After Tuesday’s nigh-unwatchable loss to the Detroit Red Wings, the Washington Capitals now sport a 3-7-0 record in their last ten games. This is the worst record in the National Hockey League, tied with the St Louis Blues. Two of Washington’s three wins came after regulation – one from the shootout. Their only win was – improbably – against the Boston Bruins.
The Capitals are very bad right now, and it’s important we understand how.
During five-on-five play, the Caps have scored 12 goals on 243 shots, giving them a shooting percentage of 4.9. That places them 31st out of 32 teams, half a percentage point north of the last-place Minnesota Wild, who managed to go 5-4-1 in their last ten. Outside of personnel, shooting percentage is the single biggest factor leading to their current misery.
By expected-goals rate and high-danger chance rate, the Capitals are middle of the pack – neither good nor bad. What’s odd to me is that the team’s scoring-chance rate is lower than I’d expect given their expected-goal and high-danger numbers. Turns out the Capitals rank 20th in scoring-chance rate, a statistic that weighs more favorably shots that come on the rush or from rebounds, two events I suspect are weaknesses for Washington.
Corey Sznajder’s All Three Zones project describes Washington as one of the very worst teams when it comes to generating chances from rebounds. (Each full number indicates one standard deviation above or below the league average in that statistic.)
So while Washington is unlucky in finishing their chances, they’re also pretty bad at generating those chances to begin with. It’s more than just bad luck.
The Capitals have given up 34 total goals in their last ten games, placing them in the league’s middle third. So we know off the bat that goaltending is not the main problem, though it still hasn’t been optimal. Their save percentage has been 90.4, bad enough to place them right around 22nd, but opponents got those 34 goals on 37.1 expected goals, meaning Washington’s goalies allowed three less than expected in the last ten games.
Charlie Lindgren played three of those ten games, allowing six goals on 6.7 expected goals during five-on-five. Darcy Kuemper played the rest, allowing 19 goals on 16.5 xG. Although that is certainly a worse performance by Kuemper, we also have to acknowledge that the team’s lone regulation win in their last ten games came against Boston, when Kuemper allowed one goal on 3.2 xG, giftwrapping that lonely W for his team.
Goaltending hasn’t superb, but it also can’t have been the deciding factor while the team repeatedly fails to score more than two goals in a game.
For a minute in December, the Capitals were one of the very best teams in the league when it comes to controlling play. That’s over.
Below are the team’s share of various events during five-on-five play, so fifty percent means even and higher is better. These numbers are from the last ten games and come via Natural Stat Trick, where they have been adjusted for venue weirdness and score states.
|Possession Metric||Percentage (%)||League Rank|
The Capitals just don’t have the puck much anymore, which is best illustrated in their shot-attempt percentage, 46.9. They do slightly better at the extremes of the ice – keeping opponents out of their crease relative to crashing the other net, which I suppose explains why the quality-weighted expected-goal number, 47.3 percent, is better than just raw attempt volume.
Of course, the team is DFL in goals percentage, getting outscored 25 to 12. In a more just world, that’d be more like 20 to 17, which is still not great, but surely would have delivered a better record than 3-7-0.
I can scarcely believe it, but the Caps scored six power-play goals in their last ten games. Except only four of those six goals came during real five-on-four play, and that number should be considered offset by the one shorthanded goal they allowed. By goal rate during five-on-four, the Capitals rank 22nd.
Aside: I keep seeing that number. The Caps rank 22nd or near it in so many stats. I think without awesome finishing talent from sui generis players playing healthy, that’s simply how good this team is – at least lately. (Again, they were genuinely top-five just three months ago, so this is both weird and bad.)
As our hated enemies at Japers Rink said on Wednesday, Washington’s power play without John Carlson is scarcely powerful at all. Below are two heatmaps from HockeyViz. Left shows where Washington is shooting most from when Carlson is on the ice for the power play. Right is the power play without him. Big brown blobs are good; purple is bad.
We should interpret this fact in two ways: first, to appreciate Carlson; second, to condemn how dependent the power play is on him. That’s on Blaine Forsythe.
They allowed four goals recently, which puts them top ten by volume (in the good way) and middle of the pack by rate. Fine. The goalies have a low saving percentage, but they have also faced more expected goals than they have allowed, so I’d caution against pinning anything on them. And there’s not much to blame anyway.
Washington’s penalty kill is fine. They’re fine. So there’s that. That’s one thing.
The Capitals should automatically get better if saving percentages merely progress to the mean, but that alone won’t be enough to get playoff-level good. They’ll also need their top-end scoring talent to return and deliver – specifically Ovechkin and Carlson. Maybe Carlson will be enough to lift the entirety of the power play, but the Capitals also need systemic improvements to their five-on-five play. They need more carry-ins with possession, more secondary chances, and better refusal at their own blue line.
Maybe those changes will just sorta happen on their own as players steel themselves for the stretch run, maybe they’ll happen as Brian MacLellan loads up at the trade deadline, or maybe they’ll happen as star players return to the lineup, or maybe they’ll happen due to responsive coaching. We’ll see.
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Headline photo: Alan Dobbbins/RMNB
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