Category Archives: NHL
Photo by Amanda Bowen of RRBG Photography
The Caps chose to spend the majority of their offseason cap space on defense. This meant that Mikhail Grabovski’s time in D.C. was over after just one season. Despite an ankle injury that limited him to 58 games, Grabovski had a successful campaign in a Caps’ uniform.
The Caps saw 4% more of total shot attempts with Grabovski on the ice than when he was on the bench, top among all forwards on the 2013-14 team. His 1.8 points per 60 minutes of 5v5 ice time was third among all qualifying Caps forwards. That being said, when it comes to Grabovski as a Caps player, it’s far past time to let it go.
But, with the Caps traveling to pay Grabovski and the Islanders a visit on Monday night, let’s take a quick look at how Jeremy Roenick’s favorite player is doing this season.
Grabovski has 5 goals and 7 assist in 32 games so far this season, which isn’t terrible, but is fairly pedestrian. However, as I mentioned in the week preview, he is leading all Islanders forwards in possession, with a 55.3% shot attempt%.
Part of the reason Grabovski’s production is a bit below where we’d expect it is because he has zero points on the power play this season. A closer look shows that the Islanders are shooting an absurdly low 3% on the PP when Grabovski is on the ice this season. So, in other words, Grabovski is getting the Alex Ovechkin treatment in terms of on-ice shooting% while the Islanders are up a man.
Another possible factor in his so-so production is that Grabovski starts 11.7% more shifts in the defensive zone than his average teammate, which is tops on the Islanders. So, he’s their best possession player while also being given the toughest relative zone starts. Not too shabby.
It’s pretty tempting to finish this post up by talking about money that the Caps spent on a certain defender that they could have spent on Grabovski. Temptation resisted. Grabovski was a joy to watch play for the Caps last season. It’s great to see that he’s doing well with the Islanders.
Stats from War on Ice
Photo by Amanda Bowen of RRBG Photography
Yesterday, prompted by rumors that the Caps are actively looking to make a trade, I looked at two players they’ll likely be asked about but shouldn’t trade. Today, I’ll look at two players the Caps should be looking to use as trade chips if they are actually in active trade discussion with other teams.
In previous season, Alzner was often asked to play the role of a “shutdown” D, a role that some would say excuses the Caps consistently getting a lower percentage of shot attempts with Alzner on the ice relative to when he’s off. There’s some merit to that, but it’s a murky issue. For example, quality of competition is often overstated as a factor in puck possession.
So, other than saying I don’t think there’s anything in Alzner’s track record that refutes he’s expendable to this team, I’ll leave last season alone and look at this season.
Alzner is getting easier assignments this season. He’s starting 51.54% of his shifts in the offensive zone, the easiest zone starts of his career. In his defense, they are the second toughest among Caps D. He’s also facing the second easiest competition of his career, second only to 2009-10, and only 4th toughest among current Caps D.
Yet, the Caps still see a better percentage of shot attempts with Alzner on the bench than with him on the ice. But, since he is considered more of a defensive player, it might be more fair to measure his performance in how well he suppresses opponents shots. Here are opponent shots attempts per 60 minutes of ice time for Caps defenders this season.
Alzner does okay in terms of shot suppression, ranking 4th.
At 26 years old and in his seventh NHL season, I think it’s fair to say Alzner has not become the player he was projected to be when the Caps took him fifth overall in 2007. Don’t get me wrong, Alzner is an NHL-caliber defenseman whose contract is a pretty good value ($2.8 million cap hit through 2016-17). But Caps have some depth on the blue line and other teams will likely be interested in him. So, trading Alzner, who is good but expendable, makes sense.
One thing I forgot to include when publishing this is that Alzner has a full no trade clause, so he’d have to approve any deal.
Apologies to the Brouwer Rangers.
Much like Alzner, I think Brouwer is a good player, which is what gives him trade value. But, also like Alzner, I think he’s expendable.
Brouwer’s 1.50 points per 60 minutes of play this season ranks 168th out of 317 NHL forwards who have played 200+ minutes this season. The Caps see 1.37% less of the total shot attempts when Brouwer is on the ice relative to when he’s off.
