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Who should play the point on the Caps power play?

When the Caps signed Matt Niskanen to a 7 year, $40.25 million contract, new coach Barry Trotz was given another intriguing option to play the point on the power play. Niskaenen is an offensively-gifted defenseman, finishing 12th among all defesemen in scoring last season with 46 points (10 goals 36 assists). While it remains to be seen if Trotz will use 2 defenders on the PP or skate one defender with Alex Ovechkin playing the other point, the Caps coach has 3 formidable PP options from his defensive corps in Niskanen, John Carlson, and Mike Green.

One consideration when deciding how to divvy up ice-time, as pointed out by Peter from RMNB, is that Carlson plays a significant amount of time on the penalty kill. We don’t yet know how the coaching and personnel changes in Washington will impact PK deployment, but last season Carlson saw the ice for 65.2% of the time the Caps were on the PK, while Green played 8.6% and Niskanen saw 13.8% in Pittsburgh.

Glossary for chart

FF% rel-The % of unblocked shot attempts the player’s team saw with him on the ice, relative to with him off the ice

SA per 2:00-The number of total shot attempts (SA) for a team with the player on the ice, per 2:00

Setup Passes per 2:00-Estimated number of passes by a player that led directly to a shot attempt, per 2:00

All of the numbers are PP only. Per 2:00 was obviously chosen to represent the time of a standard PP.

Player FF% rel SA per 2:00

Setup Passes per 2:00

Carlson

+6.3% 3.91

0.83

Green -8.3% 3.35

1.08

Niskanen +0.8% 3.54

0.31

-The Caps perform significantly better, FF%-wise, with Carlson on the ice during the PP while the Caps saw a significant drop in FF% with Green on the ice during the PP.  This is interesting, considering Green was the Caps best possession player in 5-on-5 close game situations. The Pens PP generated slightly more unblocked shot attempts with Niskanen on the ice.

-The differentials in SA per 2:00 may look insignificant but they add up quite a bit when given proper context. The Caps averaged 3.54 PP per game, so the difference between Carlson (13.8) vs Green (11.9) amounts to just about 2 additional SA per game in a hypothetical world where they each separately play 100% of the team’s PP minutes.

-Green has a significant advantage in setup passes per 2:00.  Discussing his numbers relative to Niskanen’s here is probably apples to oranges, since they played on different PP. There are all kinds of factors, such as set plays and who they are funneled through, that could impact this rather than passing ability and vision. For example, one possible reason Green’s numbers are so high is that he was often funneling the puck to shooting machine Alex Ovechkin for his patented PP one-timer. However, when comparing teammates, Green (3.82) would produce nearly one more setup pass per game than Carlson (2.93) were each to play 100% of the team’s PP minutes.

-One interesting tidbit not shown in the chart is that opponents’ average shorthanded shot distance with Carlson on the ice was 52.7 feet compared to 34.6 feet with Green on the ice. That’s the difference between 7.3 feet inside the blueline vs. 5.4 feet inside the top of the faceoff circle.  While not proof in and of itself, those numbers could serve as a launching point for someone who wants to show that Green is prone to take risks that can backfire (I’m skeptical of that theory).

Player

Individual SA per 2:00

Carlson

0.99

Green

0.91

Niskanen

0.91

-Carlson generates .08 more SA per 2 minutes of PP time than Green and Niskanen (Like above, reading too much into Niskanen’s numbers at face value vs. Green and/or Carlson is probably a bit faulty since they played on different PP). Last season, the Caps average 3.54 PP per game. Over the course of a season, at 3.54 PP attempts per game,  Carlson would generate 23.2 more PP SA than Green or Niskanen, were they each to play 100% of their team’s PP minutes (this also assumes, for the sake of simplicity, that each PP attempt is 2 minutes) . The Caps scored on 8.3% of their PP SA this past season. This would mean that, through his SA alone, Carlson would generate 1.93 more PP goals per season, in a hypothetical world where all 3 players assume the Caps average PP goals per shot attempt % from last season (8.3%) and the Caps average 3.54 PP per game for a season.

