Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Comparing the Tens -- Through 20 Games . . . Part II, The Forwards

We looked at the team in the last installment, now it’s time to look at individuals. First, the forwards:

Alexander Ovechkin:

First ten games: 6-4-10, -3
Second ten games: 7-6-13, +2

It is a measure of the player that his first ten games could be considered a “slow” start (he was 6-5-11, +1 in his first ten last year). The trouble with that first ten games is the first game in that stretch. Putting Richard Zednik on that line might have looked like a good idea on paper, but in real time . . . ugh. One might note that in Ovechkin’s second ten games last year he was “only” 9-1-10, -4. The point we are torturing before getting to it is that that youngster is remarkable consistent . . . wind him up, watch him get 10-15 points every ten games. He did it last year, he’s up to the same hijinks this year. But here is the money number – three. He’s had the game winning goal in three of the Caps’ five wins in the second ten games (he has four game-winners overall). His goals aren’t the stat-padding kind.

Dainius Zubrus:

First ten games: 5-3-8, -2
Second ten games: 7-3-10, +1

The Peerless isn’t sure if this is a matter of his really finding a comfort zone with Ovechkin or if it’s a matter of “contract year.” He was 8-14-22 in his last 20 games last year, so compare that with his 12-6-18 in his first 20 this year. Maybe “late bloomer” is the term we’re looking for. There is one statistic for Zubrus that causes some head-scratching, even given the subjectivity of it – hits. He was credited with 17 in his first ten games (15 in his first five), six in the last ten. There is also his faceoff percentage – 50.3 percent in his first ten, 48.3 in his last ten. Given that his style is to use his size and strength as leverage in many situations, these hit and faceoff numbers might serve as an indicator that he’s been playing nicked – that he’s got some lingering knee problems that he’s been trying to play through.

Matt Bradley:

First ten games: 2-2-4, +2
Second ten games: 0-3-3, 0

Here is your odd stat for Bradley . . . two goals on nine shots in the first ten games (actually eight, he missed the first two), none on 20 shots in the last ten.

Boyd Gordon:

First ten games: 0-0-0, -1
Second ten games: 1-3-4, +2

OK, he played only one of the first ten games. While his scoring doesn’t jump off the sheet, he is winning 53.8 percent of his draws. He has been remarkably disciplined with the puck, too . . . he’s been credited with nine takeaways and only two giveaways. He doesn’t get a ton of ice time – about eleven and a half minutes a game – and the puck probably doesn’t spend much time on his stick when he is out there, but anytime you can point to a ratio like this, it’s a plus.

Brian Sutherby:

First ten games: 1-3-4, +3
Second ten games: 0-2-2, -2

He centers the line that will face the opponents’ top line more often than not, so you’d think he would be a good bellweather indicator of how the club is going. So, if the Caps are better in the second ten than the first ten, what’s up with his numbers? Well, if you look at them with Bradley’s, the third line hasn’t chipped in as much offense in the last ten games (only Ben Clymer’s two goals in his first game back as a forward).

Chris Clark:

First ten games: 3-6-9, +3
Second ten games: 2-5-7, +5

OK, he’s not the prototypical right wing. He is not a pure scorer. But the Caps are very much a “left-handed” team with Ovechkin and Alexander Semin on the left side to assume a heavy scoring role. His role has been to go get the puck and let Zubrus and Ovechkin do what they do. But he’s on a pace for 23-59-72. After 18 games last year (he’s missed the last two this year), he was 3-4-7. 5-11-16 looks a lot better. Now, you’re odd number . . . 41.3. That’s his faceoff winning percentage – he’s taken 30 draws in 18 games. That strikes The Peerless as a rather high number for a winger to be taking.

Matt Pettinger:

First ten games: 0-2-2, +1
Second ten games: 4-1-5, -2

Another one who missed substantial time to start the year (seven games). Since then, he’s been scoring goals at a 25-a-year rate. He’s getting second line minutes (about 18 a game over the last ten games), and he’s settled into a pace that could have him eclipse last year’s goal totals, even with the early time he missed.

Richard Zednik:

First ten games: 0-3-3, -5
Second ten games: 3-4-7, +1

His timing was awful. First, he gets out to a rocky start, raising questions of whether he was worth the effort to sign. Then, he gets a couple of goals and a couple of assists over a couple of games and gets hurt. He seems to be picking up where he left off, though, going 1-2-2 in his last two games since coming back. That second ten game line comes with only four games having been played.

