The Washington Post

Don’t panic (yet) about the Caps

It gets better than this. (Sean Kilpatrick/AP Photo)


STATISTICAL ANALYSIS | Underwhelming would probably be the most accurate way to describe the Capitals through six games so far, but at least in Tuesday night’s 3-2 loss to the Ottawa Senators, they managed to make it competitive.

Not much has gone Washington’s way. Players are still getting used to the system new head coach Adam Oates has installed. The Alex Ovechkin Experiment on right wing started, then stopped, and may or may not start up again. John Carlson appears to be on the ice for almost every goal-for. Unfortunately, he is also on for almost every goal-against, too.

Then there are special teams. The 1-3-1 power play has scored four goals on 25 opportunities and opponents have scored on nine of their 30 opportunities with the man advantage against the Caps. Their power-play (16 percent) and penalty-kill percentages (70 percent) rank 22nd and 25th, respectively.

Then we have the intangibles. There doesn’t appear to be much chemistry between Ovechkin, Joey Crabb and Jay Beagle, despite that being the top line.  The level of effort has been poor at times and the penalties have stacked up against them.

Looking at it that way, it is easy to see a 1-4-1 record in a 48-game shortened season and be tempted to panic. But don’t, because it will all turn around.

Washington has managed to steer more than 51 percent of even-strength shots at net (goals, saved and missed) when the score is tied in their favor, good for 10th best in the league. The conversion on those shots, however, has been dismal, with just 5.7 percent of those on net going in. League average is closer to nine percent, so expect to see some puck luck swing back in the Capitals’ favor.

On the defensive side, there hasn’t been much to celebrate. The young netminders, once seen as a strong point of this club, have an even-strength save percentage of just .900, making it difficult to seize a lead or generate any sort of momentum. Last season they were at .918 and .926 the year before that, indicating improvement between the pipes on the horizon as well.

So when we look at PDO, a proxy of a team’s overall puck luck calculated by adding even-strength shooting percentage plus save percentage, we see evidence that things should turn around. The team has a PDO of 957, tied for worst in the league with the Edmonton Oilers. That should gravitate back to at least the league average of 1000, bringing the team’s performance along with it.

The same goes for individuals. Coming into this season, Ovechkin has a career individual shooting percentage of almost 12 percent. So far he is 1 for 19 (5.2 percent). Even skating at even-strength with Crabb and Beagle shouldn’t damper his own individual shooting talent to that degree.

Mike Green is another player who should start to see an uptick in production. Last season, when healthy, he and his linemates converted shots at a 9.9 percent clip. This year it is just a little over three percent. Same with Troy Brouwer, who was on the ice for zero percent shooting at even-strength up until last night’s tally, a far cry from the 8.4 percent he enjoyed last season.

So yes, having only garnered three points and sitting in second to last place in the Eastern Conference six games into a shortened season is not a rosy picture, but have a little more patience, because improvement is just around the corner.

Follow Neil 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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