I was slightly disappointed by the Capitals’ loss to the Leafs on Saturday night. I hoped for a bounce-back performance after that humiliation at the hands of the Devils, but instead the Caps got mildly outplayed and earned themselves a 2-2-1 record after two weeks.
After the game, superfan Will asked me:
We worried yet?
— Regal Beagle (@will_po) October 14, 2018
The short answer is no. The longer answer is, wellllllllll…… ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
No Caps player has clocked even 100 minutes of 5-on-5 play yet (Orlov has 93). Before I start making conclusions about this team, I’d want the sample sizes to be more than twice that large. But that doesn’t stop me from noticing where the team stands overall right now.
With 44.3 percent, the Caps rank 26th in the league in shot-attempt differential, which means their opponents possess about 56 percent of the shot attempts in games. If you adjust those percentages based on score state (i.e. weighing blowouts lower), the Caps improve a bit – up to 45.1 percent, or 23rd in the league.
Twenty-third is also where the Caps rank in 5-on-5 scoring (12 Caps goals, 15 opponent goals), though those numbers appear to be driven by early-season weirdness: Washington has the 5th highest shooting percentage and the 5th worst saving percentage in the league, resulting in an unstable-but-even PDO (the sum of shooting and saving).
Special teams have been a mixed bag, with the Caps converting 36.8 percent of power plays (4th best) and being middle-of-the-road in the penalty kill with a 77.8-percent kill rate.
All that adds up to a familiar picture: a Washington team that doesn’t dominate play but squeaks out wins when they can based on brilliant individual performance.
Here’s a picture of Evgeny Kuznetsov (four goals, five assists):
While there may be system-wide issues limiting how much the Caps control play, it’s too soon to say. For now, the loss of Tom Wilson before opening night and the resulting changes have me curious about how the lines are performing. Using the centers as proxies for each line (which makes sense since they’ve been the most stable choices), here are the early returns.
A few things pop out to me here, enough to justify bringing out the old bullet points.
Here’s the same exercise but with D-pairings, using Orlov, Carlson, and Orpik as proxies.
Finally, there’s reason to believe that everything will look better in a couple weeks. Washington’s early schedule has been daunting: five opponents who all made the playoffs last season, averaging 104.6 standings points last season and projected to be roughly as good this season according to Manny Perry’s and Dom Luszczyszyn’s models. The next five games are the exact opposite: five opponents who missed the playoffs last season, averaging 81.6 standings points last season and projected to be borderline at best this season.
And there will be no back-to-back games.
While I’m not yet worried, at least now I know what I’m looking out for and what adjustments I’d like to see. I hope the team does too.
Headline photo: Patrick McDermott
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