Theme: “What is good? All that heightens the feeling of power, the will to power, power itself in man.”
-- Friedrich Nietzsche
Power is something of a recurring theme in Brooks Laich’s 2010-2011 season. First, if you look at this season compared to last, the results are almost duplicates of one another with one very important exception:
Power play goals. Add back those power play goals he recorded in 2009-2010 that he didn’t get in 2010-2011, and the goals, assists, points, plus/minus – just about everything – looks like his 2009-2010 season. And just how did that happen? Well, you can see it in the ten-game splits...
No power play goals scored after his third ten-game segment (Game 26, the first goal in a 4-1 win over St. Louis that happened to be the last game the Caps won before their eight-game losing streak). This is not a trivial consideration in Laich’s season when looked at in the context of the three seasons that came before. Because looking at those seasons, he is not an especially prolific scorer at even strength:
2009-2010: 78 games/11-20-31
2008-2009: 82 games/12-24-36
2007-2008: 82 games/13-14-27
Another way of looking at Laich’s drop in power play production is that among seven forwards who averaged at least 1:00 power play time per 60 minutes, Laich finished last among Caps forwards in goals per 60 minutes at 5-on-4 (those who played the entire season with the club and appeared in at least 20 games). He dropped from 2.77 goals per 60 minutes at 5-on-4 in 2009-2010 to 0.53 in 2010-2011. He went 52 consecutive games without so much as a power play point. And here is the stunning fact accompanying those numbers. Laich faced the worst competition of any Caps forward at 5-on-4 (and it wasn’t close: Laich, according to behindthenet.ca – the source of all the numbers in this paragraph – had a QUALCOMP value of -0.461, Mike Knuble was nest at +0.246).
The even strength and power play numbers end up married to another summary number – 7.7. That was Laich’s shooting percentage for the season and by far his lowest since 2006-2007. An appropriate benchmark here is Mike Knuble. One might expect (or perhaps more precisely, “hope”) that Laich would assume much of the role a Knuble fills – a forward with size who can contribute by scoring goals in close and on the power play. Except that Knuble – in what was his worst year in some time in this regard – had a shooting percentage of 11.8 percent. Had Laich converted his 207 shots on goal with the same frequency he accomplished the feat in 2009-2010 (itself not close to a career best), he would have finished with 23 goals, almost what he recorded in 2009-2010 (25).
On the other side of special teams, Laich averaged more shorthanded ice time in 2010-2011 than any other Capitals forward (2:18/game). And among Caps forwards that averaged more than 1:00 ice time per 60 minutes, Laich had the second best differential of goals against/on ice to goals against/off ice per 60 minutes at 4-on-5: 1.50 (Marcus Johansson’s differential was higher: 1.70). He also faced the second highest quality of competition when on ice at 4-on-5.
Odd Laich Fact… Laich was an even or better player on every day of the week in 2010-2011.
Game to Remember… March 15, 2011. At the 13:23 mark of the first period, Laich broke a 1-1 tie against the Montreal Canadiens at Bell Centre. It was Laich’s 100th goal in the NHL, and it came in a 4-2 win for the Caps.
Game to Forget… November 22, 2010. It was the last in a string of utterly forgettable games for the Caps. After having dropped a 5-0 shutout in Atlanta and a 5-4 Gimmick loss to the Flyers at home, Laich and the Caps lost a 5-0 shutout in New Jersey. Laich was for two of the goals in this one and was on the ice for five of the 13 goals scored in that three game stretch (one other goal coming on a penalty shot, the other the difference in the Gimmick).
Post Season… A post-season of 1-6-7, even, is not exactly the worst of outcomes, but it served as a microcosm of Laich’s season, too. No power play goals, one power play assist. And even though he finished 1-2-3 in the four game sweep at the hands of Tampa Bay, he recorded only eight shots on goal in the four games, five of them coming in Game 2 in which he scored his only goal of the series.
In the end, there seems to be less to Laich’s season than meets the eye. Although he finished fourth in total scoring, he was fifth in goals, and his power play goals total decreased significantly from his previous season. He was second on the Caps in playoff scoring, but his 4.8 percent shooting percentage was far from what the Caps needed (one goal).
Moving forward, Laich is about to test the unrestricted free agency waters (if he does not re-sign before July 1 with the Caps). Some might look at his numbers and think he is potentially a top-six forward. But looking at his numbers, we see something different. A reliable third line forward who can kill penalties and who can (when on top of his game) provide some additional power play punch. If a team thinks that is worth $4.5 million a year, more power to them and to Laich. But at the moment, as the free agent signing period approaches, Laich has power…even if there wasn’t as much as fans might have liked on the power play.