Is It Time For Barry Trotz to Tinker With the Third Line?

ward_2

Photo by Amanda Bowen of RRBG Photography

The Caps trio of Brooks Laich, Eric Fehr, and Joel Ward, has remained largely intact since they were put together on December 2nd. Understandably so, as the three players provided a stabilizing presence in the Caps lineup. While it’s not nearly time to sound the panic button, recent trends in both process and results show that it may be time for Barry Trotz to consider more frequently experimenting with different combinations for his third line.

Here’s a look at how the Caps third line fared from December 2nd until the All-Star break, a span of 23 games. All Caps forwards are included for context. (Thanks to War on Ice for the graphics.)

3rdlineprebreak

Fehr, Laich, and Ward faced competition on par with Backstrom and Ovechkin, while facing the toughest zone starts of any forward on the team. Possession-wise, they were strong as well. After adjusting for score effects, only Fehr was a negative possession player, as the Caps were a negligible 0.1% worse in terms of possession when he was on the ice.  Laich and Ward were both positive possession players, and each member of the third line was among the Caps’ top 6 possession forwards during this run.

And then…

3rdlinepostbreak

The Caps third line has been facing easier competition and had slightly easier zone starts, yet their possession numbers are not as strong, particularly Ward and Fehr.

For a different angle, here’s a look at each player’s 10 game rolling, relative, score-adjusted possession numbers.

3rdline

 

This shows that the recent dip in possession could be nothing more than a bad string of games for the line. They’ve had other dips in possession, both when playing together and apart. On the flip side, this also shows that this line shouldn’t be considered largely untouchable when Trotz tinkers with his lines.

All three players have also seen a drop in production during the second segment of games.

image (11)

As J.P has already astutely pointed out, it’s important to note that the line hasn’t seen as much puck luck recently, shown below in their on-ice shooting percentages.

image (12)

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The third line got off to a great start, but both the process and the results have been trending in the wrong direction for the last month. While this may be just a blip on the radar screen, Barry Trotz should not be so steadfast in keeping this trio together, relative to his other line combinations. It wouldn’t hurt to try Fehr in a top-6 wing role or give third line minutes to Tom Wilson or Michael Latta.

Even if juggling the third line proves that the current trio should be put back together, their recent play hasn’t demanded they be kept together. Trotz should use this as an opportunity to try other combinations on the third line.

Three Caps Numbers: Free Burakovsky

bura

Photo by Amanda Bowen of RRBG Photography

Andre Burakovsky has been a healthy scratch for the past three games. A curious decision, considering he had four points in the last three games before being forced to watch from the press box. Here are three more numbers on the Caps rookie forward.

2.1

Burakovsky’s points per 60 minutes of 5v5 ice time, tied for the team lead with Nick Backstrom among the Caps’ 12 forwards who have skated 400+ minutes this season. This ranks 45th among the 299 NHL forwards who have skated 400+ minutes this season.

3.0

Goals for the Caps per 60 minutes of 5v5 play that Burakovsky is on the ice. This is highest on the team, with John Carlson (2.8) and Alex Ovechkin (2.7) rounding out the top three. Of the 299 NHL forwards to have played 400+ minutes this season, this ranks 42nd.

+3.6%

Percentage points by which the Caps share of shot attempts improves with Burakovsky on the ice. Only Alex Ovechkin (+3.9%) improves the team’s possession more of the 12 forwards to have skated 400+ minutes for the team this season.

To review:

  • Burakovsky is tied with Backstrom as the most productive Caps forward at 5v5, per 60 minutes of play
  • The Caps see more goals per 60 minutes of plays with Burakovsky on the ice than any other player on the team.
  • Among the team’s forwards, only Alex Ovechkin improves the Caps’ possession more than Burakovsky.

All stats via War on Ice

Caps vs. Penguins #fancystats (and beyond) recap

The Caps slayed the Penguins 4-0, thus ending a four-game losing streak. Caps goals were scored by Alex Ovechkin (28), Eric Fehr (15), and Mike Green (5). The Penguins had the better of even-strength shot attempts, 52-45.

 

Even-Strength #fancystats

-Niskanen led the Caps with a +4 on-ice shot attempt differential

-Orpik had the worst shot attempt differential at -9

-Niskanen was on the ice for the most Caps shot attempts (20)

-Carlson was on the ice for the most shot attempts against (25)

-Niskanen and Karl Alzner faced the easiest zone starts, starting 50% of shifts in the offensive zone

-Jack Hillen, Green, and Michael Latta faced the toughest zone starts, starting just 25% of shifts in the offensive zone

-Nate Schmidt, possession monster, update: We’ll get back to you in a few weeks. Get well, Nate!

