Monday, March 14, 2011

OK...About That Power Play

Fans have been lamenting the Capitals’ power play for months now. After starting the season 21-for-87 (24.1 percent) in their first 24 games, the Caps are 17-for-144 since (11.8 percent), and in only one of the 46 games in that time have the Caps scored as many as two power play goals in a game.

Disappointing, to be sure. The Caps have probably left 6-10 points on the table as a result of poor power play results. But is it unusual in the context of the environment in which they play? Maybe not. There is an odd dynamic unfolding in the NHL this season with respect to special teams, and it has to do with the conference in which one plays.

Looking at the power play and penalty killing numbers of the 30 teams, the degree to which penalty killing or power play results are tied to standings performance is markedly different between the conferences. Take a look at this table (Western top-eight teams in yellow; Eastern top-eight teams in blue):

Out west, it seems having that strong power play is more consistent with success than having the effective penalty kill. Six of the top-eight teams in the West are in the top-half of the power play results to date, including four of the top five (It is worth noting that the top five power play teams overall play out west).

The reverse is true in the East. Six of the top-eight teams in the East find themselves in the top-half of the penalty killing rankings, including Washington – third at 85.6 percent. In the context of the Eastern Conference, one finds a number of top-eight teams that are strong on the penalty kill and weak on the power play – Washington (ranked 3rd and 22nd, respectively), Pittsburgh (1st/21st), Philadelphia (10th/18th), New York Rangers (11th/19th).

Sticking to the East, what I would be concerned about heading into the playoffs – where margins are quite thin between winning and losing – is the performance of the Montreal Canadiens. Ranked 7th in both penalty killing and the power play, the Canadiens have the capacity to make teams pay for their transgressions while fending off the results of their own. It will make Montreal once more a dangerous team lurking in the weeds of Eastern Conference standings.

As far as the Caps are concerned, if they can shake their three-plus-month power play blues in the last dozen games (they are 3-for-16 in March – 18.8 percent), it could give them a leg-up on their competition heading into the post season.

Sittin' at the end of the bar... (Streak Version)

It’s a little known fact…

-- Seven of the eight wins on this winning streak have been of the one-goal variety.

-- Four of the wins came in extra time, but only one of them came in a Gimmick.

-- In seven of the eight games the Caps allowed the first goal, five times in the first period.

-- The Caps have managed to score only three of their 23 goals in the streak in the first period, but they have 11 in the third period and three in overtime. Opponents? Two third period goals and none in overtime…

-- As you might expect, Alex Ovechkin leads the team in scoring in the streak (4-7-11), but there are eight players who have averaged at least a point every other game.

-- The defense has contributed nine points, only one of them coming on a goal. Anyone think that goal would have come from Scott Hannan?

-- John Carlson leads the defense in scoring in the streak (0-4-4).

-- Ten different players have goals in the streak, 16 different players have points. The only players who have dressed during the streak and have NOT recorded a point are Jeff Schultz, Matt Bradley, John Erskine, and Tyler Sloan. They have contributed in other ways, though. Bradley has 20 hits in the eight games, Schultz is plus-5, Erskine is plus-1, and Sloan…well, he was only in two of the games, so his chances were limited.

-- The power play has played in a manner roughly consistent with its season average –3-for-18 for 16.7 percent (16.4 percent for the season), but if anything, the penalty killers have been even better, skating off 31 of 34 shorthanded situations for 91.2 percent (85.6 percent for the season).

-- The eight game winning streak ties this club for having the third-longest winning streak in franchise history, duplicating eight-game streaks in the 1985-1986 and 1988-1989 seasons. The Caps had a ten-game winning streak in 1983-1984 and a 14-game winning streak last season.

-- Very odd number. The eight-game streak does not merely pertain to wins. It ties the Caps for the longest they have gone without having been shut out in a game since starting the season with 19 straight games without having been blanked.

-- The Caps have scored 23 goals in this eight-game streak. They did not score more goals than that in any eight consecutive games since they scored 25 in an eight-game stretch that spanned November 14-28 (Games 18-25 of the season). The Caps were 5-2-1 in that stretch.

-- The 12 goals the Caps have allowed in the eight-game winning streak is the fewest they have allowed in any eight consecutive games since allowing 10 in an eight-game stretch that spanned January 20th – February 8th (Games 48-55 of the season, their lowest goals allowed total in any eight-game stretch this season). The Caps were 4-2-2 in that stretch.