The Washington Capitals are sitting in an unfamiliar position, fourth in the suddenly unstoppable Metropolitan division, currently holding a wild card spot. While their underlying possession numbers continue to be solid (second at score adjusted five-on-five play), their overall performance to date could be described as unconvincing.
Preventing goals-against is not their issue. On defense, the Caps are allowing the third fewest five-on-five shot attempts in the league. Thanks to those low shots against and a .940 team save percentage, they are also allowing goals against at the third-lowest rate.
The situation could be worse on offense. The Caps are producing shots at the ninth highest rate, and goals are coming at the 11th highest rate. By most metrics, they are still a good team. But, as we’ll see, they are being kept afloat at even-strength mostly by some familiar faces. Stop me if you’ve heard this before: the Caps could really benefit from some added production by depth forwards and the defense.
The chart below is the percent of five-on-five goals scored by the top-six forwards (by ice time) and the percent scored by the next six (seven through 12). The raw number of goals scored to date by the top-12 forwards is shown for each team.
Note: data as of December 3rd, 2016.
The Capitals’ top-12 have scored 39 five-on-five goals (10th most), and 64 percent of those were snagged by the top-six skaters. That makes them the 12th most top-heavy team by that metric, which isn’t bad.
But breaking it down by player shows that even within the top-six the scoring is lopsided. Here is the list of skaters and their individual goals and shot attempts at five-on-five.
Within the top-six, 19 of the 25 goals are scored by just three players. And TJ Oshie (with five even strength goals) is left out of this chart due to injury limiting his total ice time. Swapping Williams for Oshie would add four goals and put the Caps at 74 percent of goals scored by the top-six, or the sixth highest in the league.
Here is a visualization of scoring percent broken out by the top-three skaters, four through six, seven through nine, and 10 through twelve (by total ice time).
At a whopping 49 percent, the Caps’ are second in the league in share of forward goal scoring by their top-three skaters (Johansson, Backstrom, and Ovechkin). Teams like Montreal, Pittsburgh, and the Rangers have had a far more balanced attack (although there should be a huge “small sample size” caveat here).
When we add in goals from the defense, the picture gets worse still. The chart below is the top-six and bottom-six forward percentages but with the top-six defensemen added in. The Caps have the third lowest percentage of goals scored by their top-six defensemen, with only five percent (two goals). Overall, with both forwards and defense taken into account, they are the ninth most top-heavy team (61 percent of goals scored by the top-six).
In contrast, when we look at individual shot attempts taken at five-on-five, the Capitals’ defense is actually middle of the pack. Out of the top-12 forwards and top-six defenseman, 35 percent of shot attempts are taken by the Caps’ D corps. This is a slightly above average percentage, coming in at 13th in the league. Here is the same chart as above, except by percent of five-on-five shot attempts taken, instead of goals.
What makes this even more damning is the fact that the Capitals have dropped to fifth-worst in the league at average shot distance. Further, their rebound shots-for are bottom ten and their rush shots taken are middle of the pack.
All said and done, this data paints a picture in which the Caps’ goal scoring is largely being carried by their top-six forwards, and the scoring is unbalanced even within that group. The defense is fairly active at shooting, but they aren’t scoring and the team isn’t generating rebound chances.
It could be that the Caps are undergoing an extended psychological slump while trying to get in gear for the long regular season slog. It could also be that their tight-checking and risk averse system doesn’t reliably generate high quality chances for anyone other than the top offensive players. These are just guesses though, and luckily with so much talent even an under-performing Capitals team is pretty good. They have plenty of time to work out the kinks so that these graphs look different come playoffs.
Stats courtesy of corsica.hockey. Headline photo by Scott Audette.
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