If you’re concerned about the current performance of the Washington Capitals, it would appear you’re not alone.
Tuesday, before the Caps beat Ottawa and clinched the #1 seed in the East, there was a lot of doom, gloom, and despair amid the collective Caps’ blogosphere. It’s definitely not unfounded, and the Senators’ game might not have done much to dissuade those concerns.
Sure, the Caps won, and in doing so, locked up the best record in the East with 10 games to spare, without any other Eastern teams clinching so much as a playoff berth. I’m not here to detract from the magnificence of that accomplishment, but I’m probably going to do so inadvertently, so you have my preemptive apologies. There is a happy note to end on though, so keep reading to the end, if you can bare the plots.
Their performance in the Sens game is up for debate. You can make your own observations.
They went up early with 3 goals on 8 shots in the first period. A data set that would certainly help to regress the Caps 1st period shooting percent over the last 20 games, (3% before last night).
Transforming to this, in one game (pay attention to the first 20 minutes).
Now if we broaden our concern of recent games from just the Ottawa game, to the last 10 and see how the Caps are trending, a curious question is raised: how are the Caps still winning games? If we look at some common metrics to see how the Caps stack up, it’s not clear. So let’s get into it.
So the possession is resoundingly mixed. There are some gems in the last 10 games, and some real duds (cough:penguins:cough:sharks). The Caps aren’t really tilting the ice in any metric other than score-adjusted unblocked shot attempts (USAT/Fenwick). Whatever the Caps are doing to get 65% of the available points in the stretch of games they just completed (7 of 10 in playoffs currently, with the California road swing included), is not clearly captured in the possession metrics.
Normally, when a team is outpacing its possession and winning more games than one might expect, the first thing to look at is their PDO and its components. However, here we’re seeing that the Caps aren’t getting percentages above what should probably be expected from this team. In fact, they’re probably getting lower percentages than we’ve seen consistently.
The special teams don’t seem to explain how the Caps are winning either. Sure, they’re still above 100 in STI, but this is a team that has provided confidence to its fans that the special teams are some of the best in the league. With a lethal power play, and a newly consistent penalty kill.
The power play definitely looks to be struggling lately. Getting fewer than 3 opportunities per game, and approaching their worst 10-game stretch of shot generation. So it doesn’t really seem to be the power play that is helping the Caps to win games right now.
The penalty kill isn’t doing anything to hurt the Caps, but I don’t know if it’s the catalyst for them winning. Sure it’s not costing them wins, but the Caps haven’t been scoring on the penalty kill lately. So what is it that has helped the Caps to get a winning record against a glut of strong hockey teams?
Thanks to War-on-Ice and Corsica, we can look at just how the Caps are dictating the quality of the shot attempts (at even strength). By these three measures, the Caps are doing well to get higher quality shots than their opponents. Especially WOI’s high danger scoring chances. If we look at score-adjusted values, we get similar trends.
So, maybe this is how the Caps are winning games. The data indicates that the Caps have made a commitment to limiting and generating high quality shots, and maybe that is why they have won as many games over the last 10 as they did. They’ve done so, even with Holtby struggling lately in his high danger saves.
How well these metrics correlate to playoff success, I don’t know. But it might help some fans refind their optimism. Remember, this team clinched the number 1 seed in the east before any other team in the east clinched a playoff spot. And there’s a reason for that.
By Derek Miller