Are The Capitals Showing Signs Of A Wobble, And At An Unexpected Time?

The Washington Capitals fought hard to restore winning ways during the months of November and December, following an very underwhelming start to the 2022-23 season. As a result, the team has worked their way back into the postseason hunt.

The team’s flat start could partly be attributed to the incredible amount of injuries sustained by key players, but the team was also navigating the most challenging portion of their 2022-23 schedule. Regardless, the team pulled it together, battled through and found themselves back in the postseason hunt by the end of calendar year.

To add to the bright outlook, January was supposed to be the easiest month of the Capitals 2022-23 schedule. But unfortunately, we might be seeing a bit of a wobble in the team’s performance over the last 5-10 games.


Now the team hasn’t exactly tanked in recent days, going 7-1-2 in their last 10 games. Heck, we’d take that any day. However, a perceivable wobbling is surfacing in the Capitals underlying statistics and level of play.

The wobble could simply be an expected bit of a cooling of their red-hot ways, could be attributed to the loss of John Carlson, or any number of other team attributes. Regardless of why, here’s a look at a few of the potential leading indicators.


The Capitals began the season lacking shots and giving them up in bunches to the oppositi0n. As a result, the team’s shots for and shots against averages were at the bottom of the league. But as noted, the Capitals followed that up with an impressive rebound that covered the better part of two months.

The following chart presents the Capitals shots differential (Shots For/Game-avg minus Shots Against/Game-avg) for the first 43 games of the season. [Click to enlarge]

As previously noted, the Capitals spent nearly two months trying to get their shots for average greater than their shots against average, and they finally succeeded in early December. However, over the last seven-to-ten games the Capitals shot differential has leveled-off and even dipped. Is this reaching “normal” for the team? Or is it just a momentary glitch in their performance?


The next graph plots the Capitals expected goals for percentages (Orange) for each of their 43 games played so far this season. The graph also includes the opposition’s winning percentage for the season. [Click to enlarge]

We can glean additional context from the expected goals for percentage by comparing to the strength of opposition (opposition winning percentage) for each game. This is where we can also begin to see a bit of a wobble in recent games.


The following table provides the Capitals average expected goals for percentage and average strength of opposition for certain stretches of games. Again, this is where we see more of a wobble, and against teams with a poorer winning percentage to boot.

The Capitals expected goals for percentage average has dipped in the last 5-7 games, all while facing weaker competition. The Capitals knew the easy part of their schedule was ahead, but so far the metrics are not showing a benefit from easier schedule.


Now I know what the haters are thinking. “The Capitals are sputtering because John Carlson has been out? That’s nuts!” I’m not saying that at all. I just wanted to take a (quick) look at Carlson’s recent absence and overlay with a few of the Capitals stats. Again, there is no direct correlation that can be attributed to the following stats. [Click to enlarge].

Carlson was injured on December 23 and has missed the last seven games, which coincidentally(?) aligned with the leveling-off of the Capitals shot production and shot suppression differential.

I also decided to pull the expected goals stats from earlier in this post and look at the last seven games.

Again, logically you can begin to surmise that there might be some sort of correlation, and that very well may be the case. However, a concrete correlation is not attainable from the two aforementioned metrics. Interesting food for thought, though. And a god focus for a future post.


All teams hit rough patches in the season, and the Capitals may be simply experiencing one of those normal dips in performance right now. The team was red-hot, and cooling was to be expected. The important thing is obviously to rebound as quick as possible. It’s also good they are eking out wins, regardless of any perceived drop in performance.

The recent drop in performance might be attributed to John Carlson’s absence, we just don’t know for sure at this level of an investigation. A ton of other data would be required. Data not available on the streets. However, it will be very interesting to watch these numbers over the coming games.

Regardless, as long as the Capitals continue to find ways to win during this momentary(?) drop in performance, the metrics don’t matter. It’s important they take advantage of the easier schedule ahead.

[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]

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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22 Responses to Are The Capitals Showing Signs Of A Wobble, And At An Unexpected Time?

  1. horn73 says:

    Great stuff Jon! You man the Caps coaches, NHL Network (ranking Carlson #9 defenseman in the NHL and so many NHL “insiders” are right, and a few Caps fans, that are obnoxiously repetitive are wrong?? Who’d have guessed it.

    Leading the team in minutes year after year by several head coaches would suffice for most, but not here. Larry Murphy is laughing his ass off.

    • KimRB says:

      I think the Carlson hate is due mostly to the haters relying on the eye test. When Carlson makes a mistake, it’s very noticeable. You’ll see him on innumerable replays, making a blunder, a turnover that leads to a goal, not playing his man. It’s kind of like, I dunno, #8. And I don’t mean Ovi. Of course, when the hate pours out, they ignore the good plays he’s made, which outnumber the bad ones.