While some of the sample sizes are small, all of the players he’s most likely to be skating with on the second line are all better possession players playing without Brouwer rather than with him, which you can see in the chart below.
But my point isn’t to drag Brouwer down. I think he’s a decent second line winger. But the Caps have two options, Eric Fehr and Andre Burakovsky, who can’t currently crack the Caps top-6 that could play just as well, if not better than Brouwer. Given that he’s expendable, but likely has trade value, the Caps would be wise to try and get Brouwer’s $3.66 million cap hit (through 2015-16) off the books.
None of this is meant as a knock on Alzner or Brouwer. In fact, in some ways I’m being complementary of them by saying they have trade value, whereas many of their teammates, for one reason or another, don’t. While they are serviceable (or better) in their current roles, Brian MacLellan should consider both players expendable if he’s looking to make a trade.
Early in the season, goaltending was a major issue for the Caps. But over a quarter of the season is complete, and we’re still not seeing the numbers we need from backup Justin Peters. A former Carolina Hurricane with solid numbers, Peters was signed in the offseason to back up Holtby, who was deemed the Caps’ official starter. Last season was something of a trainwreck from the goaltending perspective, with four goaltenders having suited up by season’s end. Two are no longer with the organization (Neuvirth and Halak), while Holtby was finally handed the reins and Grubauer was relegated, after much speculation, to the starting job in Hershey.
25 games are in the books, and the Caps have a 11-10-4 record (26 points and fourth in the Metro.) Peters has seven games to his name, a .872 save percentage, and a 3.28 GAA. Of the seven games he’s appeared in, he’s allowed a minimum of three goals in all but one of them–and six of his appearances were as the team’s starter. Even with vaunted goalie coach Mitch Korn working behind the scenes, the Caps ought to at least consider moving Peters. With this mentality (and the current needs of other teams) in mind, I’ve examined two potential backups–both currently playing in the NHL–and what it would take for the Caps to obtain them.
Thomas Greiss, Pittsburgh Penguins
Before I make the case for Greiss, let me establish that it’s highly unlikely the Caps and Pens would swap players. There’s the whole division rival thing, for starters… But it shouldn’t detract from Greiss’ play and why he could benefit the Caps.
Greiss has played in 75 NHL games to date, with 30 wins and 26 losses. He’s posted a .916 save percentage and 2.44 GAA. He began the season as expected in Pittsburgh, after beating out Wilkes-Barre/Scranton’s Jeff Zatkoff for the backup job. Yet Zatkoff’s call-up and continuing strong play present the Penguins with a dilemma.
The Pens find themselves in an unusual situation–balancing three goaltenders–and it’s one the Caps are all too familiar with. Last season, the trio of Holtby-Neuvirth-Grubauer was something of a blessing and a curse. Having three competent, healthy goalies was great until rotating the three into practice drills became a detriment. Limited playing time was another concern, and Adam Oates made his preferences clear, typically favoring Grubauer over the more-experienced Neuvirth. While Grubauer wasn’t ready for an NHL backup job at that point in time, the same can’t be said for the present. His numbers are stronger than ever: in 31 games, he’s posted a .926 save percentage and 2.05 GAA.
Marc-Andre Fleury is the Pens’ obvious starter. He was signed to a long-term extension earlier in the season, while Zatkoff is locked up until the end of next season. Greiss, on the other hand, is a UFA at this season’s end. The Penguins have a number of strong goaltending prospects to replenish the pipe, and Zatkoff’s play demonstrates that he can be an effective backup for Fleury. With Greiss’ contract set to expire shortly, the Caps can bring up Grubauer as Holtby’s full-time backup. Some cap maneuvering may be required, but nothing particularly troublesome.
While Greiss’ time in DC would likely be minimal, working with Korn could be a boon for player and team alike. In commenting on the Peters signing, MacLellan noted that Peters was a player entering his prime and felt he could vastly improve his play with Korn’s help. It’s worth nothing that Peters and Greiss are the same age: 28. And Grubauer is 23.
