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?
EXPECTED GOALS FOR PERCENTAGES
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.
EXPECTED GOALS AND STRENGTH OF OPPOSITION
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.
MISSING JOHN CARLSON?
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