Forgive the corny title, but the Washington Capitals couldn’t reflect two different teams more, and I’m going to show you how.
There’s an air of unease surrounding all cross sections of Caps’ fans right now. Unless those fans don’t get off work until 8:30 and haven’t seen a first period over the previous 20 games or so (since the all-star weekend). Those fans, bless them, probably think the Caps are world beaters. While the rest of us, are unfortunately grounded in reality. That’s because we’ve all seen just how mortal this team looks during the first half of the game.
I really don’t have an explanation as to what is really causing the difference. But what’s happening as the game goes on is striking in the data.
The Caps are basically sleep walking through the first period, and then they flip a switch around the 30 minute mark, and bend the opponent to their will. This pattern is even more stark in the 20 games since the all-star game.
Those first 10 minutes are ugly. And the only reason the Caps are above 50% in unadjusted SAT% is because they’ve been trailing for a majority of these games. So naturally, the adjusted values mute that effect, and if it weren’t for score effects we could assume the Caps are a negative possession team. If you’re curious how this pattern collaborates with the percentages the Caps are getting throughout the game, you’re in luck. Because Sam Brown on twitter posed the idea, and I obliged.
Take the early data with a grain of salt, obviously, because we’re talking about only a few goals and shots at this point, even through 67 games. But what we’re seeing is pretty astounding. The Caps are converting at such a high rate during the last 10 minutes, even excluding OT (because we’d expect them to shoot effectively with so much open ice). Tangentially, the Caps may be getting a bit lucky in OT, as their Save percentage is quite high given the number of high danger chances generated in 3v3. Back to the regulation data though: we probably shouldn’t expect the Caps to continue to be able to comeback with such consistency. It’s great that they can tilt the ice as much as they do; but they’re getting disproportionately more goals during this timeframe; and whether that’s sustainable or not, is debatable.
If we were to consider just the past 20 games to be consistent with the timeframe shown above after the all-star game, it’s pretty easy to see why the Caps are rarely playing with the lead lately.
The Caps have no goals in the first 5 minutes of the game, over the last 20 games. They’re also getting some pretty unfortunate goaltending from the second half of the first period on through to the halfway mark of the game.
So if you consider all the data presented, the Caps play like a different team for the first 30 minutes. Allowing the opponent to own the puck, and score rather easily, while not converting on any of their chances themselves. Then they seem to flip a switch, or exploit a weakness in their opponent, or actually give a damn, and tilt the ice like the Kings, and score at will for the last 30 minutes.
Additionally, I have a few quick charts to help highlight why maybe the Caps have been able to keep collecting points despite middling possession numbers.
The special teams have found a renaissance. They’re rocketing back up above 110 over the last 10 games, and it’s happening without inflating the percentages. This is because:
It would appear the PK is far better off with Richards/Winnik logging more minutes than Oshie, Laich, and Backstrom. And Niskanen seems to be finding a groove manning the point on the first unit.
By Derek Miller