Declining Trends In The Washington Capitals’ Possession Metrics: A Cautionary Tale

Photo: NHL via Getty Images

It would seem that the Washington Capitals may have finally found their groove. After a tumultuous start to the 2022 calendar year, which saw the team play sub-500 hockey for a majority of the first two months, the team has finally strung together a few impressive wins including victories over two of the league’s best. They’ve notched seven of a possible eight points in their last four games.

The return of Nicklas Backstrom, T.J. Oshie and Anothony Mantha certainly has a lot to do with the recent resurgence, as both the power play and penalty kill have also rebounded in recent weeks. So all is looking fine in Caps land, right? Well…there are a few concerns.

Nobody likes hearing about the bad, including myself. On the flipside, we’ve always strived for balanced analysis and reporting, presenting both the good and bad. So if you are specifically a fan of Capitals good news and Pollyanna, this post may not be for you. It’s not a “doom-and-gloom” post, but a cautionary tale about a few concerning trends in the Capitals’ game.

POSSESSION METRICS

“Possession metrics” is a generic term applied to a series of advanced analytics that detail a player or team’s ability to generate shots, scoring chances and goals. Unfortunately. it’s here where a few of the Capitals’ negative trends have emerged.

[The statistics used in this post are courtesy of Natural Stat TrickHockey ReferenceMoneyPuck and NoVa Caps’ Advanced Stats model. If you’d like to learn more about the statistical terms used in this post, please check out our NHL Analytics Glossary.]

Shot Attempts For Percentage (CF%)

The first stat that is often looked at when trying to ascertain a general feel for a team’s level of performance is shot attempts percentage. In other words, what is the ratio of the Capitals’ shot attempts per game in relation to the opposition’s shot attempts per game. Anything over 50% means the Capitals are generating more attempts than the opposition. [Click to enlarge].

The green vertical line above delineates the start of a Capitals’ positive, improving trend in shot attempts percentage, beginning on November 30th. The statistic gradually improves for the next month and a half before it plateaus on January 15.

Since January 15th the Capitals average shot attempt percentage has been steadily declining and could drop below the 50% threshold in the next game or two. Their CF% has dropped from 52.27% to 50.38% since January 15th.

Scoring Chances Percentage (SCF%)

The next graph depicts the Capitals scoring chance percentages in relation to the opposition over the course of the season.

The Capitals scoring chances plateaued on December 3oth, and has seen a steep decline beginning on February 13th. Like CF%, the trend is concerning in that it is projected to drop below 50% in the next game or two.

High-Danger Scoring Chances (HDCF%)

The Capitals high-danger shot attempts percentage (HDCF%) is a bit of a different animal, but has also seen a sharp decline in recent weeks.

The team actually hit their high-water mark for HDCF% back on December 15th (Blackhawks). The decline in high-danger shot attempts percentage began a steeper decline on February 8th and dipped below 50% at the end of February for the first time since the end of November.

High-Danger Goals For Percentage (HDGF%)

High-danger goals for percentage is similar in analytical value to high-danger chances, but only includes high-danger goals in relation to the opposition.

For me, personally, high-danger chances and high-danger goals for hold a little more contextual value. It details a team’s ability to work the puck into the scoring areas, and is also a good indication of how a team could perform in the postseason, where close, down-and-dirty, greasy goals are of the utmost importance.

The Capitals have traditionally done well in HDGF% stat, at least in recent years, so the fact that it is about to dip below the 50% threshold is concerning. Certainly not a good sign (for me) heading into the playoffs.

Expected Goals For Percentage (xGF%)

Expected Goals For percentage (xGF%) is a statistic that weighs a shot attempt or scoring chance with the likelihood of a goal being scored. The stat correlates a specific shot attempt location with conversion rates based on historical data from that specific shot location.

This stat and High-Danger Goals may be the two most concerning trends right now for the Capitals. More offensive push is needed, plain and simple.

Caveats And Context

Possession metrics provide a substantive method for assessing a teams ability to generate shots and scoring, but like any other stats, it’s not the be-all and end-all in statistical analysis.

A good example is the New York Rangers who have been playing well below the 50% threshold in most of the aforementioned statistics all season. But with great goaltending and a solid power play, the Rangers have earned a place in the standings above the Capitals.

Much of the recent decline may also be attributed to the strength in opposition. The Capitals have faced the Carolina Hurricanes and the Calgary Flames, two of the league’s best, in recent days, so it will be interesting to see where the stats go from here.

Coach Laviolette has made it known that he and his coaches look at these types of stats (among others), as he regularly references them in his post-game and post-practice media sessions. You can be sure that the team has a close eye on this as well. There is time for the negative trends to level-off above the 50% threshold. Things should also improve as Anthony Mantha, Nicklas Backstrom and T.J. Oshie get more and more acclimated to the season.

Fianlly, the addition of a scoring forward at the trade deadline would also help these stats. The second line has begun to show signs of a resurgence, so any additional punch would be a significant boost to the Capitals possession metrics.

By Jon Sorensen

About Jon Sorensen

Jon has been a Caps fan since day one, attending his first game at the Capital Centre in 1974. His interest in the Caps has grown over the decades and included time as a season ticket holder. He has been a journalist covering the team for 10+ years, primarily focusing on analysis, analytics and prospect development.
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5 Responses to Declining Trends In The Washington Capitals’ Possession Metrics: A Cautionary Tale

  1. novafyre says:

    Laviolette regularly references them in his post-game and post-practice media sessions.

    I guess I have ignored these references since I have not studied these stats and, if I must admit, I really don’t understand them except when you explain them to me. And even then, I doubt if I could reference them tomorrow.

    When he references these, what does he propose doing to correct them? To send them back trending upwards?

    • Jon Sorensen says:

      Please ask any questions you have about these stats. We have been hoping to educate as many of our interested readers as possible. The NHL Analytics Glossary is also a resource.

      Laviolette doesn’t mention specific stats, he will say things like “the line had good numbers”, “the player has had good possession numbers” etc.

  2. Anonymous says:

    Sharp decline in Expected goals for percentage and high-danger goals percentage is concerning.

  3. DC Scappeli says:

    Jon, thanks for the statistical analysis, even though I just use the ol’ the eyeball test! It looks to me that they don’t get enough chances/shots from the high danger areas, it always seems they shoot from waaay outside, like from the blue line, or from the top of the circles a lot.

    I dunno if that is part of the offensive scheme. If it is, I don’t like that they don’t have enough bodies down low to screen. It’s usually just one player screening. Maybe Lavi is also being defensive minded and not wanting to get too many forwards down low in case it goes back up the ice quickly?

    • Jon Sorensen says:

      DC, the eye test is always an important part of the overall analysis. It’s also a critical step in the data validation processes. “Does this data make sense?”

      Watching each and every Hershey Bears games has many benefits, but one is that we hear a little more about what directives come from Washington regarding system play. One is “shoot the puck” although that doesn’t show up in the Capitals stats. I agree there are too many “slim chance” shots from outside, hoping to get a bounce and play the rebound. Teams have caught on to that.

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