The Washington Capitals have completed 31 games of their 82-game regular season schedule heading into the league’s COVID-extended holiday break. The pause in action provides a good time to review the first third of the season and take a look at the Capitals’ latest trends on the ice.
By tracking game metrics for each and every game we can capture statistical trends for any stat over any period of time throughout the 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 ten weeks of the season.
If you have any questions or need further definition of any of the stats or terms used in this post, you can always reference our NHL Analytics Glossary. [All stats are presented at even-strength (5v5), unless otherwise noted, and courtesy of the NHL, Evolving Hockey and Natural Stat Trick). The first trends analysis (through the first 18 games) can be found here.]
The first 31 games included a fast start against strong teams and no regulation losses in October. The Capitals then transitioned to a rather successful march through the meat of their November schedule, all while key forwards on the team were sidelined with injuries or in COVID-19 protocol. December saw much of the same. Let’s take a look.
All in all there’s not a lot to complain about so far with the Capitals overall game. They are 18-6-7 (43 points) and tied for first place of the Metropolitan Division with the Carolina Hurricanes. The defense has been solid and consistent throughout the first 31 games of the season, while the offense, aided by a significant infusion of youth and a typical blazing-hot start by Alex Ovechkin, have found ways to score while many of their playmakers sit on the sidelines.
The following graph simply plots the Capitals’ rolling points percentage through the first 31 games of the season. The Capitals got off to a hot start and really never cooled down. In addition, their points percentage since the last trends analysis (red line – November 21) has become relatively steady, fluctuating between .704 and .750 percent, an excellent rolling average. [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, beginning on October 25th the penalty kill gained steam, peaking at a robust 86%.
Unfortunately their success rate and ranking since the last trends analysis (red line – November 21) has been in gradual decline with an uptick in their last game. This bears watching over the next month. [Click to enlarge]
The Capitals have been among the league leaders in shot suppression all season, and although their per-game average is gradually climbing, they remain second in the league and have been in that spot, behind the Carolina Hurricanes, for most of the season. There is nothing to complain about when it comes to shot attempts against so far this season, as long as the average levels off… soon.
The Capitals have been much-less dominant in generating their own shots during the first 31 games, and are currently ranked 15th in the league. However, there has been a recent increase in average since early December.
Shots Per Game Differential (Avg. Shots For/Game minus Avg. Shots Against/ Game)
The following graph is added for context. It plots the average shots/game minus the average shots against/game. The Capitals have been in the positive (shooting more than being shot against) for the entire season, however, the differential has been gradually narrowing since the first week of November, with a slight improvement in the last five games.
The Capitals continue to 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 third of the season. The Capitals had been hovering around 10.5 to 10.75% (while the rest of the league is averaging around 8.00%) during the first quarter of the season. However, there has been a discernible decline underway since the first of December. This also bears watching over the next month.
The Capitals shot attempt metrics (Corsi For) have been pretty solid so far this season. The team has been well above the 50% threshold, although the average trended downward in early November. Since then the team has rebounded and continues to show an upward trend, well above the 5o% threshold.
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 third of the season. There was a dip in early December that approached the 50% line, but the Capitals ended the month on a five-game upswing.
Goals Above Expected (Individual)
The following graph is for additional context to the previous expected goals for team graph. It simply plots the differential of goals scored and individual expected goals for (G-ixG).
No huge surprises on those players above expected goals. Nick Jensen and Martin Fehervary are probably the biggest surprises but they have had an excellent season so far. On the bottom end, Connor McMichael and Axel Jonsson-Fjallby are probably the most notable, as they both have excellent shots. McMichael has been snake-bit to some extent, and I anticipate his numbers to improve.
High-Danger Shots For
The Capitals high-danger shot attempts were fairly impressive through the first six weeks of the season, but the average saw a gradual decline throughout November, dipping below the 5o% threshold briefly at the end of November. Since then the stat has gradually improved, although it is still hovering just north of the 50% threshold.
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 began to decline and got very close to 50% during the last week of November. Luckily December has seen that stat steadily improve.
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, etc.). Nothing to complain about here.
The following graph depicts the shift start percentages in each zone for each player: blue = defensive zone start, orange=neutral zone start and red=offensive zone starts. [Click to enlarge].
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, Vanecek remains in the upper right quadrant of the SV%/(xGA-GA) graph at five-on-five. Unfortunately Vanecek’s numbers dip significantly when he is faced with a 4-on-5 situation. [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.
The Capitals power play has been analyzed 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?
The team has done very little, if anything, to mix it up, try new schemes or give the opposition something else to consider. Albert Einstein once said “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.” He was a smart dude.
If you are a believer in the PDO stat, then this one continues to worry you a bit. The Capitals have had the highest or second highest PDO for the most of the first third of the season, and could be approaching a cliff. A slight regression has occurred during December with more projected, but the team has continued to win. If you don’t 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 and COVID-related scratches to date, it’s difficult to accurately assess certain aspects of their game. I think there is only a few “ugly” trends at this point of the season.
The Capitals have been downright miserable and unsuccessful in 3-on-3 overtime so far this season. The reasoning is somewhat vague – there are a million theories, and some hold merit, but in the end it just isn’t getting done.
The team has shown some improvement as of late, not losing in the overtime period, and pushing the game to the shootout.
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. The return of Nicklas Backstrom will help, but it likely won’t be enough to even approach the 50% line.
We can debate the importance of faceoffs and if they do or don’t directly correlate to goals and wins, but regardless of that actuality, this team is terrible at the dot.
[Note: I’ve added the players individual success rates at the dot for additional context to this category.]
When all is said and done the Capitals have had a fairly good start to the 2021-22 season, however there are indications of potential slumping in several areas. Here is a summary of the key statistical trends detailed above.
Considering all of the absences from the lineup, it’s pretty impressive what the Capitals have done in the first 3`1 games of the season.
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