The Washington Capitals crossed the twenty-game threshold on Wednesday. That’s a totally arbitrary line I chose to stop me from making absurd judgements about the team before they’ve played many games. But now that the season’s a quarter gone, I figure we can start to draw some conclusions, even if they’re a bit rough.
I have assigned grades to the Caps’ offense, defense, goaltending, and special teams.
I’m going to need the power play to see me after class.
|2.30||expected goals per hour, adjusted|
|19th||team rank in expected goals per hour|
|55.1||shot attempts per hour, adjusted|
|15th||team rank in shot attempts per hour|
|3.22||goals per hour, adjusted|
|1st||team rank in goals per hour|
According to any process stat, the Washington Capitals offense during five-on-five is not special. But once you add in the team’s extraordinary finishing talent, they’re the best in the world. They’ve scored 52 goals on 496 shots at full strength for a league high 10.5 shooting percentage.
The implicit question is can this team continue to outproduce their expected goals for a full season?
|1.99||opponent expected goals per hour, adjusted|
|4th||team rank in suppressing opponent xG|
|49.0||opponent shot attempts per hour, adjusted|
|4th||team rank in suppressing opponent attempts|
|1.8||opponent goals per hour, adjusted|
|5th||team rank in suppressing opponent goals|
Well this is just unambiguously excellent. Washington’s defensive pairs have really clicked this season (for reasons we’ll discuss in a later twenty-games-in story), and it’s showing up in their shot suppression numbers. But numbers are boring, so here’s a heatmap of where opponents are shooting against Washington. Blue means they shoot less from that spot compared to league average. Red means they shoot more.
Thirteen percent below league average! A huge blue blob in front of the Caps goalies! This is, so far, the strongest defensive effort I’ve ever seen the Washington Capitals put forth. Let’s see if, after a full season, they’re still up there with that magical ’08 team and the 2017 team. For now: I’m in love.
|8th||team rank in save percentage|
|93.56||expected save percentage|
|9th||team rank in expected save percentage|
|-0.59||different between expected and actual save percentagew|
|24th||team rank in difference|
Now it gets a bit more complicated, as we have to grade on a curve. Washington’s team defense is elite, and their goaltending is still pretty strong, sporting about a 93 percent during five-on-five play. But when we put that good performance in context of an extremely easy workload, it’s not so shiny.
They’re nowhere near as bad as Seattle, but they’re still underperforming. And this has been a bit of a shared shame.
Vanecek had a sterling start as Samsonov struggled, then Fucale showed everyone how it’s done, and then Samsonov put in two perfect performances. But those have been spotty successes. Until one goalie can string along a series of modestly above-average games, this team’s goaltending will remain mediocre. With the Caps having lost seven of their eight one-goal games, a thin margin could pay huge dividends. I’d really prefer they make a trade.
|95.74||shot attempts per hour|
|25th||team rank in shot attempts|
|18.0||power-play conversion percentage|
|20th||team rank in power-play conversion|
I miss Nicklas Backstrom. The Washington Capitals’ power play just isn’t the same without its quarterback along the half wall. Despite a ton of effort, the Caps PP has just one goal off an Ovi Shot from the Ovi Spot; Ovechkin’s other two have come from up-close. The rest of the unit seems to be struggling mostly with entering the offensive zone and getting into formation cleanly.
Once set up, they’re able to move the puck well — especially to the center position where Wilson or Sheary or Oshie can take a quick shot, but they don’t have much danger outside that, which is a massive disappointment for a power play that used to be fearsome. Sometimes I wonder if they’re just biding their time, waiting to see how the man advantage looks once Backstrom returns.
|103.84||opponent shot attempts per hour|
|24th||team rank at suppressing opponent attempts|
|84.3||penalty kill percentage|
|10th||team rank in penalty kill percentage|
|49.7||5-on-5 shot-attempt percentage, adjusted|
Here’s a fun mystery. The Washington Capitals allow their opponents’ power plays a lot of shot attempts, and yet the team has a very good PK%. Could it be the goaltending? With a 87.8 save percentage, Washington’s goalies are middle-of-the-pack at saving shots when a man down. So that’s not it. Let’s ask the HockeyViz heatmap.
Goodness gracious, they are doing the impossible. The Capitals PK is actually keeping most shots to the outside. The much-vaunted, highly suspicious coachspeak is actually true here, as the Caps killers (mostly Jensen, TvR, Fehervary, Carlson, Hagelin, Wilson so far– though I’m sure Hathaway and Dowd will get more as time goes on) keep the biggest brown blob above the faceoff dot, though there’s still trouble down low. I don’t know if this pattern is particularly good for long-term health, but it’s at least interesting.
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