The Washington Capitals continue to enjoy some time off following their 6-1 drubbing to the Carolina Hurricanes on Monday. The team will return to practice on Thursday in preparation for their next tilt on Sunday against the high-flying Minnesota Wild at Capital One Arena.
In the mean time, the break in action and relative quiet before the start of the Capitals’ busy final month of the 2021-22 season provides a good opportunity to assess certain aspects of the Capitals’ game. Today we take a look at a recent trend in rebound shot attempts against goaltender Vitek Vanecek.
Vanecek has had a solid month of March following his return from injury. So solid in fact that he’s fully commandeered the Capitals’ number one netminder spot and subsequently calmed the trade-deadline pondering of potentially procuring an additional goaltender.
However, in reviewing his statistical output for this season there are a couple of concerning trends that jump off the spreadsheet. One of them is rebound control and rebound shot attempts against.
[Data utilized in this post is provided by Natural Stat Trick, Money Puck, NHL.com and NoVa Caps Advanced Analytics model. If you have any questions or would like to learn more about the terms in the post you can check out our NHL Analytics Glossary.]
Rebound Shot Attempts Against Per Game (5v5)
The following graph plots rebound shot attempts against at even strength for Vitek Vanecek for each of his games this season. [Click to enlarge].
Through the first 16 games of the 2021-22 season (left of the red line) Vanecek had just 20 rebound shot attempts against for a 1.25 rebound shot attempts against per game average. That’s not bad. Not bad at all.
However, for the last 19 games, Vanecek has faced 53 rebound shot attempts in 19 games (right of the red line) for an average of 2.79 rebound shot attempts against per game average. That’s more than double the rate from the first part of the season. That’s a head-scratcher.
Additionally, in the last 10 games, Vanecek has faced 38 rebound shots against for a whopping 3.8 rebound shots against per game average. That’s more than three times the volume from his first 16 games this season. That’s a concern.
Rebound Shot Attempts Against Per 60 (5v5)
Because actual five-on-five ice time varies for each game, depending on the amount of penalty kill time, actual time on ice, etc., it’s sound analysis to “normalize” the data from each game. To do that, we can convert each game’s data to rebound shot attempts against per 60 minutes of ice time. [Click to large].
For the first 16 games of the season Vanecek totaled 17.846 rebound shots against per 60 minutes. For the last 19 games Vanecek has averaged 40.331 rebound shots against per 60 minutes. That’s 2.25 times as many rebound shot attempts in the last 19 games compared to the first 16 games.
The bulk of the Vanecek’s increase in rebound shot attempts against has occurred following Vanecek’s return from a month-long outage in February. In fact, the increase essentially aligns with the timing of his return from injury. One could surmise the injury or the month-long break away from games (rust) could be a significant factor, although he has been otherwise solid in the crease during that same time period – a period he cemented the number one spot.
Another potential cause could be teams are gaining familiarity (or a book) on Vanecek, and the scouting report is now to shoot low or throw shots at his pads from distance, thinking the real opportunities to be beat Vanecek may be on the second chance. (We will be tracking this in the next few games).
The sharp increase could also be an aggregation of other factors. Defensive variables (reshuffling of defensive pairs, injuries, etc.) could be leaving once-covered areas of the ice open for rebound shot attempts. [However, it should be noted that shots on goal per game have essentially remained the same, currently averaging 29.3 shots against per game (6th best in the league), up from 28.2 on January 10.]
Vanecek had issues at times with rebound control during his time in Hershey, but he seemed to gather that in as quickly as it became an issue. The increase in rebounds would occasionally resurface during the season (as is the case with many netminders) but more often than not he quickly reigned in his control. That’s the positive takeaway. He’s dealt with this before and solved the issue.
Moving forward keep an eye of Vanecek’s rebounds in his next start, possibly this Sunday against the high-flying Wild – a very good test for Vanecek and the Capitals. Is he deflecting shots to safe zones/corners? Or are they left in a location that generates a rebound shot attempt?
By Jon Sorensen