 

Non-Fancy Stuff

-What else makes this win significant? It was the second game of a back-to-back. The Caps have struggled mightily in these situations, but tonight was the exception–and hopefully the beginning of a new rule. (This does not, and should not include, Jay Beagle spending time on the first line in favor of Andre Burakovsky.)

-Some people are calling this game the Caps’ best of the season. Do with that information what you will.

-What’s up with Sidney Crosby? He definitely didn’t look like himself tonight, and the playing-through-injury theory seems plausible.

-No one likes Tim Peel. This was evidenced by Ovechkin’s tragic excuse for a penalty–a holding call on Christian Ehrhoff. As we all know, Caps-Penguins games can get chippy, but the Caps’ PK weathered a storm of penalties tonight.
Thanks to hockeystats.ca for the stats.

A Quick Update

Our posts have been sporadic lately, but we’re still regularly publishing Caps content elsewhere on the web.

Margaret still writes about the Caps for The Hockey Writers.

I’ve been writing regularly for Russian Machine Never Breaks and have contributed to The Washington Post a couple times this season as well.

A good way to keep up with our regular Caps writing elsewhere is to follow each of us on Twitter.

Here’s where you can follow Margaret.

Here’s when you can follow Pat (that’s me).

Here’s where you can follow Mike.

We still plan on creating content here on Brooks Laichyear. But there may be periods where our updates are less frequent than they’ve been this season as we’re busy publishing Caps content elsewhere. Follow us each on Twitter if you want to keep up with our writing on other sites.

 

Caps at Flyers Recap: One Point is Better Than None

The Caps played poorly but still gained a point in overtime, with the Flyers winning by a score of 3-2. Caps goals were scored by Alex Ovechkin (21) and Nicklas Backstrom (13). The Flyers had the better of even-strength shot attemps, 55-47. The chart below shows shot attempts, adjusting for score states. As you can see, the Flyers had the better of shot attempts, when adjusting for score.

chart (7)

Even strength #fancystats

-Niskanen led the Caps with a +8 on-ice shot attempt differential

-Carlson had the worst shot attempt differential at -20

-Niskanen was on the ice for the most Caps shot attempts (21)

-Carlson was on the ice for the most shot attempts against (36)

-Green, Chimera, and Wilson faced the easiest zone starts, starting 100% of shifts in the offensive zone

-Johansson, Brouwer, and Kuznetsov faced the toughest zone starts, starting just 20% of shifts in the offensive zone

-Nate Schmidt, possession monster, update: HE HATH BEEN FREED. Schmidt posted a +5 shot differential and started 75% of his shifts in the offensive zone.

Non-fancy stuff

-Ovi kicked off scoring with a power-play goal, his 21st tally of the season.

-You know who else (almost) scored a goal? Karl Alzner. He and Jay Beagle have set career highs in goals. Do with that information what you will–Pat makes a good argument that Alzner is very tradeable.

-On the flip side, Sean Courtier’s goal was pretty bad for all parties involved, except for Sean Courtier.

-Braden Holtby has made 23 appearances. In a row. This sets a franchise record.

Thanks to hockeystats.ca for the stats.

Caps at Leafs Recap: Too Much Fehr and MoJo

The Caps crushed the Leafs, 6-2. Caps goals were scored by Marcus Johansson (11), Eric Fehr (12), Brooks Laich (5), Johansson again (12), Fehr again (13), Ovechkin (EN, 20).  The Leafs had the better of the even strength shot attempts, 55-44. The chart below shows shot attempts, adjusting for score states. As you can see, the Caps had the better of shot attempts, when adjusting for score.

Even strength, score-adjusted shot attempt chart:

chart (5)

Even strength #fancystats

-Johansson led the Caps with a +6 on-ice shot attempt differential

-Jack Hillen had the worst shot attempt differential at -7

-John Carlson was on the ice for the most Caps shot attempts (21)

-Carlson, Hillen, and Mike Green were on the ice for the most shot attempts against (20)

-Jay Beagle faced the toughest zone starts, starting just 25% of shifts in the offensive zone

-Johansson and Evgeny Kuznetsov faced the easiest zone starts, starting 100% of shifts in the offensive zone

-Nate Schmidt, possession monster, update: The Schmidtuation continues.

Non-fancy stuff

-This was the best game Johansson-Kuznetsov-Brouwer have had as a line.

-Marcus Johansson is a restricted free agent after the season. The Caps shouldn’t trade him, they should sign him.

-Braden Holtby continues to be outstanding for this team. Let’s give him the night off tomorrow, eh?

-Haha, Dion Phaneuf, don’t ever touch Ovechkin again. Remember when the narrative was that Tom Wilson on the first line allowed Ovechkin to feel more comfortable? The only protection Ovechkin needs is Ovechkin.

-Fehr was sniping tonight. How about giving him a try in the slot on PP2 instead of Ward?