      I always like to reference Matt Niskanen. After being drafted, he quickly became the Dallas Stars’ fans #1 whipping boy. On the Larry Murphy level of hate. He didn’t blossom till traded to Pittsburgh. We got the finished product, and without him, we don’t have a Cup (or without Carlson, for that matter)

      I’m not the biggest Carlson fan in the world. But the hate is just silly, and over the top, sometimes.

    • Jon Sorensen says:

      Thanks Horn! I agree, he gets an undue amount of heat, for reasons some of which Kim mentions above. The salary is my only personal sticking point with him. He’s very “pricey”.

      • KimRB says:

        And Horn brought up another point that figures into this: since Carlson is on the ice more than the other D, there’s more opportunity to make a mistake. He screws up because he has more of a chance to screw up.

        • Jon Sorensen says:

          Also true. Sheesh, now I’m sounding like a Carlson fan. I try extremely hard to remove all bias.

          • KimRB says:

            Speaking the truth isn’t bias. I’m not the biggest Carlson fan out there, but some of the hate is just over the top. Criticism is fine, if it’s deserved, but it’s not constructive just to call him terrible. Larry Murphy got booed out of Capital Center, won 2 Cups with the Pens, got booed out of Maple Leaf Gardens, won 2 more Cups in Detroit, and cried all the way to the Hall of Fame.

            I do have a soft spot for Carlson, based on a OT goal he scored in January 2010. Won him and his teammates a WJC gold medal

  2. hockeydruid says:

    “The recent drop in performance might be attributed to John Carlson’s absence”, maybe but more than likely its the addition and subtraction of guys coming and going on the injured list, the PP is only 22% which is not good for this team. Others besides Ovie need to take shots. With almost no production from Mantha, Eller or Oshie (yes he has had stints on the injured list) I would expect wobbles. But there have been surprises in Milano, Strome, Sheary and scoring from the D in general especially with Carlson out.

    • KimRB says:

      I disagree about “almost no production from Eller”

      His career average is. 39 points/game. His average this season is. 36

      You’re getting from him what you always get from him. He is what he is, and no more should be expected from him.

  3. KimRB says:

    Just throwing a crazy thought out: but if Carlson is out till the playoffs, let’s pull a Kucherov, and add Klingberg

    (ducking from rotting garbage thrown at me)

    He’d cost a lot in assets. But he’s gifted offensively. Still, Gustafsson has far exceeded expectations. But he’s another offensive right stick. But he sucks defensively. But he put up big points in Dallas. But who would we sit. But….

    Just forget I mentioned it 😁

  4. Anonymous says:

    Carlson should never been signed to that long of a contract. He can’t skate and his mistakes costs them games not just goals. Shouldn’t be on the pp.

    • Jon Sorensen says:

      I agree re: contract. It’s a boat anchor.

    • horn73 says:

      Love this string, even Druid’s take. Kim bringing it for sure!! I’m with you guys, not on the Carlson fan club, but when I’m a bit of “meh” about a player, I defer to the coaches…

      Where I do disagree, is I think his contract looks better and better each year. How many teams #1 defensemen cost less? Plus, it was signed prior to Covid with the reasonable expectation that the cap would have continued higher.

      I’m in the camp of two awards for defensemen, a new one for top offensive defensemen and the Norris. He’s about a .8 points per game defenseman over the last 5 years…

      He has averaged .909 points per game since signing his current deal….name the 5 that are better. Easily the best 5 years he’s had offensively in his career.

      Making me think the contract is a deal now.

  5. Anonymous says:

    Do we think there’s a lack of focus considering the ease of opponent?

  6. dwgie26 says:

    WTF… go have dinner and hang with wife and come back to a love fest! Haha.

    I think the “slump” is a bit of all the things Jon mentions. Coming down to earth a little, JC74 going out of lineup, and mixing in Wilson and Backy. I’d also mention coming off of the high of OV scoring 801 and 802 (which was awesome to be out – the celly was 10 feet away from me).

    While JC has his warts, he is also not replaceable. Gus has certainly picked it up which is great. A lot of Caps offense starts with the dee but it is subtle. That is where Alexyev and Irwin has struggled to fill that gap. Hoping Alexyev can build a little confidence with puck on his stick. He’s never going to score a lot but he is swift enough to create fast breakouts and be more mobile in the O-zone.

    • KimRB says:

      “WTF… go have dinner and hang with wife and come back to a love fest! Haha.”

      Kumbayah My Lord… Kumbayah


  7. James says:

    Hey, you want to blame a big contract – put it on management, not the player. Using big bucks and term to reward middle- aged players is usually a losing stategy. IMO

  8. Anonymous says:

    Good test tonight. They lose and look bad doing so caution. Lookout below.

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