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Posted at 09:23 AM ET, 08/31/2011

Statistical analysis: Why Ovechkin, Backstrom and Semin need more offensive-zone starts

Capitals General Manager George McPhee made some radical changes this summer to a team that was atop the Eastern Conference standings over the past two years.

But despite Washington's new look and feel, the strength of the franchise still rests on the shoulders of the Young Guns: Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, Mike Green and Alexander Semin. Those four combined for 370 points in 2009-10 but barely broke 200 points as a group last season.

One way to help them along is to give them a steady dose of offensive-zone starts this season.

An offensive-zone start occurs when a player is on the ice for an offensive-zone faceoff. The best way to look at an offensive-zone start’s value is to measure how much it correlates to scoring during even strength. (For a more detailed explanation of the correlation, click here.)

Specifically, here’s what we’re looking at: Do players who get more starts in the offensive zone score more even-strength points?

The chart above plots offensive-zone starts and even-strength points of forwards playing more than 40 games per year over the past three seasons, with the red line — representing the average of the results — showing that the more offensive zone starts a player gets, the more points he ends up with.

A fancystats geek statistician might use the R-squared value to say that offensive-zone starts explain 70.3 percent of the variation in even-strength points scored. That is true if you care about the sums of the squares of the differences — and if you do, you’re probably in the minority.

In English, it means that an extra offensive start per game could lead to 9-10 more points scored over the course of an 82-game season. That makes sense, as it's a lot easier to put the puck in the net when starting from only 45 feet away than it is when starting in your own end.

Washington's triumvirate of Ovechkin, Backstrom and Semin has seen three straight seasons of decreasing starts in the offensive zone despite consistent games-played totals of 223, 227 and 221 over the same time span.

The re-signing of Brooks Laich, the team's best two-way forward, gives the Capitals a third-line pivot who, along with Jeff Halpern, can help take the defensive-zone pressures off the big three. Doing so puts the team's best players in the best position to score.

Lining up Laich as the third-line center also allows the Capitals' other Swedish pivot, Marcus Johansson, to continue his development.
Johansson put up boxcar stats of 7G/8A/15P/+7 after the All-Star break, and a healthy dose of offensive zone starts playing alongside Semin on the second line could help the former first-round pick bring his game to the next level.

Earlier this month, Bruce Boudreau talked about how much he loves offensive-minded hockey. "You have to score to win,” the coach explained.

You also have to put your best players in a position to score.

Neil Greenberg will answer reader-submitted questions for a new mailbag feature. Wonder which Capital to choose for your fantasy team, or which line Jason Chimera should play on? Ask away.

By Neil Greenberg  |  09:23 AM ET, 08/31/2011

Categories:  Statistical analysis

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