Author Archives: Pat Holden

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


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.)


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…


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.



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)


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


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.


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.


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.


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

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 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 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

Three Caps Numbers: Braden Holtby and First Line Beagle


Photo by Amanda Bowen of RRBG Photography


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.


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.


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

Caps at Islanders Recap: The Who

Anyone else have Pinball Wizard in their head after those first two Islanders goals?

The Caps lost to the Islanders 4-3 in OT. The Islanders also had the upper hand in even strength shot attempts, 47-40.

Even strength shot attempt chart:

chart (2)


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

-Nick Backstrom had the worst shot attempt differential at -10

-Erich Fehr and Karl Alzner were on the ice for the most Caps shot attempts (16)

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

-Michael Latta faced the toughest zone starts, starting  0% of shifts in the offensive zone

-Troy Brouwer, Evgeny Kuznetsov, Jack Hillen, and Mike Green faced the easiest zone starts, starting 100% of shifts in the offensive zone

-Nate Schmidt, possession monster, update: FREE NATE SCHMIDT


-Sorry, time does not allow for non-fancy stuff tonight. Next up: Some Winter Classic thing people keep talking about

Checking In On Old Friend Mikhail Grabovski


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


Caps Preview: Week 13

The Caps grabbed four points last week, going 2-1-0. The only blemish was a 4-2 loss to the Rangers sandwiched between victories over the Senators and the Penguins. With a record of 18-11-6, the Caps have 42 points, which is good for 4th in the Metro and the second wild card spot in the East. When adjusting for score situations, the Caps own 52.5% of shot attempts, which is good for 11th in the league.

The Caps have three tilts on the schedule this week (we run our weeks Monday-Sunday around here), and none of them are particularly easy. The team faces two top teams in the Islanders and the Blackhawks, as well as a surprising Panthers team that is working its way into the playoff hunt. Here’s a look at the games ahead.


Photo by Amanda Bowen of RRBG Photography

Monday 12/29 at NYI

Score-adjusted Corsi: 53.3% (6th)

Power Play: 17.9% (17th)

Penalty Kill: 73.7% (30th)

PDO: 99.5 (22nd)

At 23-11-1, the Islanders sit 2nd in the Metro with 47 points. Despite so-so results on the PP and an awful PK, the Islanders are the real deal, thanks to superior puck possession and solid goaltending.

Jaroslav Halak’s 93.24 save% at 5v5 ranks 9th out of the 28 goalies who have played 900+ minutes this season. It appears Halak will be returning after missing two games due to injury. He had been on a nice roll, giving up just six goals in the four games prior to his injury.

The Islanders also have one of the more talented stars in the league in John Tavares, who is currently 21st in the league with 31 points. Oh, and some guy named Mikhail Grabovski is leading the team’s forwards in possession. The team sees 55.3% of total shot attempts when he’s on the ice.

Thursday 1/1 vs. CHI

Score-adjusted Corsi: 56.3% (1st)

Power Play: 18.7% (14th)

Penalty Kill: 91.0% (1st)

PDO: 100.9 (8th)

This game is apparently being played at a baseball stadium that isn’t Camden Yards.

The Blackhawks currently have 50 points, second only to Anaheim in the entire NHL. This is an elite team, if not the elite team. The Caps were thoroughly dominated in the previous meeting this season, but escaped with a win.

Chicago is led by its usual cast of characters. Joanthan Toews and Patrick Kane are the headliners, but players such as Marian Hossa and Patrick Sharp (who missed 14 games due to injury) give this team such impressive forward depth that it’s easy to miss a guy like Kris Versteeg, who is on pace for a career year with 26 points in 32 games.

Hitting is one thing you won’t see the Blackhawks do a lot of. This isn’t because they are incapable or unwilling to do so. It’s because you don’t need to hit people when you have the puck.

Sunday 1/4 vs. FLA

Score-adjusted Corsi: 51.8 (13th)

Power Play: 13.0% (28th)

Penalty Kill: 81.3% (15th)

PDO: 99.5 (23rd)

This is Margaret’s favorite team. Okay, not really. But she’s been high on them for a while now and it’s for good reason. The Panthers are 6-2-2 in their last ten games and are only four points behind the Caps for the last wild card spot in the East. Their possession numbers are solid, and if they could figure out how to be just average on the PP, they could be a dangerous team come Spring.

Roberto Luongo is back tending the net for the Panthers this season. His 93.40 save% ranks 7th among qualifying goalies. He’s also endlessly entertaining on Twitter, but you probably already knew that.

Production-wise, they don’t have a standout forward, as Nick Bjugstad leads the group with 19 points in 32 games. Injuries have been a bit of a concern for the team, but they are getting healthier.

On the blue line, 18-year-old Aaron Ekblad has quickly established himself as one of the best young players in the game after the Panthers made him the first overall pick in the 2014 draft. His 19 points are tied for the team lead. Possession-wise, the Panthers do 0.8% better in terms of shot attempts when Ekblad is on the ice, which the team has to be happy with from a rookie defenseman at his age, regardless of the fact that his minutes have been a little sheltered.

Stats from War on Ice and

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