Cheerless: Viva la Reso-loo-ci-ohn!
Fearless: You are entirely too perky this early in the year.
Peerless: Cheerless' enthusiasm aside, I'll start it off. Resolve to improve possession numbers. The Caps ended the first half of the 2013-2014 regular season on Thursday night, and the word that comes to mind looking at their possession numbers is...
Peerless: No, Fearless was referring to the internal organs of a butchered animal. "Butchered" is probably as good an adjective as one could find to describe the Caps' possession numbers. They are 26th in both Corsi-for and Fenwick-for percentages in 5-on-5 close score situations. Look at the four teams beneath them in that Corsi-for ranking - Edmonton, Calgary, Toronto, and Buffalo. Toronto is 14th in the league in standings points through Thursday's games, but the other three occupy the bottom three spots in the league standings. How long do you think the Caps can remain a second-place team in The Metro being a 26th-place team in possession?
Fearless: I'll say, "resolve to improve the 5-on-5 goal scoring ratio." Through Thursday's games the Caps have a goals scored-to-goals allowed ratio at 5-on-5 of 0.91, 72 goals scored and 79 allowed. A 0.91 ratio is not going to get it done, not when you consider the historical context. Since the 2004-2005 lockout, 32 teams have played in conference finals. Of those teams, 22 of them ranked in the top ten in 5-on-5 goals cscored/goals allowed ratio. The Caps are currently ranked 22nd. Of those 32 teams reaching the conference final, 25 of them had ratios of 1.00 or better. Ten of the 16 teams reaching the Stanley Cup final had ratios of 1.15 or better. Of course, we know that these things aren't perfect. In the eight seasons since the 2004-2005 lockout, the highest 5-on-5 ratio for a full season was 1.57, and that team was eliminated in the first round of the playoffs - the Caps in 2010.
Cheerless: Row, row, row your boat gently down the stream...
Fearless: A musical interlude?
Peerless: Regulation and overtime wins (ROW). The Caps rank 25th in the league in regulation and overtime wins, 13th in the Eastern Conference, and seventh in the eight-team Metropolitan Division through games played on Thursday. Occupying a neighborhood with Florida, Calgary, Edmonton, Buffalo, and the Islanders is not one with high playoff resale value. This is the first tie-breaker at the end of the regular season, and right now there are seven teams within six points of the Caps in the conference standings. That's six points ahead of 13th place. The Caps have two ROW in their last 11 games.
Cheerless: It sounds better when you sing it.
Peerless: Back to the business at hand, let's see the Caps resolve to get Mikhail Grabovski signed. Here is one reason why. Four forwards for the Caps have skated with Grabovski for more than 100 minutes at 5-on-5 (Troy Brouwer, Jason Chimera, Joel Ward, and Eric Fehr). In each case, the Corsi-for percentage for those players is better when skating with Grabovski than when they skated apart from him. It translates into goals, for in each of the four cases the goals-for percentage with Grabovski is greater - substantially so - than for the four players when playing apart from him. If Grabovski walks at the end of this season, the Caps are right back to having to deal with the perennial second line center problem again, and there is no ready solution coming from within, nor is there an obvious potential free agent answer.
Fearless: Except for the guy at the top of the perennial Caps fan wish list.
Peerless: Think Paul Stastny is signing here? And he's making $6.6 million this year. What's next?
Cheerless: More bobbleheads!!!
Fearless: How about fewer bobbles. Only one team has more losses in regulation time after scoring the first goal than the Caps (Edmonton). That's a lot of points left on the table when scoring first is a key indicator of who wins and who loses in this league. And it is not as if this is a team that starts games well to begin with. With 27 first period goals, only eight teams have fewer. The Caps' minus-10 goal differential in the first period is seventh-worst in the league. Think it doesn't matter? The Caps are 11-9 when scoring a first period goal, regardless of what the score is at the first intermission. They are 9-4 in their last 13 such contests. The Caps need to resolve to start better in games.
Peerless: Then there is the whole idea of letting good things turn bad in a hurry. On 18 occasions this season over 16 games the Caps allowed a goal less than two minutes after scoring one themselves. Their record in those games is 6-7-3, but they have lost the last four such games they played (0-1-3). Here is something to watch for in that regard. Six times this took place after goals scored by Alex Ovechkin. Sure, he scores most of the goals, so if it is going to happen, it seems that it would happen most in those instances after which he scored a goal. Add in an occurrence in which it happened after a Nicklas Backstrom goal, and almost half of the instances have come after the first line scored, either at even strength or after a power play. The Caps need to resolve to stop letting teams off the mat after they put them there.
Fearless: Of course, there are the perennials...
Cheerless: Eat right, exercise, lose weight?
Fearless: I'll have you know that I eat from the four major food groups.
Cheerless: Yeah...beer, ice cream, pizza, and Doritos
Peerless: Guys? What Fearless is getting at is the special teams... kill more penalties, and force more of them to get power plays of their own. The Caps have actually done a pretty good job on the latter so far this season. They rank sixth in power play opportunities. Having the league's second-ranked power play, the opportunity volume means the Caps have the most power play goals. Keep up the good work, boys. As for the penalty kill, not so good. You remember that back after Week 5, the Caps had a 90.7 percent penalty kill and had killed off 34 of their last 35 shorthanded situations. Since then, over the span of 27 games, the Caps are 73-for-95 (76.8 percent). The Caps are 13-8-6 over those 27 games, 6-6-2 when they face four or more shorthanded situations. The Caps either need to resolve to be more efficient on the penalty kill or to take fewer penalties that put them in a situation of having to kill penalties.
Cheerless: What about the goalies?
Peerless: Having three goalies with promise is a good thing. Having all three of them on the parent roster is not. Having one playing poorly, one playing too much given his state of development, and the other not playing (and wanting a trade) is a bad situation. You cannot sit here in early January and think that Philipp Grubauer -- a goalie with just 13 games of NHL experience -- is going to lead the Caps deep into the playoffs. It could happen, but it would not be the way to bet, even with his superb .930 save percentage in his young career to date. Michal Neuvirth has not played in six weeks and has not won a game in more than two months. Since coming into the Caps' home opener in relief and stopping 27 of 28 shots he faced (a 5-4 shootout win), his numbers have been very average, if that (3.05, .920).
This is, for better or worse, Braden Holtby's team in net. If he is not injured (something that cannot be discounted, given his play of late), he needs to start playing like it is his net and his alone. In his last ten appearances he is 3-4-2, 3.66, .898, with one no-decision. Every goalie has slumps, but slumps end, and the Caps need Holtby to find his groove if they are to contend for a playoff spot.
Fearless: Looks like the boys have a lot to work on.
Cheerless: Makes you wonder how they got this far.
Peerless: It is not quite as bad as all that. The Caps are, after all, still second in the Metropolitan Division. But there is a certain "mirage" quality to that record. They rely too much on power plays for offense; no team has a larger share of total goals scored on the power play (31.6 percent). They have too few wins in regulation or overtime to make one think that they are really as good as their record. And that possession game simply has to improve. The Caps need to resolve to make these things better, for if they do not, it will be another early end to a season.