It’s true what “they” say. Every hockey season is different. Teams strive to replicate successes from previous campaigns, bring back a majority of their team from the previous season (as the Caps have done this season), but inevitably, the season will unfold in a much different manner. The amount of wins and losses might be similar, but the underlying play and supporting statistics can be vastly different. This season is no different for the Washington Capitals.
Last season the Capitals were dead-last in shots per game, and won the Stanley Cup (no little feat). This season the Capitals have a very similar record and position in the overall standings, but shot production is up significantly. Now they are dead-last in the league in faceoffs. What gives?
LAST SEASON’S MYSTERY STATISTIC
Last season’s “mystery stat” was “shots per game”, as the Capitals finished dead last in the NHL in that statistical category for the regular season. No team in the modern era had finished in the statistical basement for shots per game in the regular season and gone on to win the Stanley Cup….until last June. In fact, Since 1990, no team finishing worse than 11th in shots per game during the regular season won the Stanley Cup.
Simply put, the Capitals became the outlier for the past 28 seasons. (More on last season’s shot production and how rare the occurrence was can be read here)
THIS SEASON’S MYSTERY STATISTIC
This season’s mystery stat looks like it will be team faceoff winning percentage, as the Capitals have been anchoring the basement for this stat. At close of business on Tuesday, January 8, the Capitals were dead last (31st) in faceoff winning percentage at 47.0%, with no signs of improvement on the near horizon.
Just this past week the Capitals were beat 70-30% by the Struggling Philadelphia Flyers, 59-41% by the Detroit Red Wings and 61-39% to the Dallas Stars. It should be noted the Capitals won two of those three games.
It should also be noted that the “why” the Capitals have fallen to the basement is not the focus of this piece (but the loss of Jay Beagle, and coaching changes have a big part in it). This post will strictly focus on value.
We began our analysis by setting a preliminary benchmark for our continued analysis throughout the remainder of the season. As the season progresses we will revisit in an attempt to ascertain a better understanding of the general value, but more importantly, how the results are affecting this season’s Washington Capitals. The following provides a few data points and preliminary analysis. However, feel free to skip in order to cast your vote at the bottom of the page. We want your opinion.
The Perceived Value Of The Statistic
There is long-standing debate within the hockey community as to the real value of the faceoff winning percentage stat, or the real need to win faceoffs. Some will tell you it’s got little to no value or impact on the outcome of a game or a season. Others will tell you that defensive zone draws winning percentage is critical. The opinions are wide-ranging.
Some hockey minds will tell you it’s more important how you position players for the puck as it exits the faceoff circle, regardless of who controlled and batted the puck out of the faceoff area. However, this stance ignores clean draws and puck direction to (planned) guarded areas of the ice.
To begin gaining an understanding of the value of the stat we started by looking at past champions and their regular season faceoff winning percentage. The NHL tracks faceoff winning percentage stats back to the 1997-1998 (20 seasons).
The average ranking for the Stanley Cup champion over the past 20 seasons was 9.6 and the average faceoff winning percentage for the eventual champion was 51.2%. It’s also important to note that the statistical outlier occurred during the 2016-2017 season when the Penguins ranked 28th in the league during the regular season, but went on to win the Stanley Cup. No team has finished dead-last and gone on to win the Stanley Cup. But that was true of the “shots per game” stat….before last June.
PREVIOUS RESEARCH AND ANALYSIS
The subject and correlating analysis regarding the value of winning a faceoff is not new. The following provides information gleaned from previous research. They are by no means directly indicative of Capitals success this year, but provide additional pieces to a vast puzzle.
Tying Faceoff Winning Percentages To Goals
A collegiate research paper published in 2012 entitled “Analysis of NHL Faceoffs” looked at the average faceoff differential required to yield a goal differential. The report concluded that a player must win about 76 more faceoffs than they lose in order to obtain a goal differential for his team. A team that moves from winning 50% of their faceoffs to winning 60% of them gains just over 12 goals per season which is equivalent to two additional wins.
An article written in 2017 by Evan Sporer for Sports Illustrated concluded that “nothing has indicated there is any meaningful statistical correlation in large sample sizes between winnings face-offs, and winning hockey games.” A simplistic example: The Capitals are currently last in the NHL in faceoff winning percentage and in first place in the Metropolitan Division. The report also concluded that “There isn’t enough of a statistical link though for face-offs to determine something like who does and does not make the playoffs.“
HOW DO YOU FEEL ABOUT THE VALUE OF THE STAT?
We asked our Twitter followers how important they felt the stat was to them. A resounding 88% felt it was a concern, with 43% stating they felt is was a major concern.
The #ALLCAPS are dead-last in the league in faceoff winning percentage. This is:
— NoVa Caps (@NoVa_Caps) January 7, 2019
So what is your opinion of the value of the faceoff winning percentage stat?
By Jon Sorensen