From all of this data, it appears that John Carlson should be first choice to play the point on the PP in 2014-15 for the Caps. The team generates more unblocked and overall shot attempts with him on the ice, and he personally takes  more shot attempts than Green or Niskanen. However, should Trotz choose to manage Carlson’s PP time in order to keep him fresher for PK and 5-on-5 play, and depending on what position Ovechkin plays on the PP, both Green and Niskanen offer Trotz viable options.

Agree? Disagree? Feel free to comment below or send a tweet. Follow us on Twitter here.

S/T to ExtraSkater.com for being such a great resource for this article (and in general). 

Advanced stats highlights from the Caps 2010-11 season

Advanced stats for the 2010-11 season are now available on ExtraSkater.com. I highly recommend visiting Extra Skater to see the stats for yourself, but below, after a quick refresher on the season, are some Caps highlights I pulled from a glance at the new stats on Extra Skater.

With a record of 48-23-11, the Caps were not only Southeast Division champs, but finished first in the Eastern Conference, with 107 points. The Caps discarded the Rangers 4-1 in the first round of the playoffs before being swept by the #5 seed Tampa Bay Lightening in the second round. This was also the season during which the Caps, under Bruce Boudreau, shifted to a more defensive-oriented system. The Caps defeated the Penguins 3-1 in the 2011 Winter Classic and were featured on the HBO series 24/7.

 

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-The Caps finished 15th in Fenclose%, tied with the Kings at 50.4. The two teams have gone in opposite directions since, with the Caps (47.5%) finishing 25th in 2013-14 and the Kings (56.7%) finishing first.

-Nicklas Backstorm led all qualifying (41+ games played) Caps in FenClose rel at +5.0%, followed by Alex Ovechkin at +3.9% and Alex Semin at +3.5%. The top Caps defender was John Carlson at  +1.9%.

-Alex Semin’s PDO of 107.7 ranked highest on the team, aided by his teammates’ on-ice shooting % of 10.5%, 1.8% higher than any other Caps player.

-Marcus Johansson had the highest ZS% at 58.1%, while Boyd Gordon faced the toughest zone starts, with a ZS% of 41.8%

-As would be expected, the Caps top forward line of Ovechkin, Backstrom, and Mike Knuble faced tougher competition than any of their teammates. Carlson and Karl Alzner faced the toughest competition of any Caps defenders.

-To the surprise of absolutely no one, Mike Knuble had the shortest average shot distance (24.7 feet).

-Alex Ovechkin was on the ice for 82.4% of the Caps PP minutes during the season (this past season Ovechkin saw the ice during 93.2% of the Caps PP minutes).

This was after a quick look at the stats. If you look through Extra Skater and find any interesting tidbits, leave them in the comments below or give us a shout on Twitter.

Taking a closer look at Brooks Orpik, Part 2

In my last post, I took a look at how Brooks Orpik’s possession stats compared to defensemen around the NHL who faced similar minutes in terms of quality of competition and zone starts during the 2013-14 season. The contract Orpik signed with the Caps on July 1st has been met with a lot of criticism, and I am certainly among those who don’t like the deal for the Caps.

However, some context can help us better evaluate the Orpik contract. Below I’ll take a look at how Orpik fared compared to the top 5 Caps defenders in terms of games played in the 2013-14 season.

Key

FF%-FF% (Fenwick For %) is the percentage of unblocked shot attempts a team takes when that player is on the ice. Think of it like +/- but for shots. Instead of 0 being even, like with +/-, the 50% mark is even. It is a metric used to measure puck possession. If you’re skeptical as to how much this stat matters, here is a chart showing the top Fenwick teams of recent years.

ZS%-This is the percentage (ratio) of offensive zone to defensive zone face-offs for a player. A lower percentage indicates a player is assigned “tougher” minutes as he is on the ice for more defensive zone face-offs.

QOC TOI%-This is the quality of competition a player faces as measured by the average time on ice of the opposing players he faced.

