Isabelle Khurshudyan has a good article in the Washington Post today about the Capitals’ explanations for their diminished shot totals. Barry Trotz, Lars Eller, Tom Wilson, and Braden Holtby are all quoted in the piece, and I urge you to read it now (and subscribe!), because I want to discuss some of the ideas expressed in those quotes.
To set the stage, here’s how the Caps are stacking up at offensive rates during 5-on-5 play out of all 31 teams. This does not include special teams or defense. The numbers are derived from Natural Stat Trick (please join us in supporting them on Patreon.)
|Offensive events per hour||Rank|
|Shots on net||31st|
So the Caps are getting a good rate of goals (13th best) off a bad rate of shots on net (last place). The two most likely conclusions one could make from this are:
Barry Trotz says it’s number one. To paraphrase, he says the Caps forgo low quality shots (and overall shot volume) so they can take more danger shots.
This doesn’t have to be guesswork. Like Trotz says, we can look at the quality of shots. Because the NHL provides shot location data, and because we can project how likely any given shot is to become a goal based on its location, context, and the history of shots like it, we can rank the Caps based on their overall shot quality.
|Offensive chances per hour||Rank|
Shot danger can be assessed in a few different ways, but Corsica has a handy visualization of what counts as what. It’s roughly what you expect: the most dangerous shots are the ones closest to the net.
And the Caps are in the league’s lower third at getting those high-danger shots. They’re among the league’s top third, however, at getting medium-danger shots. Here’s all 31 teams stacked up.
If you zoom out for the whole league, the allocation of 5-on-5 chance danger goes roughly like this:
And the Caps are:
The Caps are not special in shot quality.
That was all a wordy way of saying what this chart from hockeyviz (support ’em please) says at a glance.
The Caps don’t get a lot of shots from the dangerous areas – either as a raw count or as a percentage of their overall offense.
In the Post, Lars Eller explains the Caps’ high shooting percentage. “What you can take away from it”, Eller says, “is that we have a lot of talented scorers, so when we do shoot, the chances of scoring are pretty high.” Put another way, the Caps are scoring more goals on lower volume because they have players who have high scoring talent. That the Caps have some talented goal-scorers is undeniably true, and because that talent is clustered among the team’s top six, we can see it with a simple slice-and-dice.
With 60 percent of the ice time, the top six has earned 65 percent of the Caps’ high-danger chances and 63 percent of the scoring chances. They’re driving to the net more, for sure, but that’s not where the goals are coming from.
The Caps tie the Penguins for having the lowest share of their 5-on-5 goals coming from high-danger chances at 46 percent. They’ve got the league’s biggest share of goals coming from medium-danger chances at 39 percent.
(Both are driven by shooting percentages: the Caps have the eighth worst high-danger shooting and third best medium-danger shooting.)
Over a full season, we’d expect about 57 percent of 5-on-5 goals to be from high-danger chances and 29 percent from medium-danger chances. Those gaps suggest to me that the Caps are not scoring off their best shots; they’re scoring off their run-of-the-mill shots. I’d expect those percentages to regress towards average over the back half of the season – meaning the Caps will eventually be rewarded for driving to the net, but they’ll also be punished for their low shot volume overall.
So while Barry Trotz is right that his team is not “just throwing the puck with no one in front from the blue line,” they are demonstrably not getting their shooting percentage from the more dangerous areas. The Caps’ success at 5-on-5 has come on modest quality shots hitting the back of the net at a rate higher than all but two teams. The shots that Holtby fears, those vaunted high-danger chances – the Caps are mediocre at generating them and eighth worst at converting them. I’d like to see the Caps bring their high-danger chance numbers up, and the best way to do that would be more offense overall.
Headline photo: Patrick McDermott
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