We’ve spent a lot of time this season talking about how the Caps are over-performing. We knew something was off twenty games in, but it really got amplified when the team hit the top of the division despite mediocre underlying numbers. The team suggested in The Washington Post that they might have a magic touch not surfaced in shot-attempt stats, but that didn’t really hold up under scrutiny. And while it’s possible that the team’s penchant for overpassing might have hidden benefits, most people agree that the Caps are a paper tiger this season.
But that discussion misses the mark, because the Caps’ offense isn’t the truly remarkable thing about this team.
I asked the good people of Twitter a simple question.
What's a bigger problem for the Capitals at 5v5?
— Good Tweet Pete 🌮 (@peterhassett) January 22, 2018
Three hundred people and change agreed that the Caps’ bigger problem is turning puck possession into chances. They’ve seen what I’ve seen: forwards waiting for the perfect pass, forgoing an okay shot for a sure thing that does not come.
That’s definitely happening, but compared to the rest of the league the Caps don’t stick out in how they generate high-danger chances. With 10 per hour, the Caps rank 21st in the league, though it’s a dead heat between 15th place (Boston) and 21st. And the team’s proportion of high-danger chances to shot attempts (18 percent of Washington’s offense counts as high danger) is just about league average over the last decade. The Caps offense is just not special. That’s a problem in its own right, but I want to look at the defense.
Allowing 13.2 high-danger chances per hour, the Capitals are in last place in the league. Teams get more opportunities to score against Washington than anyone else.
For the record, the yellow area below is a good depiction of where a high-danger chance occurs, by way of Corsica.
Now, if you’ll un-tilt your head, here’s another visualization from the similarly great hockeyviz that shows us how many attempts the Caps are allowing from super close.
It’s a bright red blob right in front of Holtby and Grubauer’s net.
To help put those 13.2 opponent high-danger chances per hour in context, here are the other teams in the Metro, along with their opponents’ rates and how each team ranks in limiting them.
It’s a surprisingly bad division with crummy defensive performances out of both New York teams in particular, but that doesn’t excuse Washington, which is special.
Using the lovely Natural Stat Trick, I pulled stats for all teams since 2008 to see how the Caps’ defense stacks up.
Short version: real bad!
Long version: Out of 332 teams, just two, the 2010 Islanders and the 2010 Hurricanes, have allowed more high-danger chances from their opponents. (Right behind the 2018 Caps are the 2012 and 2013 Hurricanes and this year’s Islanders, who probably should sell big at the deadline.)
Usually, a team’s scoring chances and high-danger chances exist in rough proportion to their overall shot attempts, but that’s not the case with Washington. The 2018 Caps are in a virtual tie for the highest-ever percentage of opponent attempts that qualify as high danger – roughly 22 percent (average is around 17.5). That ratio is neck-and-neck with the 2012 and 2013 Hurricanes and the 2014 Islanders. (Detecting a theme? Those have been two very bad franchises.)
This is a dramatic change for the Caps. They used to be among the league’s most defensively stout teams, but 2017-18 has been a fiasco on their side of the ice.
I want to note that the notoriously freewheeling Caps of 2008 and 2009 were some of the stingiest teams of the last decade – because their opponents never had the puck. (We didn’t really appreciate how great that unit was, did we?)
I’ve got thoughts about where all those opponent high-danger chances are coming from, but that’s for another time. I’d love your ideas in the comments.
For now, I’ll leave you with this tidy summary of how the Caps offense and defense rank among all teams over the last decade.
|Offense: Generating shot attempts||45th|
|Offense: Generating scoring chances||49th|
|Defense: Limiting opponent shot attempts||88th|
|Defense: Limiting opponent scoring chances||99th|
Modest with the puck and a mess without it. It’s gotta change.
This article wouldn’t be possible without Corsica, Natural Stat Trick, and Hockeyviz. You can join us in supporting each of them on Patreon.
Headline photo: Cara Bahniuk
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