“Close” game situations are games within a goal or tied in the 1st or 2nd period, or tied in the 3rd. It is used so score effects don’t inflate or deflate a player’s numbers in blowout situations. All FF% and ZS% below are in close-game 5-on-5 situations only. QOC TOI% is from all situations at 5-on-5

As noted in my last post, Orpik started more shifts in the defensive zone during close-game situations and also faced tougher competition than any other Penguin defender. Here is how he stacks up against the Caps defenders last year.  The players are in order of FF%, best to worst, but I’ve also noted their ranks in QOC TOI% and ZS% (ranked toughest to easiest).

Player ZS% QOC TOI% FF%
Orlov 50.1% (3rd) 28.0% (5th) 52.5% (1st)
Green 53.2% (6th) 28.5% (4th) 52.0% (2nd)
Orpik 48.2% (1st) 29.3% (3rd) 47.6% (3rd)
Alzner 49.1% (2nd) 29.4% (2nd) 47.3% (4th)
Carlson 51.3% (4th) 29.6% (1st) 46.3% (5th)
Erskine 52.8% (5th) 27.7% (6th) 45.1% (6th)

-Orpik was a better possession player last season than Alzner and Carlson, who are generally considered to be the Caps top-pair defenders that play the toughest minutes among Caps defenders. Orpik did this while having a tougher ZS% than either of the Caps defenders. Carlson faced the toughest competition of the three with Orpik finishing 3rd barely behind Alzner. One important thing to remember in terms of FF% is that the Penguins were a better FF% team than the Caps, so Orpik has an advantage there. FenClose rel % is a stat that can be better to compare possession stats of players on different teams, but I chose not to include it in this post, for the sake of simplicity.

-Orpik ranks 3rd in FF%, but it’s a distant 3rd. Green and Orlov are significantly better possession players than the other 4 defenders listed.  Green and Orlov did face far easier ZS’s than Orpik, which isn’t particularly surprising since they are thought of as more offensively-minded defenseman. Green and Orlov also faced weaker opponents than Orpik.

So, while I still don’t like the Orpik contract, there is no debating the Caps have improved their defense this off-season. Hopefully the last two posts have provided some insight into what exactly to expect from him moving forward with the Caps.

 

 

 

A look at next season’s Washington Capitals defense and Jeff Schultz

English: Jeff Schultz plays a homegame against...

Jeff Schultz plays a homegame against New Jersey (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Washington Capitals have four defensemen from their current NHL roster under contract for next season (listed here with their ’13-’14 cap hit, according to CapGeek.com):

Mike Green – $6,083,333
John Carlson – $3,966,667
Jeff Schultz – $2,750,000
John Erskine – $1,962,500

Restricted free agent Karl Alzner, currently making $1,285,000 will certainly be re-signed, at a much higher salary than what he makes now, but for less than what the Caps pay the more offensive-minded Carlson. That would bring the total under contract to five.

Dmitry Orlov, who just returned to action with the AHL Hershey Bears last week after being injured in a December game for them during the NHL lockout, should be back with the Caps next season and will earn $900,000.

Newcomer Steven Oleksy is set to make $541,667 in 2013-14 if he remains at the NHL level, while Tomas Kundratek could be re-signed for a reasonable price and brought back as well. This would bring the Washington defense total to eight players.

Prospects Cam Shilling, just recalled to DC from Hershey, and Patrick Wey, a senior at Boston College, could be in the picture for the Caps next year as well, taking the field to 10.

I’ve left Tom Poti off that list, as I don’t expect him to be back, and Jack Hillen, who has played only one game this year and will be an unrestricted free agent at the season’s end. Hillen could be re-signed as an inexpensive seventh or eighth option on defense for well under $1 million, but it’s difficult to tell his status for next season at this point and I’m going to leave him out of this discussion.

Taking all that into account and not knowing if a trade or free agent signing will occur, here are the defensemen that would be in the picture next season, broken down by the side they shoot from:

Left: Alzner, Erskine, Schultz, Kundratek, Orlov, Schilling

Right: Green, Carlson, Oleksy, Wey

If Capitals coach Adam Oates wants to go with three right-shooting and three left-shooting defensemen in the line-up next season, things look a little thin with the righties if Green continues to battle injuries. Provided he’s healthy, Green, Carlson and Oleksy could make up that side for the Caps, with Wey starting off in Hershey.

