Even-strength play key to a deep playoff run for Caps

October 7, 2013

Washington’s power play has picked up where it left off last season, converting on six of its 12 opportunities so far, with Alex Ovechkin leading the way with three goals and two assists.

But are the Capitals relying too much on the power play? Not yet. Since 1993-94, teams have advanced through the playoffs despite their power-play units scoring a large percentage of their goals.


The 2005-06 Buffalo Sabres made it to the conference finals by tallying 35.9 percent of their goals on the power play with a unit that ranked third that year (21.2 percent efficiency). The Anaheim Ducks won the Stanley Cup the following year with 34.5 percent of their goals scored with the extra man. As good as Washington’s power play was last season, it only accounted for 29.5 percent of their goals, illustrating that they are not quite yet the one-trick pony of past Cup contenders. However, the team recognizes that its play at even-strength must improve, especially to have any hopes of a deep run in the postseason.

Ignoring special-teams play and lead-protecting situations, Washington has taken just 43.2 percent of the shot attempts (Fenwick Close percentage) so far this season, fifth worst in the NHL and lower than any Capitals team of the past six years.

Season

Washington’s Playoff Result

Fenwick Close %

2007-08

Lost NHL Conference Quarterfinals

55.5

2008-09

Lost NHL Conference Semifinals

54.4

2009-10

Lost NHL Conference Quarterfinals

51.3

2010-11

Lost NHL Conference Semifinals

50.2

2011-12

Lost NHL Conference Semifinals

49.7

2012-13

Lost NHL Conference Quarterfinals

47.7

2013-14

???

43.2

How a team does in these situations is worth monitoring. Since this data has been available (2007-08), teams that have done better in the regular season go further in the playoffs, with 50.1 percent being the worst Fenwick Close percentage recorded for a Cup winning team over that span.


One quick fix? Give Ovechkin more starts in the offensive zone. Coach Adam Oates has started Ovechkin’s line during neutral zone faceoffs more than half the time in these past three games. Last season, Ovechkin’s line generated the first shot attempt on just 47.7 percent on those shifts that started with a neutral zone faceoff, but close to 72 percent when given an offensive zone deployment.

More offensive zone opportunities for Ovechkin could tilt the ice enough to cure Washington’s woes at even-strength and possibly avoid another early postseason exit.

 

greenberg
Neil Greenberg, when he isn’t watching the games, analyzes advanced statistics in the NHL and prefers to be called a geek rather than a nerd. Follow him on Twitter: @ngreenberg.

Neil Greenberg analyzes advanced sports statistics for the Fancy Stats blog and prefers to be called a geek rather than a nerd.
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