Nicklas Backstrom is among the league leaders in assists (15) and points (20). Jason Chimera has almost as many goals scored (6) as superstar Alex Ovechkin (7), and as many as Mike Green (3) and Alexander Semin (3) combined. Marcus Johansson already has half as many goals as he did last year in only 14 games.
The most important thing to remember about this team’s performance through 15 games is that…it’s through 15 games. That may be close to a full NFL season, but it’s just a month and a half’s worth of an NHL season — and most of these performances will be unsustainable.
Let’s first look at their record, which is winning points at a 70 percent clip, best in the NHL. One of the most reliable indicators of team performance is how it does when the score is tied at even strength. Last season through 15 games, the Capitals weren’t able to drive play at even strength with the score tied, and they ended up going 7-5-3 through their next 15, which was also the start of an eight-game losing streak.
|Year||Record||Record over next 15 games||SC%||Convert%||Sv%|
This year, the underlying numbers are even worse. The Capitals are converting fewer chances (Convert%) and the goaltending (Sv%) has been ghastly at times. If they don’t figure out how to manage puck possession better (SC%), a losing skid and/or blowout(s) could happen sooner rather than later.
The penalty kill has looked average this season, currently sitting in the middle of the pack with an 82.5 percent efficiency rate. But it is not as bad as it looks.
Through 15 games the penalty kill has given up fewer chances against (SCA/SH opp) but has seen worse goaltending. Overall, last year’s penalty kill (second best in the league at 85.6 percent) gave up .80 chances against per short-handed opportunity, but had a superb .828 save percentage from the netminders. If Tomas Vokoun and Michal Neuvirth can become more reliable in goal, the penalty kill will improve over last year’s results.
The power play, on the other hand, could be headed for a fall. The Capitals are generating fewer chances per opportunity but converting on a higher percentage of them, giving the illusion that the unit is worthy of being among the league’s best. We can expect that conversion rate to fall more in line with the league average of 15 percent over the longterm, so if the Capitals don’t start getting more shots on net, disappointing results will follow.
As for the individual performances: Some of them will endure, some will get better and some will just not continue. The easiest way to tell which will be which is by using an advanced stat known as PDO.
PDO is the summation of on-ice shooting percentage and on-ice save percentage during five-on-five hockey. For example, last season the Capitals shot 10.7 percent and their goalies had a save percentage of 93.6 percent when Semin was on the ice at even strength. 10.7 + 93.6 = 104.4, which is referred to as a PDO of 1044.
What makes PDO predictive is twofold:
• It is typically unsustainable. Few players can consistently generate
• PDO values at the extremes.
It regresses to a central value of 1000, both up and down, because luck tends to even out over the course of a season.
Incidentally, Semin was in the top 10 last year in PDO among forwards playing more than 40 games, so it is no wonder he is struggling to find the net this year.
Some takeaways from the chart above:
• Expect Mathieu Perreault's offensive production to start to slow down. The team is shooting 16.7 percent with him on the ice and he has a personal shooting percentage of 37.5 percent. Neither will continue and the 40-point pace he is on will evaporate rather quickly.
• Roman Hamrlik is not as bad as people think. The netminders are saving just .893 of shots at even strength with him on the ice – lowest among the team’s blueliners. The team also sees more five-on-five chances in their favor with Hamrlik on the ice than when he isn’t.
• Backstrom could actually improve. His point-per-game pace is largely fueled through the power play (11 of his 20 points have come during the man advantage), but the team is shooting just 6.4 percent with him on the ice at even strength, which means we can expect more production when five-aside over the next few games.
• Ovechkin is seeing no puck luck. The team is shooting a mere 6 percent with him on the ice and the goalies are saving a league-average .918 of even-strength shots. Yes, he is seeing less time on ice this season, but the team has kept shots-for per 60 minutes steady at 31 and Boudreau is using him in the offensive zone more than last year. If you can somehow trade for him in your fantasy pool for cheap, now is the time to do so.
Follow Neil on Twitter: @ngreenberg