Friday, February 17, 2012

Does Less Than Four Matter?

In the end, it’s wins and losses. Right now, the Caps have not enough of the former, too many of the latter. One line of argument goes that the too few wins to date is a product of too few games in which the big players are in the lineup. For the Caps, having the big four of Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, Alexander Semin, and Mike Green in the lineup has been an all-too-rare occurrence. Has it mattered? Well, there are a variety of player combinations to look at to see if presences and absences are attached to win-loss records. At the 25-games-left point of the season, what does it look like?

The Intact Fact

The Caps are 8-0-0 this season when each of the big four is in the lineup. Seven of those instances came in the 7-0-0 start to the season, the eighth game coming in a 3-1 Veterans Day win over New Jersey. In all other games, the Caps are 20-23-5. And that record includes the 16-14-4 record compiled under Dale Hunter, who has not had the good fortune to have those four in the lineup at the same time in any of the 34 games he has coached.

Having those four in the lineup mattered in terms of offense. In those eight wins the big four were 11-20-31 overall and were held as a group without a point only once. They were scoreless and a combined minus-7 in a 6-5 Gimmick win over Tampa Bay on October 10th. It is worth noting that while much attention has been focused on the fact that those eight games represent eight of the nine games played by Mike Green so far this season, Nicklas Backstrom was 2-9-11 in those eight games to lead the big four in points. Overall in those eight games, the Caps outscored their opponents by a 32-15 margin.

Three’ll Do…Not

This is more or less “The Green Effect.” The Caps have played 28 games with three of the big four in the lineup. Of those 27 games, Mike Green was the missing man in 26 of them (Alexander Semin was out of the lineup in the 3-1 win over Calgary on January 3rd). In the 27 games overall, the Caps were 11-15-2. And of the group, only Nicklas Backstrom averaged at least a point per game (9-19-28 in 28 games). The Alexes’ contributions dropped significantly, Semin’s dropping off a cliff – 8-7-15 (a 44-point pace over 82 games). It is worth noting that in the 26 games he did play as one of the remaining three of the big four, Semin had only two power play points (goal, assist).

With three of the big four in the lineup under Dale Hunter, the Caps are 8-6-1. In all but two of those games, the three have been Ovechkin, Backstrom, and Semin (Backstrom missed one game, Semin the other). The Caps have been reasonably successful under Hunter with three of the four in the lineup, and with Hunter having had no games with all four, it is not entirely clear that injuries – in this case one injury – have made a big difference under Hunter.

One Pair is a Weak Hand to Bet

In 17 games in which only two of the big four dressed, the Caps are 8-7-2. In 14 of them, Alex Ovechkin and Alexander Semin were the pair on the ice. Green missed all 17 games, Backstrom missed 14, and Semin missed three. Backstrom had three points in his three games as one of a pair (all with Ovechkin), and Semin had 12 points in the 14 games he played (again, all with Ovechkin). It was Ovechkin’s production that lagged a bit here and merits notice. He was 6-7-13 in the 17 games in which he played paired with either Semin or Backstrom. Of those games, Ovechkin had a pair of assists in the three games he played with Backstrom, one coming on a Backstrom goal, the other on a goal by Troy Brouwer. In the 14 games in which he was paired with Semin, Ovechkin had six goals of his own, but only five assists, a pace slightly below that which he has had over the entire season (29 versus 31). He has not been playing with linemates who can pick up some of the goal-scoring slack, and this has been slightly worse in the absence of Green and Backstrom.

All but one of the 17 games with a pair of the big four in the lineup have been played under Hunter to a record of 7-7-2. This is the hand that the Caps have holding for 14 of the last 18 games they have played, trying to bluff their way against teams at the table holding better hands. And until the Caps can make it at least three of a kind with the return of Mike Green or (pray for miracles) drawing two cards that say “Backstrom” and “Green,” treading water at .500 might be as much as Caps fans can realistically expect.

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