Monday, November 05, 2007

Lucky 13...

No, it’s not a plug for a Don Cherry video, it’s a look at the Caps after 13 games…that’s more than 15 percent of the season, and this year the Caps have five wins in those 13 games.

Not too lucky, if you ask The Peerless.

They had five wins in the first 13 games last year, too. But in doing so, they were 5-4-4 for 14 points. This year, all the losses are in regulation, leaving the Caps with ten points and gasping for air.

In what other respects has the Caps’ performance changed over a year ago? Well, the Peerless has a look…

Goals For/Goals Against (real goals, not that shootout crap):

2006-2007: 43/42
2007-2008: 33/35

That’s a 16.7 percent improvement in goals allowed. Given the consensus among observers of the Caps coming into the season – that they would struggle in that regard, the defense still being quite green – that is a major plus. But a 23.3 percent drop-off in goals scored...that was not part of the plan, not with Alex Ovechkin and Alexander Semin being joined by Viktor Kozlov, Michael Nylander, and Tom Poti. Of course, sustaining 14 man-games lost to injuries hitting Semin and Poti wasn’t in the plan, either.

Shots-per-Game/Shots Against-per-Game:

2006-2007: 27.8/36.5
2007-2008: 28.2/29.5

That seven shot-per-game improvement in shots allowed is important. Consider that in the context of Olaf Kolzig’s performance so far. His save percentage is .920. If he was to save that percentage of the extra shots he would face if the Caps were giving up 36.5 shots per game, it would mean an extra half-goal per game added to his goals against average, and the Caps would be far worse off than they are at the moment. You get the feeling that defense, generally speaking, is not the Caps’ problem.

Power Play:

2006-2007: 15.9 percent (11-for-69)
2007-2008: 16.1 percent (10-for-62)

Penalty Killing:

2006-2007: 83.1 percent (64-for-77)
2007-2008: 80.6 percent (54-for-67)

Taken together, the special teams are a mixed bag. The Caps’ have sustained fewer man-short situations so far this year – a good thing – but that’s a function of how they play outside the penalty killing situation itself. As we noted in the game-day post, the magic number there is five. If they give up fewer than five power play chances, they’re successful…4-1-0 this year when doing so, 1-7-0 when they don’t. The power play is marginally better, but they have been particularly successful in drawing penalties. One might think that if they had the puck more often, and infractions are more commonly called in the defensive end of the ice, then the Caps would do better in this regard. Thus far, it’s been a disappointment, both in the frequency of power plays and their success rate. Missing Alexander Semin is a consideration regarding the latter, but as to the former, that will bear watching.

Shots Attempted For-per-Game/Shots Attempted Against-per-Game:

2006-2007: 55.2/65.5
2007-2008: 57.2/50.1

That the Caps are “out-attempting” opponents this year is a good thing. But a problem lies buried in those “for” numbers. Shots missed and shots blocked are both up. That the Caps would have 43 percent of the shots they took in the last two games blocked in unsettling. Perhaps more indicative of the difference between this year and last in terms of style is the difference in the number of shots the Caps have blocked. Last year through 13 games, the Caps blocked an average of 16.2 shots a game…this year, 10.9. Last year by this time, the Caps had eight games in which they’d blocked at least 15 shots…this year, once. It is only one indicator, but perhaps one worth noting of either paying the price in the defensive end, or just not having the skill to succeed at this facet of the game. Not everyone can be Anton Volchenkov.

Hits For-per-Game/Hits Against-per-Game:

2006-2007: 18.2/16.3
2007-2008: 21.2/20.2

“Hits” is a rather subjective measure, but at the moment, Milan Jurcina is more than a third of the way to his total of last year (35/103), and John Erskine is almost half-way to his total (25/52). Here’s the thing…the Caps are 3-5 this year when “outhitting” their opponent, 2-3 when they don’t. Draw your own conclusions.

Turnover Ratio:

2006-2007: 0.86
2007-2008: 0.92

The ratio is computed as:

(Caps takeaways + Opponents giveaways) / (Caps giveaways + Opponents takeaways)

That the ratio is better this year is an improvement, but given that this club is banking much of its success on the ability to maintain possession of the puck, turning it over more than your getting it turned over indicates that there is some work yet to be done in this area. Most troubling, the top four Caps in terms of giveaways so far this year are defensemen – Jurcina, Brian Pothier, Mike Green, and Shaone Morrisonn. Green and Morrisonn appear to be on approximately last year’s pace in that regard (although Green is getting more ice time than last year). Jurcina’s pace is substantially higher than last year, and when accounting for Pothier’s fewer minutes (five a game at this point), his pace is higher, too.

Faceoffs won:

2006-2007: 49.7 percent
2007-2008: 52.8 percent

This is a substantial improvement over the same point a year ago and is an important ingredient to the puck-possession game the Caps want to play. But it is not the be-all and end-all ingredient. The Caps have been 50-percent-or-better in 10 of 13 games this year. They are 4-6-0 in those games.

So, there it is, a thumbnail sketch comparing this year to last by the numbers. By most measures, the Caps are better, and that is an encouraging sign. The problem – predictable at this stage of the season from The Peerless’ chair, has been the offense – the Caps just haven’t yet been able to score goals consistently on a game-to-game basis. The thought here has been that a slow start offensively would give way as new players become accustomed with their new teammates. That might take, oh, 15 games or so. We’re getting to the end of that, and the situation is one of growing concern. The Caps are 14th in the Eastern Conference this morning -- tied with Atlanta but with a game in hand. That is a lot of teams to hurdle, and some of them – the Lightning, Devils, and Sabres among them – would be expected to be climbing out of their own doldrums, too. Like we said in another entry, “start’s over.”


DMG said...

That hits per game stat is interesting - everyone is saying the Caps aren't playing the physical game this year like they have been in the past, but I tended to disagree. Looks like that stat backs me up at least...

Anonymous said...

great read

dougeb said...

I like your work, always have. Thank you for some superb analysis.

D'ohboy said...

Great Analysis, probably the best blog post I've seen yet at summing up the Caps season thus far. The data seems to confirm what my eyes tell me-namely that the Caps are much more talented than last year but can't score enough to overcome inconsistent effort and untimely mistakes. Part of this is to be expected with a roster full of young players and recent additions. The defense has simply been atrocious at getting shots through.

As for the data, Hits and Takeaways/Giveaways are subjective enough to be meaningless in small sample sizes, but I would think that over the course of the season, it could be a useful indicator, if only in relative terms.