As a standard component of our annual mid-season Capitals review, we typically include a look at the Capitals defense. The annual mid-season blueline review provides an overall “big-picture” sense of how the Capitals defensemen are performing as a unit, and compares their performance to other 31 teams in the league. This season’s mid-season blueline review takes a look at the first 46 games of the 2022-23 season.
The review considers several key metrics related to blueline performance, provides a league ranking for each of the statistics and then derives a basic average of all the categories at the end. Statistics utilized in this assessment include:
- Basic Stats
- Shot Attempts Against Per 60
- High-Danger Shot Attempts Against Per 60
- Scoring Chances Against Per 60
- Expected Goals Against Per 60
[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]
We begin by taking a look at a few of the basic stats for the Capitals which are deemed a significant component of the team’s defensive performance. Keep in mind that offensive performance has a direct impact on defensive performance and vice versa. [If you have a relentless offense, your defense isn’t going to be tested as much, etc.]
The Capitals blueline has done relatively well in all three of the aforementioned categories, ranking near the top-third in the league, on average. The Capitals rank in the top third for the two most important categories – shots against and goals against per game. [Reminder, these are shots on goal, and not overall shot attempts (Corsi) which counts all shot attempts, including misses, blocks, etc., which is covered next.]
SHOT ATTEMPTS AGAINST
Next we take a look at shot attempts against per 60. As with all of the stats in this assessment, the shot attempts against are normalized per 60 minutes in order to provide a direct comparison to all other teams. [Click to enlarge].
The Capitals are currently ranked 16th in the league in shot attempts against per game at a 56.47 shots against average. On a side note, the Capitals are ranked 10th in shots on goal per game (above) and 16th in overall shot attempts against (Corsi) per game, which indicates that the team is doing a decent job of limiting quality shots on goal.
HIGH-DANGER SHOT ATTEMPTS AGAINST
The next graph takes a look at the shot attempts against the Capitals defense in the high-danger area. The stat is useful for determining how well a defense is or isn’t doing at preventing the opposing team from penetrating the defense and generating shots at close range.
Some analysts also consider performance in the high-danger area an early indicator of how well a team could perform in the postseason, where there is a higher premium on those types of goals.
The Capitals defense is giving up an average of 11.525 high-danger shot attempts per 60, which is 17th in the league. Once again, very much middle of the pack.
SCORING CHANCES AGAINST
Next we take a look at scoring chances against, again normalized per 60 in order to provide a like comparison to all other teams.
The Capitals are giving up the 11th fewest scoring chances against so far this season, indicating, that while the Capitals are in the middle of the pack with regards to shot attempts against, they are doing a decent job of keeping many attempts to the outer areas of the zone.
EXPECTED GOALS AGAINST
The final graph plots the expected goals against per 60 for each of the 32 teams. [Click to enlarge].
The Capitals, with a 2.527 expected goals against per 60 average, rank 13th in the league and fourth in the Metropolitan Division.
The following is a quick summary and average of the statistics utilized in this very brief assessment. It should be noted that some stats have a heavier real-world value than others (goals against are more valued than takeaways) but for the purposes of this exercise we are taking a straight average of all of the categories.
The Capitals average a ranking of 12.71 across all defensive categories included in this assessment.
CAVEATS AND CONTEXT
It’s worth repeating that offense is a component of defense, which is a component of offense, etc. In simpler jargon, the play and performance of one unit very much affects the other. Key injuries and inconsistent forward performance has certainly had an impact on the Capitals defense so far this season.
With an average of 12th-best defense in the league, the team is not far from being in the top third of the league, which has to be considered playoff-caliber. The absence of John Carlson has also likely affected the Capitals defensive performance over the past 10 games, or roughly 22% of the season.
By Jon Sorensen