Monday, January 10, 2011


The Washington Capitals are on a pace to record 236 goals this season. That pace – 2.88 goals per game – would leave the Caps finishing the season scoring almost a full goal per game less than last season’s 3.82 goals per game. As one might frame the question, “what’s up with that?!”

Well, one way to look at it starts at the top. The Capitals have four players commonly referred to as “The Young Guns.” Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, Alexander Semin, and Mike Green form the core of the offense, if not the team itself. So far in their respective young careers, offense has been the hallmark of their games. Ovechkin has averaged 54-52-106 per season in his career to date; Nicklas Backstrom: 23-63-86; Alexander Semin: 30-30-60; and Mike Green: 14-30-44. But so far this season, only Semin is on a pace to exceed his career season average, although his recent production (0-5-5 in his last 14 games) suggests he might not reach that mark.

It gets worse in the direct comparison to last year’s results. The Young Guns combined for 142 of the 313 goals the Caps recorded last season. They are on a pace to score a combined 100 goals this season, 42 fewer than their total from last year. The Caps are, as a team, on a pace to score 77 fewer goals than they did last year, and the Young Guns’ diminished production accounts for 55 percent of that projection. Each of them is behind last year’s pace in goals, assists, and points. Here is how this quartet look compared to last season:

The Young Guns have been less productive on the offensive end of the ice so far this year, but the diminished production accounts for “only” 55 percent of the projected drop in goals scored this season. There are others who are following a similar arc. And their production is as important in its way – providing secondary scoring support – as the Young Guns’ production is in its way.

Mike Knuble, Brooks Laich, and Eric Fehr are relied upon to provide a presence in front of the net and significant secondary scoring to support the Caps’ offense. Last season each member of this trio topped 20 goals, and their combined total of 75 goals represented 24 percent of the 313 goals scored by the Caps. This season they project to lower totals, individually and in the aggregate:

Of the 77-goal drop in projected scoring for the Caps, these seven players account for 69 of those projected missing goals (90 percent).

But back to the Young Guns for a moment. One line of thinking about the Caps’ overall drop in offensive production is that the team is making a concerted effort to focus more on the defensive side of the ledger. It would be hard to argue with the latter, especially since the Caps have allowed a total of 16 goals in their last ten games. But what about the former? Is the drop in offensive production a product of that focus, specifically as it applies to this quartet of players? One of the ways in which the relationship might manifest itself is in the team buttoning things up late, of sacrificing offensive flair for minimizing the risk of giving opponents offensive chances of their own late in games. In other words, we might see a drop in third period offensive production.

In fact, that has happened. The Young Guns are on a pace to score a total of 41 third period goals, which would be a drop of seven from their third period goal scoring total of last season. But it is the first period in which the drop in production is greatest. The Young Guns are on a pace to score only 18 first period goals over the entire 2010-2011 season, a 60 percent drop from last year’s 45 first period goal total. Individually, the Alexes are looking at the greatest dropoff, Ovechkin from 16 first period goals last season to two this season and Semin from 15 first period goals last season to six this season. There are 23 of the 27-goal drop off:

The best you can say about this is that perhaps these guys are making an effort to get games off on the right foot from a responsibility point of view, that they are, if not in a “defense-first” posture, at least paying attention to what is happening in their own end of the ice.

The drop in production as followed a similar path on the power play, although here the situation is a bit more complicated. The Young Guns are projecting to a power play goal total that is nine fewer than last year’s total for the quartet:

The entire drop in goal scoring among this group can be explained away by the drop in Alex Ovechkin’s production. His projected power play goal total of four is nine fewer than he had last season. But one number that jumps off the page is the projected drop of 17 assists – more than two-thirds from last year’s total – on the part of Mike Green.

Although the idea of sacrificing offense to develop a more balanced approach has its intuitive charms, the drop in production in the first period and on the power play among their top offensive performers might be an issue apart from a rebalancing of philosophy. Something to watch for in the second half – can the Caps improve on their first period goal scoring (they are currently tied for 27th in total goals scored in the first period), and can the Young Guns in particular improve upon their first period performance and kick things up a notch on the power play? So far, the deficiencies in those aspects explain much of the drop in production on offense for the Caps from last season to this.