With the left-handed shooters, things get more interesting. Alzner will, without a doubt, be an everyday player. Erskine has just been re-signed and though he’s been a seventh defensemen for Washington at times in the past, I expect he’ll be in the line-up regularly based on how he was being utilized by Oates before his recent injury.

If Orlov returns to his form of last season, it will be tough to keep him out of the line-up and Kundratek has shown great promise, with the potential to earn a starting job next season too. Schilling could end up back in Hershey if things shake out this way.

That would leave the seven dmen as: Green, Alzner, Carlson, Erskine, Orlov, Kundratek and Oleksy. If there’s an injury and an eighth is needed, Shilling or Wey could be called up, depending on how they’re playing and whether a right or left shot is needed.

There’s one guy I’ve left out of the group: Jeff Schultz.

I’ve never been a Schultz hater. While there are flaws in his game, as there are with many players, he often gets blamed for more than he deserves. He’s been somewhat like Alex Semin was for the Caps on a smaller scale, getting called out for his mistakes more than other players and not given some credit when he deserves it. But I do think Schultz and his $2,750,000 salary next season are something the Caps could do without.

With what will likely be an abundance of left-handed shooting defensemen going into training camp and younger, less expensive options like Kundratek and Orlov, now might be the time for the Caps to take what they can get for Schultz, freeing up nearly $3 million for next season to spend on other pieces, such as Top 6 forwards.

If a team is looking for an experienced dman in the off-season and is willing to take Schultz for a prospect or a pick, the Caps should pull the trigger. Depending on their playoff position and the health of Orlov, the Caps could even look to make a move like that before the April 3 trade deadline.

Another option is for the Caps to include Schultz as part of a package this off-season or during ’13-’14 to fill another of the team’s needs, which could be a Top 6, goal-scoring forward or a right-shooting, offensive defenseman if Green can’t stay healthy. The team will also need a second line center if Mike Ribeiro isn’t back next season.

But whatever the approach, with things looking crowded for left-handed defensemen next season, moving Schultz is certainly one way the Caps could free up some cap space to address some other areas where the team is short on talent. And this has more to do with cost and other assets in the organization than it does with Schultz’s abilities.

Some highlights from Saturday’s Caps win over the Bruins

The Caps did a lot of little things well in yesterday’s 4-3 win over the Bruins in Boston. Here are a few of them that really jumped out at me:

  • The Caps stood up for their goalie beginning early on in the game, shoving away many Bruins that got near Tomas Vokoun
  • John Carlson was especially impressive during one segment of a first period penalty kill, tying up the puck along the boards to waste some of the Bruins’ power play time, then roughing up Lucic a bit in front of the net as he tried to settle in there, and stepping up to block a shot to close out the sequence
  • As Russian Machine pointed out on Twitter, Mike Knuble had some great puck possession time in the game.
  • Alex Semin’s pass to Jay Beagle for Washington’s 3rd goal was excellent, not to mention the work to get that puck before making the pass
  • Brooks Laich’s tip-in for the 4th goal was nice to see — he was set up by Alex Ovechkin for what appeared to be an even easier tip-in the previous game but missed
  • Troy Brouwer’s play with one second left to knock away a puck that was about to become a shot on goal showed the Caps fighting until the very end.

I did get nervous when the Bruins pulled within one, especially after the Caps’ third period collapse at home versus the Jets a few weeks ago. But the Caps held on. We’ll see if playing back to back days affects the team’s ability to stay focused on the important details during today’s game against Toronto, who’s coming off a Saturday afternoon game against the Flyers.

Check out yesterday’s Caps-Bruins highlights on NHL.com.

