An Analytical Retrospective Of The Capitals’ 2022-23 Season

Now that the 2022-23 season has finally concluded, both the team and the fans of the Capitals hold the same reaction to the performance this season: disappointment. The Capitals, the coaching staff, and front office all expected to be back in the playoff hunt this season, looking to extend their playoff clinching streak to nine seasons.

Instead, they were met with the eighth best odds to win the draft lottery this summer. That eight year post-season streak has come to an end, and the Caps are missing the playoffs for just the second time since 2008.

The Capitals finished the 2022-23 season 13th in the Eastern Conference and 25th in the NHL standings, with a final (sub-par) record of 35-37-10. That record is the worst the Caps have posted in a full 82 game season since the 2006-07 season when they went 28-40-14.

In this post, we’re going to take a look at the team-level statistics for the Capitals, mainly focusing on five-on-five play, and evaluating where this season’s performance went wrong.

The statistics used in this post are courtesy of Natural Stat Trick, Hockey Reference, Evolving-Hockey, and HockeyViz. If you’d like to learn more about the statistical terms used in this post, please check out our NHL Analytics Glossary.

Underlying possession and scoring metrics (5v5)

In order to tell the story of this season, I wanted to look at the Caps’ performance in key underlying statistics over the course of the season by month: [Click to enlarge]

The performance in December really sticks out among the rest of the months. The Caps went 11-2-2 that month and dominated the goal production (GF%) during five-on-five play, especially capitalizing on high-danger goals for (HDGF%). The December performance was a tale of what this team could be, but by all appearances, that month was a complete aberration from the season-long performance we observed from the Caps this season.

The interesting part is that the Capitals followed up their inspiring December effort with a valiant performance in shot generation and possession-based metrics. The Caps saw an increase in Corsi For percentage (CF%) and Fenwick For percentage (FF%) from December to January, but there’s a woeful piece that submarines the momentum gained in shot generation: their GF% versus their expected goals for percentage (xGF%). That GF% dropped from an utterly dominant 62.71% to a paltry 45.31%. Overall, we didn’t see a vast deviation in xGF% from December to January, just a slight decrease from 54.8% to 52.14%.

Following December, the Caps posted a paltry 44.41 GF% with a corresponding 47.75 xGF%. When your xGF% falls below 50%, you’re not generating or stifling quality scoring chances for or against. And with a GF% as low as 44.41%, you’re not finding the back of the net on the quality chances you do generate.

Here’s the Capitals’ team rate-adjusted plus-minus (RAPM) this season:

Overall, this is a performance indicative of the quality of the roster this season. The only area where the Capitals had success this season was on the penalty kill, finishing the season just outside the top 10 in overall effectiveness. The power play ended up 16th in the NHL at 21.2%.

During even-strength, the Caps results above are completely mediocre. They struggled defensively, posting below league average results in goals against per sixty (GA/60), expected goals against per sixty (xGA/60), and Corsi shot attempts allowed per sixty (CA/60). On the other hand, the Caps were just above league average offensively in GF/60 and CF/60.

Here’s some additional context for the Caps performance during five-on-five play on the offensive end this season:

Overall, this is a pretty woeful shot chart. The lack of finishing can be explained by the lack of shots attempted in the mid-slot area of the ice, which is one of the most dangerous areas for opposing defenses to allow shots from.

When the highest quantity of your shots during five-on-five play comes from just below the top of the left circle (we all know who’s generating those shots), you’re not going to have a lot of success scoring.

Here’s the Caps defensive performance during five-on-five:

The good news is that the Caps were pretty effective in reducing the amount of shot attempts from the low slot in comparison to the league average. They were also effective in allowing more of their shot attempts against in rather low-danger areas near the boards, but the concentration of shots in the high slot and in the low area to the left of the goaltender are concerning. The concentration of shots are indicative of teams taking advantage of missed assignments or over-extension defensively.

Here’s how the Capitals’ goaltenders fared in saving shots by location:

The Caps goaltending duo of Darcy Kuemper and Charlie Lindgren both had strong stretches of play throughout the season. Kuemper finished with a goals saved above expected (GSAx) of 13.43 in all situations, while Lindgren finished with a GSAx of -3.6. This indicates that Kuemper was more effective in saving more goals than expected, where Lindgren struggled. This is why the Caps have allowed more goals than were expected.

