Photo: NHL/Getty Images
Three weeks ago we began to dig a little deeper into the issue concerning the Capitals woeful shot production. You may recall that this has been an issue all season for the Capitals, so we wanted to start disecting. Is this a significant issue (bubble) or just a relatively harmless statistical outlier from a team in transition? (Previous post is here.)
Last season the Capitals finished 13th in the league with a 30.43 shots-per-game average. The Capitals finished with the 4th best (fewest) shots against average at 27.83 per game. That’s good enough for a (second consecutive) Presidents Trophy.
You may also recall in our previous post we provided the following table, which details the shooting success rates for each of the two teams that made the Stanley Cup finals. (Data availability and data quality for related stats fall-off prior to 2010 and were scrubbed from the analysis).
However, the Capitals rolling 10-game stats for shooting show that not much has changed since our previous post (following Rangers game on December 10th). In fact, the Capitals have fallen back into the basement (31st in the league) since December 10th. (Still a small sample size). Here are the rolling 10-game numbers:
As you may recall in our previous post about the Capitals shooting woes, we identified a few potential reasons for the meager shot count. One of the suggested reasons was injuries, more specifically the long absence of Matt Niskanen, Andre Burakovsky and T.J. Oshie. The Capitals have a fully healthy roster for the last three games.
Another (once) potentially concerning stat was the team’s shooting percentage, which is relatively high at 9.20% (3rd best in the league).
However, when comparing to seasonal stats from years past, that number is not too far above a potential annual shooting rate. In fact, the Capitals shot 9.20% for the 2016-2017 season, second best in the league.
You may recall our post last January on team shooting percentages for a season, which presented the annual results for the Capitals for the past seven seasons. This also lends to alleviating concern with the Capitals current production rate.
As you can see from the table, shooting at a 9.20% rate for the season is not unheard of. In other words, it’s unlikely that the shooting rate explains the Capitals ability to continue winning with the league’s worst shot production. We will keep an eye on this stat.
An obvious candidate hypothesis would be that the Caps are getting better shot opportunities so far this season when compared to last season. That’s more difficult to track and discern, but here are a few food-items for thought. Here are the shot heat map’s from this season versus all of last season.
2017-2018 (37 games)
A few items worth noting: besides the diminished “Ovechkin Crescent” from last season to this season, which is prominent in both “Shots For” charts, there does appear to be more shots taken from closer (net front) range and an apparent reduction in right-side shots. (The Justin Williams departure/T.J. Oshie injury void, if you will).
This is still a push. The team is healthy but has seen no improvement in shot production. The young guns on the blueline have been doing fairly well, learning each game, but the shot stat continues to fall.
The last report was a bit ominous with regards to the shoots generated issues, but there are signs this may not be a death-blow to the Caps. The fact that the team is healthy and the blueline is gaining experience perceptually lessens the value of being a last place team in shot production. I mean, if New Jersey could make the Stanley Cup finals with similar stats, who’s to say it can’t be done again.
We should have a good feel for whether this after the next 10 games (By Montreal on January 19th). That will give the Caps 47 games under their belt and be passed the half-way point of the season.
By Jon Sorensen