Jake Allen, St. Louis Blues
Brian Elliott and Jake Allen entered the season as the only relevant pieces of the Blues’ goaltending tandem. The Ryan Miller Experiment was a thing of the past, and the rookie Allen would back up Elliott. All seemed well, particularly with the Blues overtaking much of the uber-competitive Central Division.
Then Elliott was injured, and the Blues felt pressure to obtain a true starting goaltender–or at least one who could share the workload–in his absence. Enter Martin Brodeur, who refused to retire after his longtime Devils did not offer him a contract. His numbers have long been in decline, but the Blues brought him in on a tryout agreement before inking him to a one-year deal.
Brodeur has made clear that he doesn’t mind playing second fiddle, so long as he’s playing for a contender. The Blues certainly fall into this category, and if Brodeur has a successful outing during Elliott’s absence, they might look to deal Allen. (Do I think this is wise on their part? No, but it could benefit the Caps.) Ken Hitchcock implied that the signing wasn’t only to provide stability on an as-needed basis. In fact, Brodeur could see playing time comparable to that of a starter’s.
Let’s say the Blues are willing to make a deal. In Allen, the Caps receive a young goaltender with limited NHL experience but plenty of promise. He wouldn’t be a long-term solution to the backup problem in DC, unless the Caps were willing to deal Grubauer. And what the Blues would ask for in return is a bit dicey–they know they’re giving up a good young goaltender in Allen, and with the ever-relevant question of Is this finally our year? hanging in the air, caution is critical.
But even with short-term goals in mind, the Blues must also be wary of their future. Hockey’s Future notes their weak crop of defenseman prospects–a position the Caps’ system is practically overflowing with. At the NHL level, who knows? The Caps could trade Mike Green (though they shouldn’t). The specifics of this hypothetical deal are murky, but it’s an intriguing idea for both parties.
In October 2014, Alex Ovechkin took home the Caps advanced stats Player of the Month award.
For this month, I’ve changed up the categories a little bit. Here are the categories
1) Relative shot attempts-The amount of shot attempts in the Caps favor when a player is on the ice vs. when he’s off the ice. The higher the number, the better
2) SA For/60-Caps shot attempts for per 60 minutes of ice time for an individual player. The higher the number, the better.
3) SA Against/60-Opponent shot attempts per 60 minutes of ice time for an individual player. The lower the number the better.
4) Zone starts-The percentage of shifts a player starts in the offensive zone. The lower the number, the “tougher” the minutes a player is being assigned.
5) Quality of Competition-The quality of competition a player is skating against, measured by TOI of his opponents.
Scoring System: For categories 1, 4, and 5, the player in first place will get 5 points, second place-4, down to 5th place getting 1. For categories 2 and 3, the points awarded are halved, so first place gets 2.5, second place 2.0 and so on. This is because categories 1 through 3 are all possession-based, so it may be a little redundant to award 5 points for all of them.
A player has to have skated 50+ minutes in November to have qualified.
Relative shot attempts
Shot attempts For/60
Shot attempts Against/60
|Player||Zone Start %||Points|
Quality of Competition
The Caps advanced stats Player of the Month for November 2014 is Tom Wilson
Photo by Amanda Bowen, RRBG Photography
All stats from War on Ice
December is here, and a new month means the Caps can forget (or at least learn from) their decline in November. October was full of promise and win totals that didn’t reflect the Caps’ strong possession numbers, but the following month was a different story. November held a 6-7-1 record for the team, one that can’t be attributed to unlucky bounces and shoddy goaltending. Something needs to change, and the Caps have three opportunities this week to get things rolling.
Photo by Amanda Bowen, RRBG Photography
12/2 vs. Vancouver
Power play: 18.4%
Penalty kill: 84.2%
Between thousands of miles and two different conferences, plenty separates the Caps and Canucks. Yet they had similar offseasons–hirings and firings of GMs and coaches, and roster shakeups at the center positions. Both teams missed the playoffs last season, but the Canucks have rebounded spectacularly on paper.
