The Washington Capitals returned to the .500 plateau (12-12-4) with a 4-1 victory over the Philadelphia Flyers on Wednesday night. While that may seem average, at best, positive trends continue for the team.
The recent positive trends, coupled with the return of key players from injury and an easier schedule for the Capitals in the second half of the season could possibly signal much better days ahead for the team.
In this post we will review a few of the encouraging trends after the first 28 games of the season. The statistics used in this post are courtesy of Natural Stat Trick and the NoVa Caps Advanced Analytics Model (NCAAM). If you’d like to learn more about the statistical terms used in this post, please check out our NHL Analytics Glossary.
EXPECTED GOALS FOR PERCENTAGE (xGF%) 5v5
The Capitals began the season with a dismal expected goals for percentage average but have been steadily improving since a season-low on October 24 (New Jersey Devils) [Click to enlarge]
The team’s current trajectory indicates that if the trend continues, the Capitals could move above the 50% mark in the next few games.
EXPECTED GOALS FOR PERCENTAGE (xGF%) – 9 GAME SEGMENTS
The next graph provides a game-by-game break down of the Capitals aforementioned expected goals for percentage and parses the games in averages over three nine-game segments.
The graph highlights the team’s terrible start to the season (44.93%), but also shows that the team has been playing pretty good hockey in the most recent nine-game segment, with a xGF% of 53.37%.
SHOTS FOR AND AGAINST AVERAGE DIFFERENTIAL (SF/GM-avg – SA/GM-avg)
Generating even-strength shots has been an issue for the Capitals since the start of the season. One metric we keep an eye on in this area is the differential between shots for and shots against. The following graph plots the Capitals shots for per game average minus the shots against per game average.
The Capitals continue to slowly creep up the league rankings in shots per game average, currently averaging 30.4 shots per game, which is now 21st in the league. They also continue to climb the league rankings in shots against per game average at 30.9 shots against per game, which is 11th best (lowest) in the league.
SCORING CHANCES FOR PERCENTAGE (SCF%)
The metric, which is essentially a ratio of the Capitals scoring chances and their oppositions scoring chances, continues to reside above 50%.
ASSESSING THE BOTTOM LINE
So what does this mean with regards to the Capitals bottom line – wins and losses, and the remainder of the 2022-23 season?
Considering the resurgence has occurred while the Capitals continue to deal with numerous injuries is encouraging. The return of Dmitry Orlov and Tom Wilson (Nicklas Backstrom?) will no doubt improve the team’s overall standing.
Also, as previously mentioned, the Capitals are getting through their most difficult portion of the 2022-23 schedule, with easier days ahead. This should also add to the Capitals bottom line.
The big question in front of the team is related to time. Will the Capitals get a boost from returning players and realize an improved level of play prior to decisions being made for the 2023 NHL trade deadline? Will they go for a postseason run, or will they sell-off at the deadline? Those decisions will be made in the coming weeks.
Capitals GM Brian MacLellan explained that he “liked the way we played” in the past five games, especially with the return of right-wing T.J. Oshie in his most recent presser in Calgary. “We have to put a string of good games here together—wins—to stay in it.” He said that “hopefully” the Capitals will “be more competitive” by the time injured guys come back.
“I think we have to be concerned,” MacLellan said regarding the team’s standing. I think we dug ourselves a hole here…the margin for error is pretty slim right now.”
The Capitals return home for one game, Friday night against the Kraken, before they head back out of the road for a pair of games against Winnipeg, on Sunday, and Chicago on Tuesday. Winning four of six points in the three-game stretch is critical at this stage of the game.
By Jon Sorensen