FanPost

Analysis: Takeaways from The Streak

There's been a lot of hype around the Caps lately stemming from an improbable 14-game winning streak. There is no doubt that it's been a great run powered by a fantastic offense and superb goaltending. Mixed in there somewhere has been praise for the defense, who recently allowed 9 goals in a 6-game hot streak that ended with last week's road win vs Boston.

I was curious as to what really "powered" The Streak to determine whether we could bank on this improved level of play come playoff time in all three phases of the game: offense, defense and goaltending.  To do that I compared our collective team stats for the 49 games before the streak against the 14 games that comprised The Streak. (I left out the last two games vs MTL and OTT.) My conclusions were interesting - offense and goaltending significantly over-achieved during The Streak and should not be expected to produce at "Streak" levels going forward. Defense, however, was pretty poor, regressing significantly from pre-Streak performance. They'll need to rebound for us to be true Cup contenders. Sounds odd considering that our team GAA significantly improved from our pre-Streak GAA, right? I'll get to the whys shortly. Either way, know that the defense really needs to improve its play going forward (and backwards, bad pun intended!).

Before I dive into the stats, let me explain what I did. I collected goals for/allowed, PP goals for/allowed (factoring in SHG scored/allowed), total shots for/allowed, total CORSI for/allowed and Even Strength time as you can see below. From there I derived some numbers and drew some conclusions for both our Offense and Defense/Goaltending.

Let's start with oh-fense:

OFFENSE

Stat

All Games

Pre-Streak

Streak

% Change

Games

59

45

14

 --

Total Goals For

234

167

67

 --

Total Shots For

1922

1471

451

 --

Avg. Goals/Game

3.97

3.71

4.79

29%

Avg. Shots/Game

32.6

32.7

32.2

-1%

Avg. Shots/Goal

8.2

8.8

6.7

-24%

5-on-5 Goals For

167

118

49

 --

5-on-5 CORSI

2825

2131

694

 --

Avg. 5-on-5 Goal/Game

2.83

2.62

3.50

33%

Avg. 5-on-5 CORSI/Game

47.9

47.4

49.6

5%

Adj. PP Goals For

64

46

18

 --

Avg. PP Goals Game

1.08

1.02

1.29

26%

Avg. Even Strength Time

48:03

48:15

47:24

-2%

(Note:  No MTL or OTT games are included.)

  • In 51 less seconds of even strength time (2%) during The Streak, the Caps have increased 5-on-5 goals by 33%, from 2.62 to 3.50, and increased their CORSI by 5%, from 47.4 to 49.6. That means the Caps have incrementally improved their 5-on-5 offense, producing 5% more (CORSI-wise) in 2% less time and, incredibly, resulting in a 29% increase in goals.
  • More importantly, what they've really done is to become very efficient. The Caps score one goal per every 6.7 shots, as opposed to 1 every 8.8 shots before The Streak. This 24% reduction in shots required to score a goal correlates to a quite-remarkable 31% improvement in marksmanship.
  • The Caps have improved their power play production from 1.02 goals/game to 1.29 goals game, a 26% increase.

Is this pace sustainable? Or is it a "hot" offense that is bound to cool off?

My take: Our shot production (SOG, CORSI) is consistent regardless of whether we're streaking or not. This is the good news. But our accuracy is uncharacteristically high, even for a team of this skill. We can't expect to shoot 15%+ or produce 3.5 even strength goals per game - that's just unsustainable against playoff-caliber teams. Also, during The Streak we haven't played many elite goalies (Brodeur, Miller, Kiprusoff, Nabakov, Luongo, etc.) which is helping our offensive numbers. So, yes, regrettably I believe our offense is on a "heater" and bound to come back down to a "mean" playing level, although I happily acknowledge that our mean offensive output should be around ~4.0 goals/game.

And now...the defense.      