They lead the Pacific Division, surpassing the likes of the Ducks, Flames (yeah, you read that correctly), Kings, and Sharks respectively. And the Coyotes and Oilers, but you knew that already. So what makes the Canucks successful/what do the Caps need to watch for? Save for their most recent game, a lackluster 5-3 loss to the Red Wings, the Canucks have been playing solid hockey. New coach Willie Desjardins resurrected their offense from the hands of John Tortorella, while keeping up their hallmark stalwart defense. This shows in their eighth-ranked penalty kill, though they average 2.71 goals-against per game. The Canucks don’t excel in one particular area, but the sum of all parts makes for success. Whether this is sustainable is another issue, and one the Caps shouldn’t be worrying about.
However, they should remember that the Western Conference plays a faster, grittier game. The Caps were easily outpaced by the Canucks in their first meeting of the season, a 4-2 loss in Vancouver. Deploying a successful checking line is key to a win, and this might require Trotz to shake up combinations, particularly to maximize the abilities of certain players…and minimize the offensive abilities of the opposition, Sedins included.
12/4 at Carolina
Power play: 22.1%
Penalty kill: 83.1%
To the surprise of absolutely no one, the Hurricanes are really bad this season. At the time of writing, they’ve got a 7-13-3 record (17 points) and are serious contenders in the McEichel race. Despite this, the Hurricanes have their promising moments. October was a truly bad month but they rebounded the following month. A quick look at the above stats, out of context, might have you thinking that the ‘Canes are a fairly solid team, especially in the Eastern Conference. This couldn’t be further from the truth. The ‘Canes can’t sustain any success they have, and for every flash of brilliance, they seem hellbent on reversing it.
The Hurricanes’ recent home-and-home with the Penguins shows that the Canes can stay with one of the NHL’s top teams–on paper, anyway. They outshot the Pens in their first contest and came away with a 4-2 win, before being narrowly outshot at home and dropping the game 3-2. Eric Staal, Riley Nash, and Justin Faulk are tied for the team lead in points (15 apiece.) Meanwhile, our old friend Alex Semin is struggling mightily. Goaltending is also a huge weakness for the Hurricanes: starting goalie Cam Ward has a save percentage of of .907, while backup Anton Khudobin barely has his head above water at .900. The Hurricanes don’t allow a ton of shots, either–this isn’t a Holtby situation like last year.
Of the three games the Caps play this week, this might be the hardest one to predict. And giving away points to a division rival–even if they’re not a playoff contender–is the worst possible outcome.
12/6 at New Jersey
Power play: 20.6%
Penalty kill: 74.7%
The Caps have already played the Devils twice this season. The first matchup was a 6-2 blowout in the Caps’ favor; the second, an unbelievably boring 1-0 win for the Devils. The Devils aren’t a particularly good team, and they currently sit fifth in the Metro (right behind the Caps.) Their special teams and puck possession numbers are pedestrian. The same can be said of their PDO. All in all, the Devils are a very average team. Their division rival status should give the Caps additional incentive to steal two points.
Jaromir Jagr, Mike Cammalleri, and Adam Henrique provide the Devils with scoring punch. Cory Schneider’s solid numbers don’t reflect the insane workload he’s seen thus far. The Devils, however, are looking to end their four-game losing skid. They’ve got two opportunities, both on the road, to secure a win before playing the Caps Saturday night. The Devils face Pittsburgh and Toronto respectively, and the outcomes of each game will give the Caps a better idea of what to expect.
Playing a simple game will suit the Caps best. They employed this approach in their first meeting of the season and won 6-2, with five of their six goals scored coming at even strength. Winning faceoffs, scoring at 5v5, aggressive forechecking, stability in the crease–the Caps can definitely afford to tighten up in these areas against the Devils. Puck luck obviously doesn’t hurt, either.
The Caps lost to the Islanders in OT, 3-2. The Caps the 5-on-5 shot attempt battle, 57-38. That’s not good at all.
5-on-5 shot attempt chart:
-Tom Wilson led the Caps with a +4 on-ice shot attempt differential. Only two other players weren’t in the negative, Jack Hillen and Alex Ovechkin were even 0
-Troy Brouwer had the worst shot attempt differential at -14.
