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Japers' Rink Mailbag: Goals, Right Wings, LTIR and Marcus Johansson

Predicting the team's offensive output, talking about a trio of right wings, injured reserve (and a specific injured reserve) and more in this week's edition of "you ask, we answer."

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Another big 'Bag, headlined by a big question that we'll let Peerless handle. In the comments to a recent Mailbagthe following question was asked:

"So let's say Ovi hits 40-where are you putting the team goal total for the season? To have a realistic chance at winning the division, what level of goal scoring do you think they need to reach given that their goal conceding should be reduced? In your realistic best-case scenario, where are the goals coming from?"

There are four parts to this question. Let's take them in turn.

First, on the matter of Alex Ovechkin's scoring 40 goals, if that is the case and all else is equal, the Caps will need 11 goals from elsewhere just to hit the team total from last season (225 goals, 13th in the league). But that 40 is a little conservative for us, so let's just say that he gets back to the same 51 he hit last year.

Second is determining the team's overall goal total for the season. Let's not get into any outlandish predictions that this team is the 2009-10 Caps that scored 313 goals (3.82/game, first in the league by more than half a goal per game). I personally have the Caps finishing with 238 goals this season. While that might seem like a modest increase (13 above last year's total), that number would have ranked the Caps eighth last season in scoring offense, just four goals behind Pittsburgh for fifth place overall.

We'll take the fourth point next... where are the goals coming from? It seems somewhat unrealistic to think that the Caps will improve much, if at all, on their power play from last year; it was already pretty good, with the team finishing in a virtual tie with Pittsburgh for the league lead (23.4 percent). By the same token, they found a formula that worked over the past two seasons over which they cashed in at a 24.6 percent rate, so it's doubtful that their efficiency will dip by a significant amount. They did finish second in the League in power-play opportunities, and that certainly could come back to the pack a bit - so maybe they don't get to the 68 power-play tallies they had last year, but the drop-off shouldn't be too steep... we hope.

This leaves even-strength scoring. There were Capitals whose even-strength scoring last year was disappointing.  Marcus Johansson stands out in this regard; he had two even-strength goals all of last season. Mike Green has been a bit of a roller coaster in this department, with six even-strength goals in 70 games - down from eight in 35 games in 2012-13, but up from the zero he posted in 2011-12 (when he was at something less than full health for most of the season. A healthier Brooks Laich (six even-strength goals in 51 games last season) might contribute here, too. It will be especially important for these players to improve on their even-strength contributions if Joel Ward (a career-high 16 even-strength goals last season) or Troy Brouwer (13, just two off his career best) drop off (more on them in a bit). But this team almost can't help but score more at five-a-side than they did last year, when they ranked 21st overall.

Which brings us to the third point we skipped. What level of goal-scoring do we think the Caps need to reach given that their goal-conceding should be reduced? The question suggests looking at the matter from a different angle. I like to differentiate between production measures, which are essentially outputs (Corsi, Fenwick, zone starts, etc.) and performance measures (outcomes: goals scored and allowed, power plays converted, shorthanded situations killed off, shot differentials, etc.).

A look at performance and how playoff teams do in those outcome measures might provide a picture of the level of performance the Caps might need to achieve, relative to the teams against which they are competing - and which of those measures is important to look at over the course of the season to reach the post season once more.

I looked at five years' worth of information for five measures: total goals for/game, total goals against/game, 5-on-5 goal ratio, special teams index (power play plus penalty kill rates), and total shot differential. As you might imagine, the best teams - those that reach the playoffs - do well in all of them. However, some measures seem to factor more heavily in terms of reaching the post season.

For instance, goals scored. Last season the top-ten offensive teams reached the post-season; in fact, 11 of the top 12 made it. In 2012-13, though, it was only seven of the top eight making it and eight of the top ten. In the three preceding seasons there was a bunching at the top (a range of the top six to the top eight teams in scoring offense making the playoffs), but the mix of playoff and non-playoff teams after that was spread over the range of the scoring rankings.

The goals-against measure was a somewhat more reliable predictor of reaching the playoffs, based on season rankings. Last season 15 of the top 17 teams in goals allowed per game made the playoffs. In 2012-13 it was 15 of the top 18. Going back over the past five seasons, no team finishing in the bottom six in goals allowed per game reached the post seasons. Only eight teams out of the 50 finishing in the bottom ten in the league over the past five seasons in goals allowed per game reached the playoffs. It is worth noting that the Caps finished 21st (10th-worst) in goals allowed per game last season.

