As is usually the case when I’m looking up advanced stats, www.behindthenet.ca is an indispensable resource.
I decided that with the New Year approaching fast, this’d be a good time to look at the Caps through the lens of advanced stats, to see if I could glean anything useful or surprising from the data. I'll be doing player-by-player analysis as a series of Fanposts as I have time. I'll move through the roster by ES ATOI, as of 39 games played. First up:
Let’s get it out of the way: Alex Ovechkin, barring a near-miraculous second-half surge, is going to finish the season with his worst counting numbers in his career.
By a lot.
But what do the advanced stats say?
Corsi Rel: 1.3
Uh, damn. The Caps are only 1.3 attempts at goal (goals, shots saved, misses and blocks) better than the other team with AO on the ice at ES than with him off the ice. To give you an idea of what he did in prior years, he led, or nearly led, the team with scores of 11.9, 19.7, 12.3, and 11.7. Alexander Ovechkin is usually (was usually?) a dominant possession player, on top of being one of the league’s most prolific scorers.
Corsi Rel Quality of Competition: .474 (6th of 12)
Alex is facing middle-of-the-road competition every night. He’s on the bubble of facing the 2nd and 3rd best forwards or defenders from the other team. Given the shielding that fourth line generally needs, that’s not surprising and not too bad, considering Project Mayhem eats the hard minutes – BB and DH are trying to get AO away from the best players, the other coaches want their best guys out there to slow him down.
Offensive Start Percentage: 54.8 (3rd highest out of 12)
Hey, look at that. Starting the most talented offensive players in the offensive zone. That said, AO should have an advantage over his teammates in getting shots towards net starting in the offensive zone more often than most everyone else. He’s not doing that, and that spells trouble for the Caps. Want to know why the Caps are having trouble getting shots on the board, and goals on the board? Start your looking at Alex Ovechkin – he’s getting cherry offensive minutes with good teammates and not producing shot or goal differential. That’s absolutely crushing when that player is eating $9.5mm of a $63mm salary cap.
Corsi Rel Quality of Teammates: .975 (3rd highest out of 12)
More of the same story, here. AO is skating with strong teammates, against average competition, in easy territorial positions, and isn’t doing anything with it. If this team has any kind of winning future, this has to change sooner rather than later.
Penalties Differential: +1.3 per 60 minutes (2.0 drawn, 0.7 taken)
This is much better – generating 1.3 extra power-plays every 4 games played (give or take) is very much an excellent trait. Assuming that rate and 80 games played along with a 16% success rate on the power-play, that ought to be worth ~4.5 goals, plus another couple of goals against that the opponent doesn’t score because they’re defending against a power-play and not playing at ES. If Ovechkin can continue to generate penalty differential at this rate, this skill by itself is probably worth a win in the standings all by itself.
Zone Shift: +3.76 (1st out of 12)
Zone Shift is how often a player finishes in the offensive zone versus a 70% regression to 50%. For example, the league average player starting 60% of his starts in the offensive zone would be expected to finish 53% of them in the offensive zone. +3.76 is a very good number, and represents more offensive zonetime and zone starts for his teammates.
I’m not going to sugar-coat this – Alex Ovechkin (and his contract) are badly hurting the Caps right now in a very real way. He’s not doing much with cherry minutes – he’s not generating shot differential, and he’s not generating goal differential. He’s not making his teammates noticeably better at finishing their chances. About the only things he’s doing right is shifting the zone and drawing a lot more penalties than he’s taking.
It’s not enough.
For a team with championship aspirations, which they surely had coming into this season, those minutes and those dollars have to be more productive. This is performance you can pick off the free agent market every summer, and have lots of money left over to strengthen the bottom and middle of your lineup.
The Captain has to step up and I’m not talking about leadership, here. He needs to take care of his own game before he worries about anyone else’s. Once that’s sorted out, this team can start thinking about going somewhere in the playoffs, instead of just making it in.
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