A lack of finish

Back in early March, I wrote about the Capitals’ woeful marks in finishing rate, and how that negatively impacted their performance this season. About a month and a half later, we can surely state that the Capitals’ lack of finishing really tells the story about why the Capitals had immense struggles this season.

Here’s a chart that shows the Capitals expected goals differential (xG differential), which takes goals for per sixty minutes (GF/60) minus expected goals for per sixty minutes (xGF/60) compared to their points percentage in a given month:

When we see a dip in xG differential, we see a corresponding dip in points percentage. In cases where we see the lowest xG differential, we see the lowest performance in points percentage. This correlation indicates that finishing rate (by measurement of xG differential) has on points percentage is statistically significant.

When we look at the Caps’ finishing by location on the ice (at all situations), we can observe a glaring problem:

There’s a complete lack of finishing from the right side of the ice. On top of that, when you struggle to have your goal scoring totals to outpace your expected goal scoring rate during all situations (which includes the power play), you’re likely going to struggle in the standings.

To contrast the Caps performance in finishing this season, here’s a comparison to the Boston Bruins’ finishing this season:

Their actual goal scoring outpaces their expected goal scoring considerably, and they were able to score more goals from more areas of the ice than the Capitals were. Obviously, the Bruins are a better and deeper team than the Caps were this season, but the key to success in the standings is scoring more goals than were expected.

Where do the Caps go from here?

It’s clear that there needs to be a bit of a roster overhaul, and that appears to be Brian MacLellan’s plan this off-season. A retool on the fly is a bit risky, but with the Caps’ assurances to Alex Ovechkin to ice a competitive team around him during his final years in the league, it’s the only real option moving forward until the Ovechkin Era ends.

It’s abundantly clear that the Capitals need another scoring forward to take some of the goal scoring pressure off of Ovechkin’s shoulders. A proven scorer on the younger side is going to cost the Caps some prospect and draft pick capital. Ultimately, you have to pay a price one way or another to increase the Capitals’ finishing capabilities for next season.

On top of that, I’d consider another top-four quality left-shot defenseman as another potential target area this summer. The ideal candidate would be a more fleet-footed, defensively capable defenseman that would complement John Carlson. With another top four quality defenseman added to the roster, the Caps could roll three rather effective pairings.

Overall, expect a lot of exploration and transactions from the Caps this summer. The potential impact of trading prospects currently in the prospect pipeline will be softened by the Caps owning the 8th best odds to the number one overall pick this summer. At this point, if you can move a prospect (or two) in a package that nets you a young NHL quality player that can have immediate impact on the roster, it’s probably a move you make.

By Justin Trudel

About Justin Trudel

Justin is a lifelong Caps fan, with some of his first memories of the sport watching the team in the USAir Arena and the 1998 Stanley Cup appearance. Now a resident of St. Augustine, FL, Justin watches the Caps from afar. Justin graduated with a Bachelor's of Science in Political Science from Towson University, and a Master's of Science in Applied Information Technology from Towson University. Justin is currently a product manager. Justin enjoys geeking out over advanced analytics, roster construction, and cap management.
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4 Responses to An Analytical Retrospective Of The Capitals’ 2022-23 Season

  1. franky619 says:

    You know I always tought Ekholm would have been a great fit and a great mentor for the younger players. He’s 32 but since the plan is to maximize Ovy’s last year he would have been a great addition. Too late now but he sure did stabilized that defense in Edmonton. What’s your thought on that Justin?

    • I really like Ekholm and his game. I think a player of his mold would make a ton of sense, but I think the fact that he is 32 (and had a $6.25M cap hit for the next three seasons after this) made him probably not the best choice to acquire, just from a cap management standpoint.

      This is why I thought it made a ton of sense when the Caps popped up as potential suitors for Jakob Chychrun. He made Shayne Gostisbehere play much better, and could help stabilize Carlson a bit.

      Alas, both are taken, but there are other potential players out there that would improve the Caps defensive group.

      • franky619 says:

        Thanks for taking the time to answer. I’m always looking forward to read your articles. Very interesting.

  2. Jon Sorensen says:

    Greetings folks! Just a quick note, if you haven’t done so already, please consider subscribing to NoVa Caps posts in the “subscribe” box located in the upper right corner. Thank you!

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