Brooks Laich:

First ten games: 0-0-0, -4
Second ten games: 0-0-0, -3

I don’t know that there is a more disappointing player in the early going, which is really a shame given that he had a pretty decent season last year (7-14-21 in 73 games). The Peerless though he might be in a position to have a season similar to (if not of the magnitude of) Matt Pettinger last year – a substantial jump up in production. Instead, he’s taken a seat in the stands for eight of the last 12 games. Being -7 and winning less than 40 percent of his draws isn’t helping matters, either. One clings to the fact that last year after he played 12 games, he was a similar 2-1-3, -7 and hadn’t had a plus game yet. Perhaps it’s a slow start . . . that’s the branch we’ll cling to for the moment.

Rico Fata:

First ten games: 1-1-2, +3
Second ten games: gone

Fata did not play poorly in his ten games. Neither did he play especially well. What he did was give little evidence that he was going to be more than he had been – a player who can skate really, really fast and really, really can’t finish. No points in his last eight games probably sealed the evaluation.

Kris Beech:

First ten games: 1-5-6, +3
Second ten games: 0-1-1, even

The second line center position was there for the taking for someone willing to grab it by the throat and make it theirs. Beech was the favorite in a weak field, and he didn’t really do much to cement that role as his. The one area in which he shined – faceoffs – took a dip as time went on as well. After going 50-percent or better in draws in his first seven games, he’s been 50-percent or better in three of his last six. What else has tapered off is hits – a subjective measure, but perhaps an indicator of the urgency with which he does (and needs) to play. 12 credited in the first seven games, five in the last six. His game just doesn’t seem to have the sense of urgency it needs.

Ben Clymer:

First ten games: 0-0-0, 0 (he was playing defense)
Second ten games: 2-1-3, -2 (in eight games at forward)

Well, this is the kind of club you can have an experiment of playing a former defenseman, then turned forward, back on defense. You wouldn’t be as tempted to do it with a Cup contender. The experiment didn’t work, but it really can’t be pegged as a major reason for any Caps shortcomings early. Now that Clymer has been reunited with Bradley and Sutherby on the CBS line, things have a more normal look to them. He’s not getting the minutes he has as a defenseman (less than 14 minutes as as forward versus 19 a game as a defenseman), but he’s been more aggressive (14 hits versus five, 12 PIMs versus six).

Alexander Semin:

First ten games: 8-4-12, +1
Second ten games: 0-5-5, -1

Goal scorers are streaky. Peter Bondra certainly was that way for more than a decade with the Caps. Semin likely will be little different. But to dry up entirely in his last 12 games played . . . now he’s on IR. Here is your odd Semin number – six. He scored goals in six games, in which he also recorded six of his total ten hits. In 13 other games, he has a total of four hits. Chicken . . . egg?

Jakub Klepis:

First ten games: 0-0-0, even
Second ten games: 1-1-2, even

OK, if Beech won’t grab the second line center job by the throat, will Klepis? Well, not on the basis of the evidence so far. Klepis has the advantage of les history than Beech (conversely, he can be viewed as having more upside – he is less a finished product). Still, there is that gaping hole there. Klepis has a predilection for taking the lazy penalty – 16 minutes in 15 games (Peter Bondra spent an early season a few years back piling up minor penalties like manure in a cow pasture, but he had all those goals, too). The Peerless doesn’t look at Klepis as a lazy player as much as a “tentative” one. He still looks very often like a player who is trying to survive, more than play, a shift.

Tomas Fleischmann:

First ten games: 0-0-0, -1
Second ten games: 0-1-1, even

He had only one game in the first ten, seven in the last ten. He gives evidence of having skills with the puck, but he’s very much feeling his way out there. An offensive player with only nine shots on goal in eight games isn’t showing signs that he’s entirely comfortable out there.

Donald Brashear:

First ten games: 0-1-1, +2
Second ten games: 0-1-1, -2

The Peerless has seen a lot of comments along the lines of, “geez, who knew he’d look that good out there?” Brashear has skills that are confined within the rule book; he is not a liability out there in his limited minutes (which might be the key – he gets about seven and a half a game). That he’s had one fight is perhaps the most surprising number on his record thus far.


The Caps are getting decent production from their top line of Ovechkin-Zubrus-Clark (30-27-57, +6 overall). But from there, on offense, the bottom drops out. If you look at the various second line possibilities . . .

Semin-Beech-Zednik: 12-22-34, -1 (total 46 man-games)
Semin-Klepis-Zednik: 12-17-29, -4 (48 man-games)
Semin-Beech-Pettinger: 13-18-31, +2 (45 man-games played)
Semin-Klepis-Pettinger: 13-13-26, -1 (47 man-games played)
Fleischmann-Beech-Pettinger: 5-10-15, +1 (34 man-games played)
Fleischmann-Beech-Zednik: 4-14-18, -2 (35 man-games played)
Fleischmann-Klepis-Pettinger: 5-5-10, -2 (36 man-games played)
Fleischmann-Klepis-Zednik: 4-9-13, -5 (37 man-games played)

. . . things don’t look so good. It looks a lot like a half-point a game coming out of the second line. If you look at all the players in these combinations – Semin, Beech, Zednik, Klepis, Pettinger, and Fleischmann – that’s a grand total of 17 goals, almost half of them from a player who had his last one a month ago today and is now injured. The club is getting nothing out of its second line, and thus makes the Caps that much easier to defend.