-Tom Wilson was on the ice for the most Caps shot attempts (20).
-Karl Alzner was on the ice for the most shot attempts against (23).
-Eric Fehr faced the toughest zone starts, starting 45.45% of shifts in the offensive zone
-Andre Burakovsky faced the easiest zone starts, starting 100% of shifts in the offensive zone. He also appeared to be benched for the last 10 minutes or so of regulation
-Nate Schmidt, possession monster, update: 87.5% ZS, -4 in shot attempts
The Avalanche goal to tie the game at 1 against the Caps on Thursday never should have happened. Here’s a look at the play and why the goal was avoidable.
The play starts as Daniel Briere (#48) carries the puck over the blue line with teammate Nathan MacKinnon (#29) on his left. The Caps seem in good shape, as Mike Green and Nate Schmidt are back and in good possession with Evgeny Kuznetsov arriving to provide backside pressure.
Next, you’ll see Briere throw a saucer pass into space for MacKinnon. MacKinnon has ridiculous speed and good hands, so this is a good decision by Briere. Schmidt goes for the pokecheck, but as you can see, the puck goes between his stick and his body. The puck is now headed into space to one of the best skaters in the league (MacKinnon) who gas nearly half the zone to work with and the defender marking him (Schmidt) leaning the wrong way. Not good, but not necessarily due to any defensive lapse.
Schmidt is in trouble here. This is more a case of getting burned by one of the best skaters in the league than a lapse or poor execution. Yes, he could have pivoted sooner in the second picture, instead of going for the puck, but that’s a decision I can live with. The red arrows are used to point out the guys that are really at fault here.
Mike Green, the right arrow, either needs to have already pivoted to try to help cover up for Schmidt or he needs to be paying very close attention to Briere. Instead, he just kind of hangs out and watches MacKinnon burn Schmidt without paying Briere much mind.
If Green kind of hangs out, Kuznetsov (the arrow on the left) completely and totally hangs out. Give him a beer and a sandwich, at least that way he can have refreshments while being a complete spectator. Kuznetsov should be marking Briere here.
(As an aside, this isn’t any sort of general indictment of Green or Kuznetsov. They were bad on this play, but I’m not suggesting anything broader than that.)
MacKinnon puts a backhander on net and Holtby makes a kick save. Green and Kuznetsov continue to be completely mesmerized by the puck, not seeming to have a care in the world that Briere is in the slot.
Holtby kicks out the rebound to the aforementioned slot (the one that Briere and a couple of spectators in Caps jerseys are occupying). This was pretty bad rebound control by Holtby, but it’s hard to put much blame on him for this goal. I think I remember reading a quote after the game where Holtby said he anticipated MacKinnon trying to go high with the shot, so he was caught off guard by the low shot. This resulted in him not controlling the rebound very well (AKA really badly). This is bound to happen if you let a player like MacKinnon this kind of opportunity.
Mike, Evgeny. Your “oh, crap” reaction here is appreciated, but it’s far too late. Briere, untouched and less than 10 feet out, has the entire right side of the net in which to deposit the puck at his leisure.
This was a bad goal. Schmidt, who I’d argue deserves the least blame of the 4 Caps involved, got burned by MacKinnon because he got caught leaning while going for a pokecheck. Holby could have controlled the rebound better, but those kind of things are going to happen over the course of a hockey game. What can’t happen is two guys being passengers on the play, seemingly mesmerized by the puck. Kuznetsov and Green are to blame for this goal.
By the way, the Caps went on to win 3-2 on an unbelievable goal by Alex Ovechkin.
Editor’s Note: This is a new column in which we will look at 3 Caps-related numbers or stats with a brief commentary on each number. As always, if you have questions or feedback, feel free to let us know in the comment or on Twitter. Thanks for reading.
Photo from NHL.com
After a disappointing weekend of winless hockey, the Caps are looking to snap their two-game losing streak. Their record stands at 7-7-3 (17 points), good for fifth in the Metropolitan Division. After facing the New Jersey Devils and St. Louis Blues, the Caps take on three of the League’s weaker teams.
