14 Oates!Caps by just 0.4 percent. Without a marked improvement in even-strength play, outcomes will begin to catch up with possession. The only good alternative is for the Caps to begin playing better.
In this week’s snapshot, the Caps have begun to play better.
Photo: Maddie Meyer
Welcome to the final snapshot of 2015.
To note that Jason Chimera‘s 13.3 percent shooting percentage isn’t likely to last does not take anything away from what the Ice Cheetah has done this season. Pointing this out doesn’t subtract any of the 10 goals he has. The same goes for the Caps as a team. Mentioning that their possession game has been slipping doesn’t take away any of their wins. It doesn’t cost them any points in the standings or make their winning streak any less enjoyable. Instead, the point is that the winning is unlikely to continue with the possession numbers they’ve posted lately.
Truth be told, I think the Caps’ possession will bounce back, and the win on Saturday against Montreal showed signs of that. To go through a dip that is below the team’s talent level, but have the goaltending, special teams, and some luck help rack up the wins isn’t a bad place to be.
The Caps have won a lot of games recently in which they were outplayed. I think it’s unlikely the Caps will be outplayed as much moving forward.
Photo: Patrick Smith/Getty Images
Friday night’s thrilling comeback win over Tampa Bay propelled the Caps into first place in the NHL standings. Despite the 5v5 process still not being as sound as it was in the first month of the season, the Caps continue to rack up wins at a breakneck pace. There are reasons for that, some of which we’ve touched on in recent snapshot and some of which we’ll get into below.
But first, let’s get this out of the way: This team is fun.
One of the aims of the snapshot is to offer a sober analysis of what the underlying numbers say and where the team is headed. The concerns noted in recent snapshots still stand. But, to go off the snapshot script a bit, this team is simply fun to watch. The skill level in the top-six is dazzling, and rarely does a game go by without some sort of highlight-reel pass or goal.
To think, five years ago this team was mired in a slump, they adopted a boring and crippling trap system, and Bruce Boudreau was cussing about asses being inside of heads. While there are reasons to keep the current optimism guarded, it’s also fun to note how relatively awesome things are right now.
Let’s do the numbers, current as of Sunday before the game against the Rangers.
Photo: Rob Carr
For a good part of the early season, the Caps were playing like they had discovered the goal cheat in NHL ’94, imported Bo Jackson’s dominance from Tecmo Bowl, and mastered the Madden truck stick. They were dominant. While the team has continued to rack up the points and now sits one point out of the lead in the Eastern Conference with three games in hand, the dominance isn’t there anymore. The process has had some troubling signs of late.
In week 2, we talked about the long road that is an NHL season. The long road has hit some bumps lately, but is it time to be concerned? Are these bumps just an inevitable part of the process of an 82-game season, or are the Caps coming back down to earth a bit and won’t return to their dominant ways? Let’s run the numbers and dig into all of this.
Photo: Amanda Bowen
The weekly snapshot has been a very happy place so far. Overall, the Caps have been racking up points and doing so with underlying numbers that suggest their results are sustainable. Lately, however, some of the trends have been concerning. Braden Holtby has had to steal points for the team, which is the luxury of having an elite goalie. Over an 82-game season, an elite goalie will do that. But if the entire team fancies itself elite, they will need to rely on Holtby a lot less moving forward.
In the month of October, the Caps were the best shot suppression team in the league, allowing just 43.2 shot attempts against per 60 minutes of 5v5 play. Slowly but surely, since around Halloween, the team’s league-leading shot suppression abilities have deteriorated. From November forward the Caps are ranked 13th, allowing 51.1 shot attempts against per 60. Both numbers are adjusted for score, so score effects are not the issue here.
This has had a profound effect on the Caps’ overall possession. The graph below, from War on Ice, show the team’s 10-game rolling shot attempt percentage. In a hurry, this team has slid from elite to just pretty good.
Let’s do the numbers and see if we can figure anything out as to what is causing the Caps to look merely above average, and at times not even that good, in recent weeks.
Photo by Amanda Bowen
Twenty-three games into the season, the Caps sit atop the Metropolitan Division (worst division name in sports? yes!) with a record of 17-5-1. This team is good.
Caps take over first in the Metro Division with 4-2 win over Leafs. Also second in the Eastern Conference and third in the NHL. Not bad.
— Katie Brown (@katiebhockey) November 29, 2015
This team is very good. In fact, they have us thinking they may even be The Team. The Caps puck possession has slipped a tad in recent weeks, down to a still pristine 53.2 score-adjusted shot attempt percentage, good for fifth in the NHL. Over the past two weeks, this mark has been 50.2 percent. Still fine enough and nothing to be concerned about yet, though certainly worth being aware of.
In other words, the beat goes on. This is a great team we are watching. Let’s do the numbers thing.
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