 

Caps Preview: Week 14

The Caps rang in 2015 with a Winter Classic victory over the Blackhawks before going on to defeat the Panthers at the Verizon Center. With three games this week, they’ll need to remain sharp if they want to earn points. This time last year, a number of losses derailed their season and prohibited them from another playoff appearance.

This week’s slate of opponents includes the Leafs, Flyers, and Red Wings. The first two games are on the road and back-to-back. The Caps’ 52.2% FenClose is ninth in the NHL, while the Wings’ 52.9% comes in at sixth. Meanwhile, the Flyers and Leafs are in possession hell (46.3% and 45.9% FenClose, respectively.)

mojo

Wednesday 1/7 at TOR

Score-adjusted Corsi: 44.9% (28th)
Power Play: 20.1% (13th)
Penalty Kill: 82.2% (12th)
PDO: 101.5 (3rd)

Despite being a poor team with even worse coaching and management, the Leafs are fourth in the Atlantic with 45 points (21-16-3). Much of this can be attributed to their insanely high PDO, which will rebound soon enough. It’s worth noting that the Leafs’ 5v5 save percentage is .921, good for 18th in the League. However, you can’t pin their woes on Bernier and Reimer: the Leafs’ SA60 (shots allowed per 60 minutes) is 33.1, second only to the Sabres.

The Caps and Leafs met earlier this season–November 29, to be exact. The game ended in a 6-2 loss for the Caps, who outshot the Leafs 37-23. However, the Caps were playing the second half of a back-to-back, and their defensive miscues proved costly. This time around, both teams will have several days of rest, and the Leafs will look at snap a two-game losing streak (3-1 and 5-1 losses to the Wild and Jets, respectively.)

Thursday 1/8 at PHI

Score-adjusted Corsi: 46.9%  (25th)
Power Play: 21.9% (6th)
Penalty Kill: 74.2% (30th)
PDO: 100.0 (20th)

The 2014-15 season is halfway complete, and the Caps haven’t yet faced the Flyers. Thursday, this will be rectified: the Caps visit Wells Fargo Center for the teams’ first meeting of the season. As mentioned above, this game is the Caps’ second in as many days. Averaging 9.4 penalty minutes per game, the Flyers are one of the NHL’s more-penalized teams. Given the bad blood between the two teams, it wouldn’t be shocking to see a few gloves dropped. The Caps should strive to play a disciplined game, despite their playing two games in a row–at sixth overall, the Flyers’ power play is quite potent.

The same can’t be said of their penalty kill, which is a League-worst 74.2%. As a result, drawing penalties is critical for the Caps. While their power play has struggled as of late–if dropping to third overall can be called struggling–playing against the League’s worst PK is a good opportunity to revitalize it and establish the largest lead possible.

The Flyers are in the midst of a five-game losing streak, during which they’ve been outscored by a terrifying margin of 19-9. They have two elite offensive talents in Jakub Voracek and Claude Giroux, whose goal totals (15 and 13 respectively) account for 26.4% of the Flyers’ 106 goals tallied, thus far. Before facing the Caps, they’ll look to turn things around against the Ottawa Senators Tuesday night.

Saturday 1/10 at DET

Score-adjusted Corsi: 54% (4th)
Power Play: 23.1% (4th)
Penalty Kill: 86.9% (4th)
PDO: 98.3 (27th)

Four seems to be a common number among the Red Wings’ rankings in certain areas of their play. Their score-adjusted Corsi, power play, and penalty kill are all fourth-best in the NHL, while their PDO is fourth-worst. The Red Wings haven’t been a victim of bad goaltending, either.

Jimmy Howard has posted a .921 SV% and 2.08 GAA, while Petr Mrazek (.917 SV%, 2.35 GAA) and Jonas Gustavsson (.908 SV% and 2.30 GAA) have been serviceable backups. The Red Wings’ low PDO lies in their ridiculously shooting percentage (6.40%, second-worst in the NHL.)

If these numbers tell us anything, it’s that this game will be the Caps’ most difficult–by far. The Red Wings’ usual offensive talents will be in full force, from points leaders Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk to Johan Franzen and Darren Helm. Stats don’t lie, and the Red Wings prove this: they’re poised to continue their epic playoff appearance streak with 49 points and a 20-10-9 record, good for third in the Atlantic. (Note: at the time of writing, the Caps have 47 points.)

All stats courtesy of stats.hockeyanalysis.com.

Caps vs. Panthers Recap: First Line Burakovsky

The Caps beat the Panthers, 4-3. Goals were scored by Alex Ovechkin (PP, 19), Brooks Laich (4), Karl Alzner (3), and first liner Andre Burakovsky (5).