11/18 at Arizona
The Caps last played the Coyotes on Nov. 2 and lost 6-5 in a wildly inconsistent game. The Coyotes haven’t had a magical turnaround since. They’re still pretty bad, with a 8-9-1 record (sixth in the Pacific Division.) Their possession leaves much to be desired (48.4 CF%, 23rd in the NHL).
The ‘Yotes are riding a two-game win streak after a 5-0 blowout of the Canucks and a narrow 2-1 win against the Oilers. Despite being outshot by a 35-23 and 34-28 margin in each contest, the ‘Yotes have enjoyed stellar goaltending from backup Devan Dubnyk. In their previous two wins, their power play and penalty kill clocked in at 25% and 85.7% respectively.
This game should be winnable (we said that last time, too.) First and foremost, the goaltending must be better, and the Caps need to regain their scoring touch. Moving Jay Beagle off the top line would be a good start. Recently, the Caps got a lot of good looks on the power play but couldn’t capitalize. They’ve scored two goals as many games, and both tallies came at even strength despite a handful of man-advantage opportunities. Even their 4-2 win over Columbus isn’t as dominating as the final score would appear. The Caps’ possession is (mostly) there, but it’s just not translating.
11/20 at Colorado
This week, the Caps have a trio of matchups against some of the NHL’s weaker teams. The Avalanche are among these teams. Their 6-8-5 record is stronger than their second-worst CF% numbers would indicate (with a Corsi-for percentage of 43.6%, the only thing stopping them from a league-worst ranking is the Buffalo Sabres.)
Yet the Avs are coming off two strong road wins against the Rangers and Devils. Their power play (17% success rate) is absolutely moribund, but their penalty kill is the NHL’s fourth best. Even with playing a disciplined game, the Avs haven’t allowed a power-play goal in two games (five total opportunities.)
The Caps will be facing a team with four days of rest time. But they can’t use a fresh opponent as an excuse for slow starts or lazy penalties. The Caps need to focus on shutting down the Avs’ many offensive talents, from Matt Duchene to Erik Johnson to Tyson Barrie to Nathan Mackinnon…and preferably with an improved “shutdown pair.” And let’s not forget Varly, who has a .918 SV%.
11/22 vs. Buffalo
The Caps and Sabres met three time last season, and the Sabres won each contest by a one-goal margin each time. Fortunately, Ryan Miller is now playing for the Canucks, so if the Caps can outshoot the NHL’s worst possession team (37.2 CF%), there’s no excuse not to win.
The Sabres have suffered through a number of blowout losses (three in this month alone), but dished out their first beatdown Saturday night against the Leafs. Shot totals were 35-34 Sabres, whose six goals came from five different players. Such offensive output is rare from the Sabres, who scored seven goals in four games at the start of November. Their power play is unsurprisingly in last place, at an incomprehensible 7%.
All signs point to the Caps winning this game, especially as Trotz adjusts lines to overcome the lack of offense. Without a brick wall to stop every shot, the Sabres look to be a conquerable opponent. With that being said, it’s possible that our old friend Neuvy might get the start–and his numbers look pretty solid (.918 SV% and 2.96 GAA.)
The Caps lost to the Devils 1-0 and now have a record of 7-6-3. Here’s a look at some #fancystats from the game. First the 5-on-5 shot attempt chart, followed by some more 5-on-5 numbers.
-The Caps lost the shot attempt battle, 36-34. In close-game situations (within 1 in the 1st 2 periods, tied in the 3rd), the Caps lost the shot attempt battle again, 33-26.
-Brooks Orpik had the best on-ice shot attempt differential at +5 (whoa)
-Karl Alzner had the worst shot attempt differential at -10.
-Mike Green was on the ice for the most Caps shot attempts (15).
-Alzner was on the ice for the most shot attempts against (18).
-Jay Beagle and Alex Ovechkin had the easiest zone starts, starting 88.89% of their shifts in the offensive zone.
-Joel Ward, Eric Fehr, and Jason Chimera had the toughest zone starts, starting 0% of their shifts in the offensive zone.