The Capitals have lost four games in a row, so some indignation seems justified.
“That is not how I operate,” Barry Trotz said after Sunday’s loss. “That’s not how you win in this league.”
The Coyotes game was a mess, plagued by turnovers, all of which seemed to end up in the back of the Capitals’ net. Justin Peters didn’t have a great night, the Caps squandered a 3-1 lead, and the team seemed to surrender at the start of the third period. It was embarrassing.
“That behavior has to change or we have to change people,” Trotz said with no shortage of gravity.
I can’t argue that Sunday was bad, and the Caps certainly need to make adjustments, but I’ve still got a hunch that this team is capable of being really, really good. Miles better than they used to be.
Maybe I can find someone who agrees with me.
I searched for perspective, starting with the Internet’s final bastion of common sense: RMNB’s Facebook comments.
Seriously [censored] the Caps. How many years with no defense will it take? [censored] pathetic.
Umm… It’s time to panic! This team looks very confused, and D Zone play is absolutely horrific! This is NOT a good team!
Caps won 4… Have not won 7… Let’s not sugarcoat it, lots of work to do, not even close to a playoff contender.
New coach. Same lousy results!!!!!!!!
Okay, that was a bad idea.
Then I was drawn to Brooks Orpik’s quote about the game and how CSN’s Jill Sorenson responded to it:
When I asked him about old habits creeping back in, Orpik said, “Guys are [going to] make mistakes, we just need other guys to pick them up and right now one guy makes a mistake and everyone just kind of watches it happen.”
For the last two years, that’s exactly what happened. And maybe even before that.
Sorenson seems to be saying that Sunday was a continuation of long-lasting cultural problems on the Caps roster. Maybe she’s right; I have neither the perspective nor inclination to debate that nebulous stuff. But I do know, without a doubt, that today’s Caps have already been radically transformed since Adam Oates was fired.
Once the Caps work out the kinks, they will find themselves a very good team with a strong chance of making the playoffs– and a decent chance of making some noise once they get there.
Check out how much better the Caps are already.
Goal percentage during 5v5. The Caps are even right now. Last season they were outscored 153 to 135. I expect they’ll probably do a good bit better than 50 percent in the end, which alone would be worth six extra points in the standings.
Unblocked shot-attempt percentage during 5v5 (aka Fenwick). I don’t know if the Caps will remain this dominant after 82 games, but they’re already indisputably transformed from last year’s torpor. If they can keep owning the shot attempts, this season will have been nearly as much of a change as switching from Hanlon to Boudreau was back in the late 80s.
Unblocked shot attempts per 60 during 5v5. Okay, so the Caps are getting only slightly more shots than last season. The Caps are only 15th out of 30 teams; it’s an unremarkable number. Some cleaner breakouts and smarter tactics in neutral and the blue line would increase these numbers– as well as winning the ever-popular “board battles” and all the other stuff we heard in last night’s postgame interviews. Still: they’re better than bad.
Unblocked opponent shot attempts per 60 minutes during 5v5. There it is. This is what a defensive-minded coach and the league’s most expensive blue line will get you. The Caps have cut their opponents’ shot rate by more than a fifth. That’s huuuuuuuuge. Once the team buttons up a bit and the sample size grows, we’re gonna see a significant drop in goals against.
Save percentage during 5v5. This is the biggest factor in making the Caps look so bad right now, but it’s the least stable stat in the story. Holtby and Peters are not getting the saves yet, but they will soon. The Caps are ranked 28th out of 30 in 5v5 goaltending, but with only 256 shots faced in total, that number is almost meaningless at projecting the future. In big samples, Holtby is an above-average goalie— and he’s got upside since he’s now freed from Adam Oates.
Unblocked opponent shot attempts while shorthanded. Again, the Caps have cut their opponent’s shot attempts during the penalty kill by nearly a fifth. The sample is much smaller here (50 minutes total), so I’m not quite as confident about this one. They’re ranked 14th at limiting PK shot attempts, up from maybe the worst of all-time in 2013-14, but this number could go in any direction.
Save percentage while shorthanded. And this explains why the Caps PK is struggling. The Caps are allowing one extra goal for every twenty shots during the penalty kill. Over time, this number should progress to somewhere closer to 88 percent. Nothing on the Caps’ PK seems hopelessly broken to me.
Aside from general sloppiness and save percentage, the Caps look like a very good team. Just 11 games into the season, save percentage tells us the least about where a team will be come April. Once they sort out the nonsense, the Caps are gonna be just fine. I’d say I’ve got faith, but that’s not correct; I’ve got proof.
What do you think? Are we canceling the Capspocalypse?
Note: I used absolute percentage change when comparing percentages. Let’s fight about it in comments, math nerds.
Russian Machine Never Breaks is not associated with the Washington Capitals; Monumental Sports, the NHL, or its properties. Not even a little bit.
All original content on russianmachineneverbreaks.com is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported (CC BY-NC-SA 3.0)– unless otherwise stated or superseded by another license. You are free to share, copy, and remix this content so long as it is attributed, done for noncommercial purposes, and done so under a license similar to this one.