Photo: Amanda Bowen
There are plenty of reasons to be concerned about the direction the Caps are trending as the playoffs approach. From a lackluster power play to inconsistent goaltending, and a number of things in between, the Caps are playing their worst hockey of the season at a time when the games are about to become a lot more meaningful.
One area of concern is the play and production of all-star center Nicklas Backstrom. Qualitatively, to my lying eyes, Backstrom seems weaker on the puck and less confident handling it, two things that are normally strengths in his game that set him apart from many of his peers. Quantitatively, there’s a lot to back up the notion that Backstrom’s play has been well below his standards for an extended period now.
For this post we’ll look at just Backstrom’s 5v5 play. To me, his power-play performance hasn’t been as woeful, and power plays are trickier to unpack, there’s a smaller sample to deal with, and individual player performance can be easier to bring down by a systems issue such as, oh I don’t know, zone entries.
The Caps have played 25 games since the all-star break. At 5v5, Backstrom has notched three goals and seven assists during that span. Over an 82-game season, this would be a pace of 33 5v5 points. This pace is reminiscent of Backstrom’s production when Adam Oates coached the Caps, as in 2013-14, Backstrom posted just 28 points at 5v5. However, even going back only as far as 2010, his 20-game, rolling 5v5 points per 60 shows that he’s had dips like this before in his career:
But digging a little deeper, there’s plenty of reasons to be concerned, and not simply write this off as an inevitable cold streak that happens over the course of a long regular season.
Here’s a snapshot of Backstrom from before the break and since:
|Backstrom Before ASG||43||630.0||54.3||3.1||71.1||104.4|
|Backstrom Since ASG||25||344.1||48.2||-2.0||54.2||101.0|
The Caps’ possession numbers have been an ongoing concern for a while now, so it’s not surprising to see that Backstrom’s shot-attempt percentage has taken a hit since the break. However, it’s not simply team effects, as Backstrom’s shot-attempt percentage relative to his teammate is down 5.1 percentage points in the second part of the split.
Backstrom’s rolling, 20-game relative shot attempt percentage shows that, despite a slight turn in the right direction recently, he’s been headed in the wrong direction here for a while, after a really strong start:
Moving further to the right of the snapshot, Backstrom’s 104.4 PDO before the break was certain to regress, and so was his 71.1 goals for percentage. And his goals for percentage of 54.2 since the break isn’t alarming on its own. But the decline becomes a little more concerning when displayed as a rolling average that’s been on a sharp decline for about a month now, and struggling to stay above 50 percent:
Backstrom’s production, possession numbers, and goal differential are all on the decline. The question for Barry Trotz and his staff is why this is happening.
Is Alex Ovechkin‘s injury dragging his entire line down? It sure hasn’t seemed like Backstrom has looked like himself and Ovechkin has been a weak link; they’ve both seemed off and a recent three-game separation, although it’s a brief stint apart, didn’t show signs of a return to form for Backstrom.
Could Backstrom, and the rest of the team, be unmotivated due to having such a large lead in the standings? Maybe this is playing a part, but this is more of a hope than a sound theory.
Or is Backstrom hurt?
The bottom line is the Caps one-two punch of Backstrom and Evgeny Kuznetsov at center has just been a one punch for a couple months now. If the Caps want to get back on track before the playoffs start, a return to form from Backstrom would be a big help.
Visualizations from Corsica
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.