Caps vs. Lightning: Three Storylines to Watch

Willy_1

Photo by Amanda Bowen of RRBG Photography

The Caps face the Lightning tonight at home after having won in Tampa on Tuesday 5-3 in one of the best efforts so far under Barry Trotz. There’s no doubt that the Lightning, one of the best teams in the league this season, will be looking to avenge Tuesday’s loss. Here’s three storylines to watch.

Andre Burakovsky moves to LW

Andre Burakovsky is returning to the lineup tonight, replacing Jason Chimera, who committed an unnecessary penalty that led to the winning goal for Columbus in the game on Thursday. While it would be nice for both Burakovsky and Evgeny Kuznetsov to be in the top-9 forwards, that’s a debate for another time.

What is noteworthy about Burakovsky’s return, besides the fact that one of the Caps most talented forwards won’t be watching from the press box tonight, is that he will not be playing center for the first time in his NHL career. Trotz has been adamant about Burakovsky playing at center but has opted to keep Michael Latta there for tonight. Whether this will continue remains to be seen, but simply have Burakovsky in the lineup is a positive development for the Caps

Tom Wilson seeking revenge

J.T. Brown had a questionable hit on Tom Wilson on Tuesday. Wilson sought revenge after a whistle later in the game, but Brown’s Lightning teammates, fully aware of the situation and the size discrepancy between the two, quickly intervened. While I don’t expect Wilson to do anything stupid in order to get back at Brown, you can bet that he will be looking to pay back #23 for Tampa Bay, if the opportunity presents itself.

Steven Stamkos vs. Brooks Orpik and John Carlson

I’ve written before about the fact that I don’t like Orpik and Carlson as the Caps shutdown pair. Quire frankly, they just aren’t very good as a pair in that role.This is especially worrying when one of the NHL’s best forwards comes to town.

However, Stamkos has seen only 48.2% of total shot attempts go in his team’s favor when he’s been on the ice against Carlson in his career. Orpik has fared even better, limiting the Lightning to only 43.8% of all shot attempts when on the ice against Stamkos. Continuing this trend tonight will help the Caps try to limit Stamkos from finding the back of the net. 

Caps vs. Blue Jackets #fancystats (and beyond) Recap

The Caps lost to the Blue Jackets in OT, 3-2. The 5v5 shot attempts were 41-35 in favor of the Caps

5v5 shot attempt chart:

a1212211

5v5 stats

-Troy Brouwer had the best on-ice shot attempt battle with a +5

-Eric Fehr had the worst on-ice shot attempt battle with a -5

-Matt Niskanen was on the ice for the most Caps shot attempts (18)

-Brooks Orpik was on the ice for the most shot attempts against (17)

-Niskanen, Brouwer, and Mike Green had the most individual shot attempts (4)

Non-fancy stuff

-Was Holtby screened on the first goal? He probably should have had it. Oh, well. He’s been dynamite. Every goalie gives up a lot of goals that they should have had over the course of 82 games.

-Barry Trotz is pissed at Jason Chimera, so maybe Burakovsky finally get in the lineup again on Saturday. My lines:

8-19-43

90-92-20

21-65-16

83-46-42

This tweet was good

https://twitter.com/russianmachine/status/543226962236289024

Got pretty excited in OT

https://twitter.com/brookslaichyear/status/543235444306366464

Feeling down about that game? Here’s where we quote Albert Camus

https://twitter.com/brookslaichyear/status/543228511822299136

Three Caps Numbers: Talkin’ ’bout Time on Ice

Ward_2

Photo by Amanda Bowen of RRBG Photography

13:49

Marcus Johansson’s ice time vs Tampa last night, the second straight game he’s been below the 14:00 mark and fifth time in the past six games his ice time has decreased. The third line has been great since the return of Brooks Laich, and Jason Chimera is rejuvenated and helping the fourth line. But Johansson has taken big strides forward this season and it would be a shame to see that stunted by limiting his ice time.

17:38

The average time on ice per game for Joel Ward, 4th among all Caps forwards behind Nick Backstrom, Alex Ovechkin, and Troy Brouwer. I like Joel Ward and think he’s an effective hockey player. But he’s a bottom-6 forward. Why is Joel Ward the 4th most used forward by Barry Trotz? He’s also 4th in terms of 5v5 ice time, so it’s not as if his penalty kill time is inflating his numbers. 

16:12

The average 5v5 ice time per game for Backstrom this season, which leads all NHL forwards. His linemate Ovechkin is second. Trotz looks like he’s going to ride his two horses as much as he can. It’s easy to like this strategy.

Caps at Lightning #fancystats (and beyond) Recap

The Caps beat the Lightning, 5-3. The Caps and Lightning tied in the 5-on-5 shot attempt battle, 49-49.

5-on-5 shot attempt chart:

boltsfinal

-Nick Backstromled the Caps with a +10 on-ice shot attempt differential

-Michael Latta had the worst shot attempt differential at -14

-Backstrom and John Carlson were on the ice for the most Caps shot attempts (21)

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

-Latta and Jason Chimera faced the toughest zone starts, starting  0% of shifts in the offensive zone

-Alex Ovechkin and Tom Wilson faced the easiest zone starts, starting 100% of shifts in the offensive zone

-Nate Schmidt, possession monster, update: 80% ZS% +2 in shot attempts

NON-FANCY THOUGHTS

-Braden Holtby was great tonight, particularly the last 5 minutes of the first and the first five minutes of the third. The Caps did not play well after going up 2-1 and they did not play well with a lead for the first five minutes of the third. But then, after the first five of the third, they started playing alright hockey. Soon after, Troy Brouwer iced the game. Playing alright hockey with a lead is something we need to see more of.

-This third line is really good. While there may be ways to better optimize the lineup as a whole, more of this (for now) please.

-Related to the last comment: A healthy Brooks Laich does wonders for this team, at 5v5 and the PK. He had approximately 17,942 pokechecks on the PK tonight.

Two Players the Caps Should Consider Trading

Alzie

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.

Karl Alzner

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.

image (4)

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.

Troy Brouwer

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.

image (5)

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.

Two Players the Caps Should Not Trade

Mojo copy

Photo by Amanda Bowen of RRBG Photography

According to Pierre LeBrun, Caps GM Brian MacLellan is looking to make some trades. The Caps have looked a bit stale lately, save for spurts of inspired and creative play such as the first 40 minutes in Saturday’s game against the Devils, so it’s not shocking the new GM may want to shake things up. Here are two players MacLellan likely will be asked about but shouldn’t trade.

Marcus Johansson

Johnasson has already bested his goal totals from the two previous seasons with 9 goals through 25 games. Johansson has 8 even strength goals this season. He had 5 even strength goals in the last two seasons combined. I understand if people think that dealing Johansson now would be selling high.

I’m not convinced of that. I think that Johnasson very well may have taken a major step forward in his development and that the improvements in his play and production could be long lasting. While his shooting% (17.6%) is likely to come back closer to his career shooting% (12.8%), Johansson is going to continue to score at an improved rate because he is shooting the puck so much more.

image (3)

As you can see, Johansson is shooting way more this season. In situations where he used to force passes, he is now firing pucks on net. As a result, he’s now putting close to 8 shots on per goal per 60 minutes of ice time. In the two previous seasons he averaged about four per 60 minutes of ice time.

In terms of shots per game this season, Johannson is averaging 2.04 shots. If he were to maintain this over an 82 game season, he would have 167 shots on goal, shattering his previous career high of 107 he set last season. If, Johansson were to pump 167 shots on net in a season and shoot at his career average of 12.8%, he would score 21 goals, which crushes his career high of 14 set in 2011-12.

Marcus Johansson is finally producing like a legitimate top-6 player. It would be a mistake to trade him. Instead, the Caps should look to extend him, as he is a restricted free agent at the end of the season.

Mike Green

Mike Green is an elite NHL defenseman and the Caps are a better team with him than without him. He can make glaring defensive mistakes at times, but you’re wrong if you think this makes him a bad player.

Here’s a chart Peter from RMNB made that was used in one of my posts on that site that shows Green has consistently made the Caps a better team when he’s on the ice.

greencaps

As you can see, 2012 was the only season when Green didn’t help the Caps possession. Other than 2012, the Green has made the Caps a much better team when he’s on the ice. For a more in-depth look at why Green is irrefutably awesome, check out this article I wrote about him over on RMNB.

I understand he’s injury-prone and that his salary demands could be tricky for a team up against the cap. But the Caps will be better off if they find a way to keep Mike Green.

In my next post, I’ll look at two players the Caps should trade, which can help free up some of the cap space needed to keep Mike Green.

Caps Preview: Week 10

The past week was a successful one for the Caps, as they collected four of a possible six points. Their two wins came against division rivals (#fancystats recaps here, here, and here). With 28 points, the Caps have since moved into third place in the Metro. 10 points separate them from the division leaders, who are the Penguins and Islanders respectively. Playing catch-up is a lofty task, particularly with two of this week’s three games taking place against a top Lightning team.

Green

Photo by Amanda Bowen of RRBG Photography

 

12/9 at Tampa Bay

Power play: 22.7%
Penalty kill: 80.4%
5v5 Corsi-for: 53.9%
PDO: 101.4

The Lightning are a formidable opponent, and this is evidenced by their 39 points (tied with the Ducks for the NHL’s most) and first-place ranking in the Atlantic Division. The Lightning are aiming for their sixth straight home win–a difficult streak for the Caps to break.

The closest thing the Lightning have to a major weakness is their penalty kill, which sits at 19th overall. The Caps’ power play is second only to the Penguins, and they’ve got to score (a tough task when Ben Bishop is in goal.) The top line has cooled off as of late, and moving Burakovsky/Kuznetsov off the fourth line–though they’d probably see cozy zone starts–might be conducive to sparking the offense.

