Back in June we posted on the Caps "Usage Chart" for the 2011-12 season - Rob Vollman's visualization of how the team's skaters were deployed at five-aside over the course of the season and how they fared in those roles. And while it's far too early to draw conclusions about the 2013 campaign, a peek at how Adam Oates has put his players to work in his system reveals some obvious - and some not-so-obvious - early-season trends.
The chart below shows the percentage of non-neutral zone faceoffs each player has been on the ice for on the horizontal axis and the average quality of their competition on the vertical - upper-left would be the hardest minutes (tough competition and not many starts in the offensive zone), lower-right, the easiest (weaker competition and favorable zone starts). The size of each bubble is a relative indicator of how well the team performed with that player on the ice, with blue being positive performance and red being negative. (Of note, this early in the season these numbers can fluctuate quite a bit even from game-to-game, so the small sample on which the chart is based should be taken with a full shaker of salt.)
So here's the Caps chart so far (thanks to Rob, who will be providing these throughout the season which will hopefully show both team and certain players improving over time; click to enlarge, and for the raw data, head over to BtN):
- Karl Alzner is off to a fine start, posting the team's best relative Corsi in tough minutes (his quality of competition is a bit wonky here - make no mistake about it, he's facing opponents' top players).
- Nicklas Backstrom is in that cluster of players around 50% o-zone draws (he's at 50.5) and zero for competition (he's at -0.116), but what you can't really see here is that he's second behind Alzner in relative Corsi. Perhaps some of that owes to minutes spent in comeback mode (when teams tend to have a decisive edge in shots... even if the Caps haven't), but it doesn't necessarily match up with the conventional wisdom on his season so far.
- On the flip side of that coin, Mike Ribeiro has been the Caps' top offensive threat in the early goings, but the team has actually been better, possession-wise, when he's been off the ice. If not for some stellar goaltending behind him, his overall game might not be looked upon as favorably so far.
- Ovechkin. C'mon, dude.
- Jason Chimera and Joel Ward are handling tough minutes and are being rewarded with some puck luck. The offense may dry up some, and they may be victimized by some of the sub-par goaltending that has befallen some of their teammates more than it's hit them, but if the team keeps up positive possession with them on the ice against quality opposition, that'll be a good thing.
- Eric Fehr is getting easy minutes and beating them. If not for the fact that not one shot has gone into opponents' nets when he was on the ice, he'd probably have at least some little something to show for it (ditto Mathieu Perreault, on that last point).
- Marcus Johansson is getting easy minutes and they're beating the hell out of him. Ugly. (And for more on Johansson, head over to RMNB.)
- I'm unapologetically diggin' Wolski.
- For all of the praise that's been heaped on John Erskine, his relative Corsi is awful and has the team's highest PDO to thank for looking to some like a viable second-pair defenseman. He isn't.
Anyway, there's a lot there. And at the same time, there's really nothing there - it's just too early to tell much of anything. But this is what we've seen so far, and it provides some points to consider, both in retrospect and going forward.