Other Notes: For some great analysis, check out this post by WNST’s Ed Frankovic and his theory on why the Caps have played better this week. >>> I was really impressed with Dmitry Orlov in overtime during the Caps win against Tampa on Thursday night. Mike Vogel has a nice look at the rookie defenseman on the Dump ‘n’ Chase blog. >>> Finally, what would it take for CSNWashington to give us a Caps pre-game show before every game? As I noted on Twitter yesterday, it seems there’s been enough interest in the Caps to justify it and these five minutes intros we get before the puck drops  for some games, like yesterday’s, feel very rushed.

Caps-Bolts: Ovechkin’s other options with 25 seconds left

With about 25 seconds to go in last night’s game against the Tampa Bay Lightning and the Washington Capitals down by a goal, I would have liked to have seen Alex Ovechkin pass the puck to a teammate rather than hold it and eventually shoot from a bad angle (see video embedded below).

Troy Brouwer was open and then, after Ovechkin comes out from behind the net, John Carlson appears to have been open as he was cutting in from the point. Carlson might have had the whole top right corner of the net open for a quick shot, with Lightning goaltender Mathieu Garon down in a butterfly position and over toward the left post.

Just putting the puck on net like Ovechkin eventually did isn’t a bad idea in that situation, but he had better options and they would have involved some puck movement, which is often a very good thing—in fact, it’s what led to the Caps only goal of the game.

Breakdown of a breakdown: Florida’s fourth goal vs. the Caps on 2/1/12

Washington Capitals defenseman John Carlson has been taking some heat for his play lately, and understandably so.

As Adam Vingan of Kings of Leonsis points out, “in the month of January, the Caps allowed 32 total goals against. John Carlson was on the ice for 22 of them.” Looking as far back as the coaching change the Caps made in November, Japers’ Rink notes: “By my count, John Carlson has been on the ice for 42 of the 67 goals allowed under Dale Hunter. That’s staggering.” Carlson was nearly on the ice for another goal in Tuesday night’s overtime loss to Tampa, but Tomas Vokoun came up what some (we) are calling the save of the year.

There’s one goal though—an empty netter by Florida on Wednesday night to put the Panthers up 4-2—that Carlson deserves less blame for than he’s been getting from some Caps fans on Twitter. As the video clip below shows, a poor pass by Marcus Johansson played a large role in allowing the Panthers to score their fourth goal and put the game away.

The video begins as a pass from an unidentifiable Washington player Roman Hamrlik hops over Johannsson’s stick near center ice and, as Johannsson reaches it near the boards, he attempts to knock it back to Carlson. Even if Johansson makes a clean pass there, Carlson would have little time to do much with the puck, given how close the Panthers’ Shawn Matthias is.

Johansson would have likely been better off sending the puck left and off the boards toward the offensive zone, rather than trying to send it back to Carlson. The play also could have turned out better if Carlson had stepped up toward the red line and fired the puck into the offensive zone himself before Johansson got there, though he may have been playing somewhat cautiously knowing the net behind him was empty.

Going back to the unidentifiable Washington player Hamrlik, who made the initial pass to Johansson, a better decision could have been made there on what to do with the puck; other Caps were open and skating with the puck rather than passing it really might have been the best idea for that player. But when Johansson eventually does end up getting to that puck, he needs to make a quick decision that better protects it. His attempt to pass back to Carlson was careless and not a crisp one on top of that.

Improved communication and decision-making all around would have helped on this play. This breakdown is also a reminder that, though Johansson and Carlson play big roles on this Capitals team—particularly with Mike Green and Nicklas Backstrom injured—they still have a relatively small number of NHL games played between them (Carlson 154; Johansson, 117). Eventually, with enough experience under their belts, they might act better on instinct in these situations.

On the topic of instinct, it sometimes seems it’s a sports fan’s tendency to quickly fault one player when something goes wrong while they’re in the game. Jeff Schultz and Alex Semin are two with which this happens often for the Caps, and for good reason in some cases. But the things that go wrong in some instances are often more complicated than something a single player did. Though Carlson is struggling right now, on this play from Wednesday night there are other players that deserve blame, Johansson especially. The finger should not always get pointed solely at the easy goat of the moment.

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