Four different Caps scored goals in their most recent win, a 4-1 road victory over the Devils. If they can sustain their offense and Mike Green returns to the lineup, the Caps have a good shot at staying with the Lightning. The first meeting between the two teams took place in November, when the Lightning beat the Caps 4-3. Considering the amount of offensive talent the Lightning has, Holtby and the defense need to stay sharp.

 

12/11 vs. Columbus

Power play: 21.9%
Penalty kill: 76.3%
5v5 Corsi-for: 46.1%
PDO: 98.1

On paper, the division rival Blue Jackets don’t look too threatening. They’ve been decimated by injuries, and the Hurricanes are the only thing keeping them from presiding over the basement of the NHL’s weakest division. Yet there are a few bright spots for the Blue Jackets–and things the Caps must be wary of.

The Blue Jackets’ PDO is 27th in the NHL. Basically, they’ve been extremely unlucky, and this is bound to change soon. (PDO is the sum of even-strength shooting and save percentage.) The Blue Jackets have one of the league’s best goaltenders in Sergei Bobrovsky, who recently helped carry them to a win over the Lightning.

But superb goaltending will only take a team so far. Columbus has atrocious possession numbers and a subpar penalty kill that barely ranks above the Caps’. The teams share another similarity in that their power plays are among the NHL’s top ten. Special teams will likely play a huge role in the outcome of this game, which looks like an “easy” two points. But even when they’re getting crushed in shot attempts, the Blue Jackets are a hard-working team, and Bobrovsky is a very good goaltender. Just ask the Lightning.

 

12/13 vs. Tampa Bay

The Caps-Lightning regular-season series concludes this Saturday night. With one game already in the books (a 4-3 Lightning home win). I’ve already outlined what the Caps need to do for a win, so now I’ll take a look at some of the Lightning’s deadliest players.

Acknowledging Stamkos seems redundant, but I’ll do it anyway. Is shutting down a player of his caliber really possible? That’s debatable, but the Caps’ defense is in for a tough night. Avoiding penalties will help, too, as seeing him on the power play is a terrifying prospect.

Last season, two Lightning rookies were in contention for the Calder Trophy. Tyler Johnson was one of the three finalists and is currently second on the team in points (8G, 20A.) He’s one of the Lightning’s many two-way forwards capable of providing offense and defense, and this is reflected in the team’s scoring totals. Ryan Callahan, Nikita Kucherov, fellow sophomore Ondrej Palat, Valtteri Fippula–the list goes on and on. On defense, Anton Stralman and Victor Hedman comprise the Lightning’s top pairing. Both are fixtures on the power play and make offensive contributions at even strength.

Caps at Devils #fancystats recap

The Caps beat the Devils 4-1. The Caps lost the 5-on-5 shot attempt battle, 55-33. You can see in the chart below that much of the difference was in the third period, where the Devils won the shot attempt battle 23-3.

5-on-5 shot attempt chart:

devilsdec

-Michael Latta and Joel Ward led the Caps with a +1 on-ice shot attempt differential. The only other player who wasn’t a negative was Jay Beagle, an even 0.

-Brooks Orpik had the worst shot attempt differential at -16.

-Matt Niskanen was on the ice for the most Caps shot attempts (16).

-Brooks Orpik was on the ice for the most shot attempts against (26).

-Nicklas Backstrom faced the toughest zone starts, starting just 20% of shifts in the offensive zone

-Beagle, Michael Latta, and Evgeny Kuznetsov faced the easiest zone starts, starting 66.67% of shifts in the offensive zone

-Nate Schmidt, possession monster, update: 40% ZS -3 in shot attempts.

A tweets that was spot on:

 

Who could replace Justin Peters?

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.

Caps at Hurricanes #fancystats recap

In an incredibly boring game, against one of the worst teams in the league, the Caps edged out the Hurricanes, 2-1 on a late goal by Eric Fehr. Jay Beagle had the other Caps goal. Some guy named Alex Semin scored for the Canes. It was his first goal of the season, so he must not be very good. He also had a penalty, so he’s probably a goon,

The Caps the 5-on-5 shot attempt battle, 58-54

5-on-5 shot attempt chart:

canescaps

-Joel Ward led the Caps with a +7 on-ice shot attempt differential. Tom Wilson was second with a +5.

-Jay Beagle had the worst shot attempt differential at -8. Brooks Orpik was next at -4.

-Matt Niskanen was on the ice for the most Caps shot attempts (25).

-Brooks Orpik was on the ice for the most shot attempts against (27).

-Matt Niskanen and Karl Alzner faced the toughest zone starts, starting just 35.29% of shifts in the offensive zone

-Nate Schmidt and Jack Hillen faced the easiest zone starts, starting 71.43% of shifts in the offensive zone

-Nate Schmidt, possession monster, update: 71.43 ZS% +2 in shot attempts

All stats from War on Ice

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