The first line gets an A- for its work thus far. It wouldn’t necessarily be the first line you’d have if the Caps were a contender, but it has done everything it could reasonably be asked to do. The others – especially the second line – have come up short . . . far short in some cases. The overall grade for the forwards:


Comparing the Tens – Through Twenty Games . . . Part I, The Team

With apologies to the folks on the official site, I’m of a mind to compare ten-game segments of the season, because I think doing so provides a clearer picture of individual player performance (plus, The Peerless has to do this less often, which appeals to his innate laziness). In the first segment, we’re going to look at the team’s performance over the first ten games versus that of the second . . .


First ten games: 3-3-4, 10 points
Second ten games: 5-3-2, 12 points

The object here is to obtain 12 standings points in each ten game split. If you do that and win the odd two games at the end, voila! . . . 100 points. The Caps fell short in the first ten due to an inability to convert shootouts (it’s still a problem), “losing” three points for that reason. The second ten games achieved the goal, but it is those two points sitting at the end of that line – both extra-session losses to Boston (one a shootout, one an overtime loss) – that stick in the craw. On the plus side, the club won at Calgary (a hard place to play), at Philadelphia (breaking a winless streak that dated to the Pleistocene Age), against Ottawa (still at least a good team on paper), against the Rangers (a 100-point team least year), and against Florida (a division opponent).

On balance, standings wise, the second ten has to be considered a success . . . just perhaps not as much as one as it could have been. That shootout loss to Boston, at home, could prove important in the season’s last few games if the club is fighting for a playoff spot.

The Special Teams/Power Play:

First ten games: 9-54 (16.7 percent)
Second ten games: 8-53 (15.1 percent)

The differences aren’t statistically significant. They are consistently mediocre – 17th overall after 20 games. Of those 17 goals, 14 come from three players – Alex Ovechkin, Dainius Zubrus, and Alexander Semin. That those three would have 14 power play goals isn’t surprising. That only three other players have any is . . . well, perhaps not surprising, but a source of concern. Here is why . . . San Jose leads the league in power play efficiency. They have 6 goals from three defensemen. The Caps are 17th in the league – they have one goal from a defenseman (Jamie Heward). This is not an argument for a defenseman-based power play; the Caps have too much talent at forward for that. But there isn’t much of a threat from back there at the moment, either. It is very likely a reflection of how green the club is back there. Steve Eminger, Shaone Morrisonn, and Mike Green have 326 games of experience among them – less than full two seasons apiece. One might be looking down the road to see if these fellows get more opportunities and make more of what they get.

The Special Teams/Penalty Kill:

First ten games: 49-61 (80.3 percent)
Second ten games: 45-53 (84.9 percent)

There are several ways to look at this. First, fewer man-disadvantages is better. More than 13 percent fewer over the second ten games is a nice improvement. Still, giving up 5.3 opportunities a game is an area that can stand improvement.

Second, the Caps gave up 0.4 fewer goals per game in the second ten (0.8/game versus 1.2/game). Shaving almost half a goal off the goals against in any area is a plus, and this is a product of the fewer advantages opponents have.

Third, and this reaches back to the power play numbers – differential . . . the differential of power play goals to power play goals allowed in the first ten was -3 (9 for, 12 against).. In the second ten, it was even (8, both for an against). In the second ten, the special teams result allowed the Caps to play more at even strength, which plays toward their strength of being a hard working team that can apply pressure in a forechecking situation (although . . . read below).

Fourth, the Caps are just getting better at killing penalties. Even with the lower number of disadvantages, the Caps are killing off a larger share of what they face. Last year, the Caps killed fewer than 80 percent of the man-disadvantages they had – 28th in the league. That they’d be ranked 17th this morning – and moving up the charts – should be cause for optimism.


First ten games: 22 goals scored/20 allowed
Second ten games: 19 goals scored/25 allowed

OK, here’s the deal. This looks worse than it is. Carolina outscored the Caps, 6-0, at even strength in their two games in this stretch. That’s the difference (it might also be the difference in the teams, but that’s a discussion for another time). The Caps are generally competitive with most teams they face when skating even. At this stage of the development, “competitive” beats last year’s “plucky.”

In general:

The club is doing “better than expected.” If Caps fans had been polled in August and asked, would you consider an 8-6-6 mark after 20 games “excellent,” “good,” “fair,” or “poor,” I suspect most of the answers would show up in the “good” category. With that, The Peerless offers his 20-game grade for the team: