Have the Caps Turned a Corner on Puck Possession?

WASHINGTON, DC - FEBRUARY 28: Alex Ovechkin #8 of the Washington Capitals scores the game winner at 1:35 of overtime against the New York Islanders at the Verizon Center on February 28, 2012 in Washington, DC. The Capitals defeated the Islanders 3-2 in overtime. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

Three weeks ago, we ran a post detailing the Capitals' woeful puck possession numbers under Dale Hunter. Our takeaway at the time was essentially that the Caps were treading water in the standings thanks to fantastic goaltending that masked a lack of puck-ownership - if the goaltending regressed and the team wasn't able to get more than infrequent visitation rights with the biscuit, they'd be in a world of trouble.

So what's happened since then? The Caps have continued to tread water, going 5-5-1, and the goaltending has come back to earth a bit, as the team has posted a good-not-great .918 save percentage while giving up 2.45 goals per game (a trio of stinkers along the way - two from Tomas Vokoun and one from Braden Holtby - have brought down an otherwise superb effort overall from the netminders). But the good news is that the team may have turned the corner on the terrible possession numbers that had plagued it for so long at the outset of the Hunter Era.

Here's what we wrote three weeks ago (and that post has some background if your eyes gloss over at some of the terms that follow):

Under Hunter, the story has been drastically different, as the Caps have been dominated in terms of possession - whereas they had a "possession rate of 55.4%" under Boudreau, that number has dropped to 45.4% under Hunter... which probably marries up with what your eyes have told you, as the Caps have been outshot by an average of 30.8 to 25.0 (so the Caps have registered 44.9% of the shots on goal in their games, 44.8% at even strength), drawn far fewer penalties, and have blocked upwards of 18 shots per night. [For more on that SOG imbalance, check out Neil Greenberg's article over at ESPN.com.] To put that 45.4% in perspective, the Caps' Fenwick (which simply removes blocked shots from the equation) over the same period is 47.1%, which would rank 26th in the League over the course of the season.

That 45.4% "possession rate" has ticked up slightly to 46.5% because... wait for it... they're over 50% over those 11-games (50.6%, to be precise, a number that goes even higher if you look at "score-close" situations and not just "score-tied"). They've out-shot their opponents by an average of 30.6 to 29.9 (meaning they've registered 50.6% of the shots on goal in their games, 51.8% at even strength), drawn 26% more power plays per game than they had under Hunter previously, and only had to block 14 shots per night. And to put that 50.6% "possession rate" in perspective, their score-tied Fenwick over the same period is 51.9%, which would rank 8th in the League over the course of the season. (And all of these numbers look even better since Mike Green returned to full-time duty.)

Good things come to those who possess the puck.

Now, to be sure, this is a very small sample (against some mixed competition, home and road), so let's not plan the parade quite yet. But that the atrocious puck possession numbers that in many ways defined the first two months or so of Dale Hunter's tenure behind the bench have, at least temporarily, turned around is nothing if not encouraging as the team makes its playoff push. Hopefully it's a sign of things to come.

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