The most annoyingly named statistic in hockey is PDO. The abbreviation doesn’t stand for anything, but it means a team’s shooting percentage plus their saving percentage. If it’s above one, a team’s goal differential is better than their shot differential – so maybe they’re lucky.
The PDO of the Washington Capitals is .969, 26th in the league. During five-on-five, they’re shooting 6.7 percent, 29th place, below the league median of 9.3 They’re saving better: 90.3 percent, 21st place, below the league median of 91.6 percent. We could take all of that and simply conclude that the Capitals deserve better than the outcomes they’re seeing, but that would be letting their poor defense off the hook.
The Caps are okay at overall shot suppression, allowing opponents 59.4 attempts per hour, good for 17th best in the league. But when those attempts are weighted for quality, the Caps drop six spots to 23rd place. That means their opponents are getting more dangerous chances than league average. There are two things going on here.
First, Washington is the most shot-blocky team in the NHL. Nearly one-third of shots that opponents attempt hit a Caps player – the league median is about 29 percent. By rate, i.e. not in proportion to opponent attempts, only seven teams block more shots overall.
A player who blocks a lot of shots, generally speaking, is a player whose team doesn’t have the puck enough. Blocking a lot of shots overall is a sign of distress, but blocking a lot of shots proportionally is more like a choice. It makes you wonder why.
Aside from Beck Malenstyn, who must love getting hit by pucks, Washington’s most common shot-blockers are their defenders, a group of players you were probably already worried about before Trevor van Riemsdyk, Martin Fehervary, and Rasmus Sandin went down with injuries in the last week. Of the group, van Riemsdyk is the main blocker – absorbing 15 shots in 10 games. When he was on the ice, one out of every eight shots attempted by an opponent went into his body. It’s possible TVR was compensating for the increased rate of opponent attempts this season – a career high for him, while their rate of actual shots getting through to the net remained low and near his career best.
Van Riemsdyk’s injury was unrelated to blocking shots.
I think of shot blocking as a coping strategy, and I think it’s obvious what the Caps are coping with. They are allowing the eighth highest rate of high-danger chances in the league, 12.9 per hour. That’s their highest rate since the Cup hangover year. Using HockeyViz’s heatmap, where red blobs indicate a team allowing more shots from that location, you can see the goalie crease is way too busy this season.
That was also the location of both New Jersey goals on Friday night.
And this effect is not uniformly distributed among Caps defenders. Fehervary and van Riemsdyk actually see the Capitals out-chance opponents, and both Alexander Alexeyev and Hardy Haman Aktell have had positive returns in their limited ice time. But in the other direction, one player sticks out.
Nick Jensen, 33, sees the Capitals control only 35.6 percent of high-danger chances when he’s on the ice. (For reference: anything under 40 percent is very bad, though we have to extend extra latitude for early-season samples on a relatively rare event like high-dangers.) Opponents are getting 14.7 high-danger chances per hour against him. Only two teams as a whole have higher opponent high-danger rates: San Jose (16.1) and Chicago (15.2). Poor company.
Jensen is struggling – perhaps adjusting to Carbery’s faster-paced system or with his own career trajectory. But he’s not the only one. John Carlson is right behind Jensen in opponent high-danger rates; it’s just that he better offsets them with corresponding offense – though still a lowly 43.3 percent in high-danger share. And while Jensen has been on the ice for only two high-danger chances that became goals, Carlson has been on the ice for nine, one less than Toronto’s disastrous John Klingberg.
Trevor van Riemsdyk is on injured reserve with a lower-body injury. Martin Fehervary’s situation was described as “not ideal.” Sandin appears good to go for Saturday night, pending evaluation. But overall Washington’s defensive roster could be the team’s biggest structural weakness – more so than age or a shooting slump for Ovechkin or poor finishing. It deserves attention and action from Brian MacLellan.
Headline photo: Alan Dobbins/RMNB
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