DEFENSE + GOALTENDING

Stat

All Games

Pre-Streak

Streak

% Change

Games

59

45

14

 --

Total Goals Allowed

161

128

33

 --

Total Shots Allowed

1836

1345

491

 --

Avg Goals/Game Allowed*

2.72

2.84

2.36

-17%

Avg Shots/Game Allowed

31.1

29.9

35.1

17%

Avg Shots/Goal Allowed

11.4

10.5

14.9

41%

5-on-5 Goals Allowed

100

81

19

 --

5-on-5 CORSI Allowed

2526

1924

602

 --

Avg 5-on-5 Goals/Game Allowed

1.69

1.80

1.36

-25%

Avg 5-on-5 CORSI/Game Allowed

42.8

42.8

43.0

0%+

Adj PP Goals Allowed

58

44

14

 --

Avg PP Goals Allowed/Game

0.98

0.98

1.00

2%

Even Strength Time

48:03:08

48:15:17

47:24:04

-2%

* This stat is not GAA, just goals allowed per game without including overtime minutes. It's very close to GAA though.

  • Our goals against/game has decreased from 2.84 to 2.36 - a 17% improvement.
  • We haven't seen an improvement or drop off in penalty killing as they've hovered around giving up 1.0 PP goals/game all season.

So lower goals against means we must be playing great defense with great goaltending, right?

Wrong. Let's keep going.

  • We have given up 35.1 shots/game during the streak, up from 29.9, a 17% increase.
  • Our CORSI has stayed stready at ~43.0 shots/game
  • Not only are we playing poorer defensively by giving up more shots on net - we're also blocking less shots 5 on 5.

So how do you explain seeing a 17% increase in shots allowed with the results being a 25% decrease in 5-on-5 goals and a 17% drop in total goals allowed? You don't. You simply thank Jose/Neuvi for going on a heater, playing above their heads, having an incredibly high .930 save percentage, consistently bailing out an ever more porous defense, and quietly wait for goaltending to fall back to its mean expected performance (MTL and OTT anyone?).

Will the defense rebound?

Yes, somewhat. They're clearly in a rut now, and they'll certainly inch closer back to their mean performance. But is their mean performance level sufficient enough? (Personally, I'm not sold on them as a Stanely Cup-challenging unit which I'll address next.)

So what do we take away from The Streak?

Our 14-game winning streak is the culmination of very good goaltending, efficient shooting by our offense and a more productive power play. But our defensive play regressed and was bailed out by hot goaltending. So while it was a nice 14-game winning streak that we went on - one that undeniably shows off a lot of intangibles such as heart, grit and ability to play under pressure - we still have significant improvements to make defensively to truly be Cup favorites.

I acknowledge that a portion of defensive play falls on the forwards and their ability to back-check, play sound defense in the defensive zone, and effectively break out the puck. Team defense is also helped out by a strong puck-handling goalie - an area where our goaltenders are below-average. But a majority of defensive responsibilty falls on the defensemen. And, in my opinion, our defense isn't cutting it. We're allowing more shots than ever before and blocking less shots. I think hockey fans, in general, occasionally muddy the difference between good goaltending and good defense: we had the former during The Streak, and very little of the latter.

What do we need?

There is a movement among Caps fans to stand pat and not mess with team chemistry. I couldn't disagree more. It's imperative that we upgrade defensively. Our aggressive style of offense basically mandates that our defensemen will be hung out to dry several times a game. Erskine, Sloan, and an inexperienced Alzner are not who you want to be left isolated with a Spezza or Heatley or Malkin in a Game 7 situation. Consequently, none of these three Cap defensemen - including the beloved and slightly over-hyped King Karl - are answers for our win-now requirements. We have three top 4 defensemen (Green, Poti, Schultz) and two #5/#6 defensemen - Pothier and Sha-Mo. There is a glaring hole on our defense as we're missing a top 4 d-man. We can get away with it in the regular season, but not in the playoffs against the Pittsburghs, Ottawas, Chicagos and San Joses, all of whom would give us huge match-up problems defensively.

It's time to upgrade the defense to make a legit run at Lord Stanley. Great offense + average defense + volatile goaltending won't cut it against better teams. There's one more game before the March 3 trade deadline...my hope is that we can land an impact defenseman and that my seat in Section 426 is closer to the ice than Erskine's or Sloan's come playoff team. McPhee, it's now in your hands!

If this FanPost is written by someone other than one of the blog's editors, the opinions expressed in it do not necessarily reflect those of this blog or SB Nation.

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