On Tuesday Sean Tierney (@ChartingHockey) posted NHL team K ratings for the start of the 2018-19 season. Eight games in, the Capitals rank fourth worst in the league thanks to high opponent shot and shot-quality rates. The day before the Capitals’ win against the Canucks, they sat dead last in the NHL.
K ratings compare each team to the NHL average in multiple components, such as shot rate, shot quality, goaltending, and penalties. Positive numbers (blue) mean a team is above average, and negative numbers (red) mean a team is below league average.
Per Peter’s “It’s too early to worry, but…” post, eight games is too small of a sample size to analyze wider trends. The Capitals opened the season with a tough series of opponents, however, we agreed that the “well, the schedule’s been hard” excuse can only work for so long.
Team stats heatmap (sorted by xGF%)
So, part of the WSH argument is eschewing shot totals for quality. That might work but not if you’re surrendering more quality than you generate. pic.twitter.com/usGh9vQjIX
— Sean Tierney (@ChartingHockey) October 24, 2018
The driving factor in the Capitals’ low rating is their defensive ineptitude. The Capitals have generated 59 high-danger chances but surrendered 89 to their opponents, which is the second-worst percentage in the league behind only the New York Islanders.
Surprisingly, the Capitals’ top two defensive pairings have struggled to start the season. Matt Niskanen and Dmitry Orlov have been out-attempted 125 to 104 and outscored 10 to 2 at five-on-five play. Granted they match up against opponents’ top lines, but their numbers are down from the previous two seasons.
John Carlson and Michal Kempny are not up to par either. While Carlson is scoring at an astronomical rate (he has a 26.3 percent shooting percentage, up from his career average of 6.0 percent), the pairing has been out-attempted 76 to 73 at five-on-five.
Meanwhile, Brooks Orpik and Christian Djoos are… surprisingly good. The third pair has out-attempted opponents 55 to 39 at five-on-five, in large part due to a great offensive and defensive start to the year by Djoos.
Another issue has been the play of Braden Holtby. The Capitals’ goaltender is saving 1.9 goals below average to start the season, allowing 22 goals on 19.6 expected goals. This number is conflated by the large number of high-danger scoring chances given up by the Capitals, but Holtby, so far, has apparently regressed.
From 2014-15 to 2016-17 Holtby’s actual save percentage at five-on-five was consistently higher than his expected save percentage. His actual save percentage dipped below his expected save percentage last season, and the trend has continued to start this season.
Despite a new head coach, the Capitals’ numbers to start the season are eerily similar to last regular season’s numbers. Both Corsica and Hockeyviz still project that the Capitals will make the playoffs.
Right now we can give the team the the benefit of the doubt just eight games into the season with a difficult and weird schedule, but if there isn’t an improvement in the next month, there may be cause for concern. The Capitals’ offensive K rating is keeping them afloat while their defensive issues still persist from last year.
Headline photo: Will Newton/Getty Images
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