The Capitals have completed 18 games of their 82-game regular season schedule and are close enough to the season’s quarter-pole that we can take an initial look at their latest trends on the ice.
By tracking game metrics for each and every game so far this season, we can capture statistical trends for any stat over any period of time throughout the Capitals season, rather than assess single, static statistics that represent a single moment in time. In this post we will look at a wide range of statistical elements to the Capitals game and assess the trends over the first six weeks of the season. Let’s get to it.
October included a fast start against strong teams and no regulation losses. The Capitals then transitioned to a steady and rather successful march through the meat of their November schedule. As their record indicates and as you will see in the following visualizations, the Capitals have started strong in the first quarter of the season, despite a number of injuries to the Capitals’ centers and top-six forwards.
The following analysis is broken down into three Categories: The good, the bad and the ugly. If you have any questions or need a further definition to any of the stats or terms used in this post, you can reference our NHL Analytics Glossary for further information. (All stats are presented at even-strength (5v5) and courtesy of the NHL and Natural Stat Trick).
All in all, there’s not a lot to complain about so far with the Capitals overall game. They are 11-3-5 and in second place of the Metropolitan Division, nipping at the heels of the Carolina Hurricanes, who have been red hot to start the season. The defense has been solid and consistent throughout the first 18 games of the season, while the offense, aided by a significant infusion of youth and a typical blazing-hot start by the captain, have found ways to score while many of their playmakers sit sidelined with injuries.
The following graph plots the Capitals rolling points percentage throughout the first 18 games of the season. Nothing too earth-shattering here. The Capitals got off to a hot start and really haven’t cooled down. In addition, their points percentage has been generally trending upward again since a lowpoint at the end of the first week of November. [Click to enlarge].
The Capitals penalty kill got off to a terrible start this season and had an early penalty kill rate that was ranked at the very bottom league. However, since October 27th the Capitals penalty kill has been gaining steam and now is in the top 10 in the league, with all signs trending for additional improvement. [Click to enlarge]
The Capitals have been among the league’s best at shot suppression all season, and although their per game average is gradually climbing, they are still second in the league and have been in that spot, behind the Seattle Kraken, for most of the season. There is nothing to complain about when it comes to shot attempts against so far this season.
The Capitals have been much less dominant in generating their own shots during the first 18 games, but their trend has remained fairly constant, around 31.3 shots per game. They are currently ranked 18th in the league in shot attempts per game, and you’d like to see more, but as long as the shots against remain relatively low, there’s not a lot to complain about here as well.
Nothing new here. The Capitals lead the league in shooting percentage and have been at the top or near the top of the league for a majority of the first quarter of the season. The stat has also leveled out, and also a good indication, particularly in a first quarter of the season, that saw a majority of their top-six forwards reaching for the health insurance policy. The Capitals have been hovering around 10.5 to 10.75% over the last month or so, while the rest of the league is averaging around 8.00%
The Capitals shot attempt metrics (Corsi For) have been pretty solid so far this season, but concerning as of late. The team has been well above the 50% threshold for the entire season, although that number has been trending steadily downward since the beginning of November. However, there are early indications of a leveling-off occurring since the second week of November that might be signal an end to the slide in this category.
Expected Goals For Percentage
Not surprising, the Capitals expected goals for percentage (xGF%) tells a similar tale as that of the Corsi For stat. The team has posted fairly decent expected goals numbers throughout the first quarter of the season, but the stat has also been trending down in the last couple of weeks. Again there are signs of a potential leveling off.
High-Danger Shots For
The Capitals high-danger shot attempts have been fairly impressive through the first six weeks of the season and also correlate with their overall Corsi and Expected Goals For Percentages over the course of the first quarter of the season. However, as expected, the overall downward trend is again prominent and we could see the stat dip below the 50% mark for the first time since mid-October.
Scoring Chances For Percentage (SCF%)
Once again, the Capitals had a good start to the season when it comes to scoring chances for in relation to the opposition. However, since the third week of October the resultant value has also been consistently falling and currently hovers just north of the 50% mark 18 games into the season. Again, we could see sub-50% in the next few games.
High-Danger Goals For Percentage (HDGF%)
The Capitals high-danger goals for percentage has been exceptional for most of the season, and is currently ranked in the top five in the league. Additionally, we have seen some leveling off with the stat, indicating we could be finding an average well above 50%, at least for this version of the Capitals (No Backstrom, No Mantha). This is very encouraging for longer-term health, statistically, and an even better sign for the required post-season style of play.
The Capitals goaltending has once again been a shared task so far this season, with Vitek Vanecek getting the majority of the starts. While general stats are rather mediocre to this point in the season, both Ilya Samsonov and Vitek Vanecek are now in the upper right quadrant of the SV%/(xGA-GA) graph. [Click to enlarge]
Vanecek has faced better teams but slightly weaker goaltenders, while Samsonov has had better goal support, by nearly a goal more per game. Opposing goaltenders have had a worse (xGA-GA) average against Samsonov in the games he played.
In 12 games, Vanecek has a goals differential (xGA-GA) of -.250, while Samsonov has a better average of .544. Vanecek has faced teams with an average winning percentage of .563 while Samsonov has faced teams with an average winning percentage of .531. Samsonov has faced goaltenders that performed relatively poorly, with a goals differential (xGA-GA) of -9.23 while Vanecek has faced goaltenders that performed a little better at -5.78.
The Capitals power play has been discussed by everyone and their brothers, but little has been done about it. In fact it continues to trend downward. Having said that, this may be the one stat that is greatly affected by the absence of Nicklas Backstrom, and the prolonged absence of T.J. Oshie. I expect this stat to eventually rebound, but when?
If you are a believer in the PDO stat, then this one worries you a bit. The Capitals have had the highest or second highest PDO for the most of the first quarter of the season, and could be approaching a cliff. If you dont believe in the stat, then it’s business as usual.
Again, there’s not a lot to be worried about at this point of the season, and considering the Capitals injuries to date. I think there is only one “ugly” stat at this point of the season, and considering the long list of injuries sustained by the team, it too should rebound.
The issue with faceoffs is nothing new for the Capitals. The team struggled mightily last season until they brought in Michael Peca to right the ship. Peca left for the Rochester Americans in the AHL during the offseason and once again the Capitals are among the league’s worst in this category, and the trend is showing it’s only getting worse.
We can debate the importance of faceoffs and if they directly correlate to goals or wins, but regardless of that actuality, this team is terrible at the dot. However, one could see leaning on the fact that Nicklas Backstrom hasn’t played and the team has had quite a few rookies taking draws in the first quarter as a viable reason for the poor numbers.
When all is said and done the Capitals have had a fairly good start to the 2021-22 season, however there are indicators of a potential slump on the near horizon. To battle against that the Capitals should begin to get players back from the injury list.
I’ll revisit each of the aforementioned metrics in a few more weeks and compare the trends that have developed from this point forward, and look at trends over the course of the first half of the season.
By Jon Sorensen