NHL

washington capitals are bad

washington capitals are bad

The Washington Capitals have hit the twenty game mark, which is my totally arbitrary threshold that needs to be reached before I’m willing to start drawing conclusions about the team.

So here’s my bottom line: folks, they’re really bad. Let me trace how I got there.

I’ve tried half a dozen approaches this story over the years. This time, I will use as few arcane numbers as possible. We’ll do this based on Washington’s rank in various stats in various game states.

But first, the classification.

With a record of 7-10-3, the Capitals are the second worst in their division. Their points percentage ranks 25th in the league, in the company of Chicago, Vancouver and Arizona. If the playoffs started today, the Capitals would be like “wtf mateI thought we had 62 more games.”

This is, objectively, an unfortunate situation for Washington, but this exercise is about going deeper in levels. So follow me down.

crime

Here’s where the Capitals rank at different offensive event rates.

  • Attempts: 13th
  • Expected goals: 24th
  • Goalscoring opportunities: 21st
  • High Danger Opportunities: 21st
  • Goals: 24th

To my mild surprise, Washington’s offensive stats have increased over the past three seasons. They aren’t getting a huge amount of danger per shot, but even the expected goals are up. Where it all goes wrong is ending.

From HockeyViz, here’s a heat map of Washington’s offense compared to league average. Red spots mean the Caps shoot more from that location.

washington capitals are bad

The Caps are used to a nine-to-ten five-on-five shooting percentage. Right now it’s 7.9. A lack of finishing, whether due to bad luck or inferior shooting talent, is the main driver of Washington’s depressed scoring during even strength. The Caps have scored 2.4 fewer goals than the models would expect based on the profile of their offense, but historically that has been a lower count for this team. Ranking 21st in the league in shooting percentage shouldn’t normally be cause for alarm, but for a team that has relied on elite finishing as much as Washington, it’s practically fatal.

defense

Here’s where the Capitals rank at various defensive event rates. In this case, the Caps are ranked according to the rates of their opponents, where lower is better.

  • Attempts: 18th
  • Expected goals: 20th
  • Goalscoring opportunities: 17th
  • Chances of high danger: 18th
  • Goals: 16th

The picture is bleaker on the defensive side of the ice. The 2022-23 Caps are the worst defensive team in six years (a span that covers their elite season in 2017, their uneven 2018 campaign en route to the Cup and the subsequent disappointment coached by Reirden).

From HockeyViz, here’s a heat map of Washington’s defense compared to league average. Blue spots make opponents shoot less from that location.

Goaltending isn’t the problem, though Darcy Kuemper and Charlie Lindgren haven’t really stood out either. The .916 five-on-five save percentage is identical to the team’s full-season numbers in the previous two seasons, during the Samsonov-Vanecek diumvirate. Lindgren and Kuemper have saved a modest 1.8 more goals than we expected based on the danger and volume of the opposing attack.

The result is that the Capitals finish in the bottom third of the league in all but raw shot attempt possession (17th, at 50.4 percent) and scoring chances (18th, at 49.3 percent) .

Raw stats aside, my overall impression is that Washington’s systemic problem is shifting from defense to offense. The defender’s forward puck movement in the defensive and neutral zones is underwhelming, and Washington’s ability to win the offensive zone with possession suffers, either as a result or as a related phenomenon.

Special equipment

Okay, this part is going to suck. Starting with the power play, here are the ranks:

  • Power Play Attempts: 25th
  • Expected Power Play Goals: 25th
  • Power play conversion rate: 24th

The Capitals power play is loaded. To succeed it depends on Alex Ovechkin to challenge our understanding of the sport. If he can’t do that, or if he can’t feed off a clean pass, then Washington is inert.

The problem, I think, starts in the neutral zone. According to the Three Zonesonly one team in the NHL carries the puck into the offensive zone less frequently: the 28th-ranked Philadelphia Flyers.

Now to death by penalty. Again, here are Washington’s ranks in limiting opponents’ rates:

  • Penalty attempts: 26th
  • Predicted goals in penalties: 26th
  • Penalty conversion rate: 15th

This one had me scratching my head for a while. My vague impression had been that the Caps had a decent penalty kill. Turns out not so much. His propensity to block might have been a clue. They block more (per pace) than every team except Tampa and Vegas, the seventh-highest number of blocks in proportion to shot attempts.

The penalty is allowing a lot of shots, a lot of danger and having a mediocre goalkeeper. And unlike the five-on-five and power play issues, I’m not optimistic that a return to health alone will fix things here.


Oh boy, that was bleak.

The Capitals are undeniably a bad hockey team. They deserve their place in the rankings. His defense is bad; his offense is worse; his special teams are in disarray. And while, of course, bad luck accounts for some of the disappointment, the team’s hope that their return to prominence will automatically come with Dmitry Orlov, Tom Wilson and TJ Oshie seems like overkill to me.

However, I’m still inclined to give them a lot of latitude on injuries and theirs very difficult schedule. How much, I’m not sure. But now I have left the realm of quantities and moved into the realm of feelings. So I’ll pass it on to you: How do you feel?

This story would not be possible without The Three Zones, Natural Stats Trick i Hockey Viz. Please consider joining us in supporting these sites.

Caption photo: Alan Dobbins/RMNB, Capitals



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