Shot differential appears to be about as reliable a performance indicator as shots allowed per game. Last season 11 of the top 13 teams in this measure made the playoffs, 15 of the top 19 in 2012-13.  If anything, it has been a stronger factor over the last two seasons than in the preceding three, although the differences are not significant.

That brings us to situational play. Special-teams performance settles in with the other measures very well. Eleven of the top 13 teams in special teams index reached the playoffs last season. Washington, which finished fourth with an index of 105.4, was one of the two that did not; New Jersey was the other. In 2012-13, 15 of the top 19 teams in this measure made the postseason. And again, the last two seasons seem to indicate a slightly stronger relationship between a high special teams index and reaching the postseason (in 2011-12 it was 11 of the top 15 teams, in 2010-11 it was 15 of the top 20, and in 2009-10 it was 13 of the top 16).

Five-on-five play is a different animal. Last season, 16 of the top 17 teams in five-on-five goal ratio reached the playoffs.  The season before it was 15 of the top 19; 14 of the top 16 in 2011-12, 15 of the top 18 in 2010-11. And in 2009-10 it was the top ten teams in this measure making the playoffs. The Capitals led the league in five-on-five goal ratio in 2009-10 (1.57:1), but in the four years since they have not ranked higher than 10th, and last season they were 23rd in the league in 5-on-5 goal ratio (0.90:1).

Looking at these performance measures, it is reasonable to think that playoff teams perform well in all of them, generally speaking. However, if the Capitals are going to reach the postseason, a fancy power play is nice, but they are going to have to improve their performance at five-on-five significantly, relative to their peers, if they are to have a reasonable expectation of challenging for the Metropolitan Division crown and making the post-season.

We have him on the top line... and so does Barry Trotz (for now). But, as we noted in our post supporting his candidacy for right wing on the first line, while that may maximize the top trio, it might not maximize the top-six or top-nine, and I think you're seeing that a bit as the team scrambles to assemble a decent second line. Regardless, Fehr has become incredibly versatile, able to play all three forwards positions and in any situation (we still say give him a shot at the Brouwer spot on the power play). And all of that for a $1.5-million cap hit. Lock the man up, Mac!

Aaron Volpatti is... well... not very good at the things that help you win hockey games. I'd rather see Chris Brown (or just about anyone else) get those minutes, and it wouldn't surprise me if the team felt similarly. Waiving Volpatti is certainly a decent possibility.

A player placed on long-term injured reserve has to miss a minimum of 24 days and 10 games. So (to anticipate your next question) if a Cap was to start the season on LTIR, he'd be eligible to return no sooner than November 2, for Game 11 (which would be more than 24 days after the designation).

For more on the implications, benefits and whatnot associated with LTIR designations, CapGeek's got you covered (natch).


Take a look at what each did in his Caps career before last season as compared to last year:

Season(s) Goals/82 Points/82 PPG/82 S% 5v5 CF%
Brouwer 2011-13 23.5 42 6.4 15.2 48.1
Brouwer 2013-14 25 43 12 15.5 47.9
Ward 2011-13 10.3 27.8 0.7 10.7 49.7
Ward 2013-14 24 49 6 18.0 47.2

For Brouwer, there shouldn't be much of a regression in 2013-14 - he's settled into a role and his output has become fairly predictable in it (though his increased power-play production has been offset by a bit of a drop at even-strength). For Ward, last year was a huge spike in goals (equaling his total from the previous three seasons combined!), so don't expect a repeat performance there.

That said, both can be more effective players in Trotz's even-strength system than they were over the past three seasons, so hopefully that can mitigate any regression they experience.

Sure does look that way, doesn't it? As for a return in trade for Johansson, while he's still a young, skilled player, it's hard to see a team giving up a first-round pick for him right now, in part because the teams that could use him would be weary of giving up a shot at winning the 2015 draft lottery (and the chance to draft phenom Connor McDavid) and the teams that are likely to have picks later in that round probably can't use a guy like Johansson.


Agree? Disagree?

If you've got something on your mind, go ahead and ask it here on the site, on Twitter (use #JapersMailbag), via email or on Facebook, and we'll try to get to them. As always, there are always a lot of question marks around this team... so let's talk about as many of them as we can.