Can Lars Eller Right His Game?


The proverbial “eye-test” says that Washington Capitals center Lars Eller’s game hasn’t been up to snuff so far this season. He has no goals and just four assists in 12 games played and his key statistics have plunged significantly from last season. But can “The Great Dane” turn things around? Or has age finally caught up with the Stanley Cup hero from 2018?

Possession Metrics

The following graphic presents Eller’s advanced stats (Corsi-for Percentage, scoring-chances-for percentage, and expected goals-for percentage) for all Capitals forwards that have played so far this season. [Click to Enlarge]

Eller’s possession numbers are the 4th lowest on the team. The three lowest come from the 4th liners, which is to be expected considering the use of the 4th line and the low percentage of offensive zone starts they receive.

According to MoneyPuck, Eller’s 1.9 expected goals this season are the third-lowest among Capitals forwards who have appeared in at least 10 games. His 0.55 expected goals-per-60 are .19 lower than the teammate in front of him.

That mark is just better than left-wing Carl Hagelin (0.41) and center Nic Dowd (0.44), who has played in three fewer games. Eller’s 1.13 points-per-60 minutes are just better than everyone on the fourth-line and center Hendrix Lapierre, who was assigned to the QMJHL on Wednesday.

Something that may not have helped the 32-year-old is that 52.6% of his zone starts have been on the fly while 20.6% have come in the defensive zone. Also, the -7.7% net miss percentage above expected (sixth-worst among team forwards) has not helped.

While Eller’s play has not been at its best this season, he has also gotten a bit of tough luck. Besides center Evgeny Kuznetsov (0.5), no one else has a bigger difference between actual goals and expected goals than Eller. The trio that he has spent most of his time with this season (between left-wing Anthony Mantha and right-wing Daniel Sprong) has earned a 53.1% expected goals-for percentage.

While Dowd has missed time with two different lower-body injuries, Eller has replaced him in his spot due to having a reputation as a strong defensive centerman. But the fourth-line’s expected goals-against per 60 minutes goes up to 3.22 with Eller in the middle compared to just 2.13 with Dowd.

Career With The Capitals

Eller had eight goals and 15 assists in 44 games played last season but missed time due to injury. While Eller’s possession stats are very low this season, they closely resemble his stats from the Cup season of 2017-18. His possession metrics had been on a steady incline since the Stanley Cup season, until this season. [Click to enlarge]

Additional Points

Pros

  • Eller is fourth among Capitals forwards in shots (21), which could lead one to believe his goals will come, it’s just a matter of time.
  • Eller remains one of the Capitals best at the faceoff dot, winning 50.6% of his draws (second among Capitals to take at least 20 faceoffs).
  • Eller’s nine blocked shots this season trail only right-wing Tom Wilson for the most among Capitals forwards.
  • His 0.84 giveaways-per-60 are the fourth-lowest on the team.
  • His 1:47 average time on the penalty kill per game leads Capitals forwards (but the team ranks 21st with a 78.8% penalty-killing rate).

Cons

  • His 45.9% shot-attempts percentage is tied for the second-worst among Capitals forwards to play in at least six games this season.
  • His 1.13 takeaways-per-60 are the lowest among forwards to play six games with the Capitals this season.
  • On the penalty kill, Eller’s 2.8 shots-against per 60 are the worst among all Capitals forwards to average at least 32 seconds shorthanded per game.

Summary

Eller has always had a bit of a utility role with the Capitals, most notably filling in for Nicklas Backstrom on the second line when Backstrom has missed games, or if another center misses games, but this season it’s been amplified. Eller has seen time on a line with just about every one of the Capitals forwards. He may just need consistent time with the same linemates, and his numbers just might improve.

Eller will be an unrestricted free agent at the end of the 2022-23 season, currently making $3.5 million per season. That’s a sizable price tag for a third-line center, but worth it if he is producing.

The price becomes questionable in a tight salary cap era and with youngsters waiting in the wings to take his position, especially with Connor McMichael beginning to heat up with two goals and three points during a three-game point streak. Once Backstrom comes back, things could get interesting at center.

By Harrison Brown

About Harrison Brown

Harrison is a diehard Caps fan and a hockey fanatic with a passion for sports writing. He attended his first game at age 8 and has been a season ticket holder since the 2010-2011 season. His fondest Caps memory was watching the Capitals hoist the Stanley Cup in Las Vegas. In his spare time, he enjoys travel, photography, and hanging out with his two dogs. Follow Harrison on Twitter @HarrisonB927077
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2 Responses to Can Lars Eller Right His Game?

  1. redLitYogi says:

    My guess is this is his valedictory season with the Caps. He was a great pick up, the best expenditure of two number 2’s we ever did. He’ll get a great tribute on the jumbotron next year and well deserved. But what about now? No matter how much he struggles, we already know HCPL is loathe to make lineup changes. But with Backstrom back and reasonably healthy maybe Eller could use a trip to the LTIR. McMichael can do the job. And by this spring Protas should be fully ready. All he needs is to get games and ice time. And Lapierre hot on his heels by spring of ’23. If Eller can’t get well enough to find his game again, I think that will hold the team back.

    • Jon Sorensen says:

      I think you touched on it all, and I too feel his time in a Caps uniform is coming to an end. He was a huge part in the Cup run, but age, dipping stats and youth banging on the door almost make it a certainty.

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