The Game Beyond Special Teams: Capitals’ Even Strength Domination

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It’s no secret that the Capitals’ special teams haven’t been performing as well as they had in years prior.  In fact, since the all-star break last season, the Caps’ power play and penalty kill have been relatively average.  Despite the recent inability to capitalize on power play opportunities, and some struggles to clear the puck on the penalty kill, this Caps team has greatly improved in a critical area of the game: all-around even strength play. 

In the 2014-15 regular season the Capitals scored 237 goals, and last season they tallied 248 goals.  So far this season they have scored 57 times, which means the Caps are on pace to score 223 goals this season, a considerable amount less than the past two years.  However, taking a look at even strength goals, we can paint an entirely different picture.  Washington scored 148 five-on-five goals in 2014-15, 166 in 2015-16, and are currently on pace for 164 even strength goals this year.  Even though the power play hasn’t been what it used to be, the Capitals’ even strength offense is almost as good as it’s ever been, second only to the 2009-10 Washington team.

As far as penalty kill is concerned, this season hasn’t treated the Caps too well.  The Caps are middle of the pack for penalty kill effectiveness, and Braden Holtby has one of the lowest short-handed save percentages in the league among net-minders with at least five games under their belt.  Right now, the Caps are on pace to let in 47 goals against while a man down, compared to 41 in 2014-15 and 35 in 2015-16.  However, despite the problems on the PK, the Caps are on pace to let in only 184 goals this year, compared to 199 in 2014-15 and 191 in 2015-16.  Why is this the case, despite our troubles while short-handed?  Washington’s even strength defense is close to the best it’s ever been, and second best in the league only to the Chicago Blackhawks.

As it stands right now, the Caps only allow 1.286 goals against per game while even strength.  The only team who is better than them is Chicago, who have nearly given up one goal per game while short-handed this season.  Not only that, but the Capitals are in the bottom ten in the league when it comes to PIMs per game, averaging just over eight minutes of penalty time per game.  Combine these two statistics, and the Capitals are a tough team to score against in any given game.  Unfortunately, teams don’t tend to take too many penalties when playing against the Capitals, since the Caps still have about four-and-a-half more penalty minutes than they do power play minutes this season so far.  But what that does mean is Washington’s even strength prowess has more time per game to show.

While there are plenty of statistics for Caps fans to feel down about, this certainly isn’t one of them.  The Capitals’ even strength play, when you combine the offensive and defensive stats, is the best it has been in years.  Considering that, on average, nearly 45  minutes each game is spent on even strength this season, this is a component of the Capitals’ game play that will be one of their strongest assets for the remainder of the regular season.

By Justin Green

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