The Caps had the better of the even strength shot attempt battle, 52-41

Even strength shot attempt chart:

chart (4)

Even Strength #fancystats

-Matt Niskanen led the Caps with a +13 on-ice shot attempt differential

-Brooks Orpik had the worst shot attempt differential at -8

-Niskanen was on the ice for the most Caps shot attempts (24)

-Orpik was on the ice for the most shot attempts against (23)

-Troy Brouwer faced the toughest zone starts, starting just 25% of shifts in the offensive zone

-Jack Hillen faced the easiest zone starts, starting 88% of shifts in the offensive zone

-Nate Schmidt, possession monster, update: Scratched. Again. Over on Russian Machine, Peter has coined this the “Schmidtuation.” I suggest we all incorporate this into our vernacular.

Non-fancy stuff

-The Panthers probably aren’t thrilled that their star goalie got clobbered and left the game after two periods.  But really there wasn’t much Ovechkin could have done to avoid the collision. And the Caps’ Captain was, of course, a good dude following the incident.

-Burakovsky and Evgeny Kuznetsov both in the lineup with neither buried on the fourth line? More of this, please.

-Burakovsky, thanks to a late Panthers goal, is credited with the game winning goal. More meaningless stats, GWG or goalie wins?

-Following a Winter Classic that had suspect officiating all around, the Panthers sure did draw some questionable calls. Granted, this is easy for me to say with the benefit of instant replay while sitting on my couch.

-Who is this guy wearing number 83 for the Caps? He had both a slick spin-o-rama and a nice toe drag today.

-Big win for the Caps against a team who could have drawn even with them in the standings today. Denied. Next up, the Caps visit Toronto on Wednesday night.

All stats from hockeystats.ca

Three Caps Numbers: Braden Holtby and First Line Beagle

Holts_9

Photo by Amanda Bowen of RRBG Photography

94.35%

Braden Holtby’s 5v5 save% for the month of December. This ranks 5th among the 28 goalies who played 300+ minutes during the final month of 2014. Also impressive is that Holtby was a perfect 28 for 28 on 5v5 shots when the Caps were trailing by a goal during December.

 37.1%

The percentage of 5v5 shot attempts that go in the Caps favor in 2014-15 when Jay Beagle and Nick Backstrom are on the ice together. This is in 53:16 of ice time together. Of the sixteen Caps skaters Backstrom has skated 10+ minutes with so far this season, Marcus Johansson (48.6%) is the only other teammate who sees a shot attempt% below 50% when on the ice with the Caps number one center.

41.7%

The percentage of 5v5 shot attempts that go in the Caps favor since 2012 in the 158:34 that Beagle and Alex Ovechkin have skated together. Ovechkin has skated 16+ minutes with thirty-four different skaters since 2012 and only sees a lower share of shot attempts when he’s on the ice with Aaron Volpatti (26.9% in 28:31).

Thankfully, it appears the end may be near for First Line Beagle:

All stats from War on Ice and Hockey Analysis 

 

Caps vs. Blackhawks Recap: Winter Classic Style

The Caps beat the Blackhawks, 3-2. Despite the disappointment of no alumni game and the deserved snark over the musical guests, the Winter Classic was a total home run. From the F-16 pregame flyover to Braden Holtby’s last second save the preserve the win, this was a great day.

The Caps had the edge in even strength shot attempts, 52-47.

Even strength shot attempt chart:

chart (3)

Even Strength #fancystats

-Nick Backstrom led the Caps with a +12 on-ice shot attempt differential

-Joel Ward had the worst shot attempt differential at -9

-Backstrom was on the ice for the most Caps shot attempts (24)

-Ward was on the ice for the most shot attempts against (21)

-Eric Fehr faced the toughest zone starts, starting just 25% of shifts in the offensive zone

-Tom Wilson and Michael Latta faced the easiest zone starts, starting 83% of shifts in the offensive zone

-First line Beagle was a +7 in on-ice shot attempts.

-Nate Schmidt, possession monster, update:

i cant even

Non-Fancy Stuff

A quick tweet recap on the national media’s current narratives surrounding this Caps team and a certain superstar

-Jonathan Toews sure did give it to the refs about the hooking penalty called on him that led to the game winning goal. It was a weak call that resulted in the game winning goal with twelve seconds to go, so it’s understandable that he was upset. But there was one team that more consistently got the short end of the stick from officials today and it wasn’t the Blackhawks.

-That Holtby save in the final second is worth mentioning again. It’s also worth continuing to point out that Holtby continues to be outstanding.

-John Carlson had a rough day, despite being +1 in even strength shot attempts. He had multiple miscues in the second period, including one that ended up in the back of the net behind Holtby.

-Eric Fehr is a good hockey player. Outdoor Eric Fehr is a superstar.

-The Caps have picked up five points in their last three games, all against top teams in the league. Not too shabby.

-All stats courtesy of hockeystats.ca

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