A month ago, few people would have been particularly surprised if the Caps went 4-5-3 in their first 12 games this season - pundits (and fans) generally saw the Caps as a middle-of-the-pack team, and here they are a few points from the bottom and middle of the Conference. And yet, because of how the games have gone, it actually is surprising how they've gotten here. To recap:
It's an odd way to get to a mediocre record — strong possession and 5-on-5 play, good shooting from a group with only a couple of players that can be relied upon to drive shooting percentage in any meaningful way, and poor goaltending from a tandem that should be in the top-10 in the League.
So do we have anything to worry about?
History may provide some hints. I looked for non-overlapping 12-game runs since 2007 with similar possession numbers (as measured by score-adjusted Fenwick), shooting percentage, and save percentage, with the additional requirement that the team should also suppress shots comparably well.
Here is the list of comparable runs:
It's important to make the distinction here between short- and long-term causes for concern.
In the short-term, all sorts of things can happen. A team can get hit by the flu bug. A player might be feeling the pressure to perform and go on a cold shooting streak. Another might lose his timing for a week and give up more high-quality shots than usual. And so on.
Short-term factors can extend into the long-term, but most do not. The purpose here is to look at the long-term — do teams with these sorts of results generally figure out what ails them and get back on track?
If we define comparables by macro-level stats, then the answer appears to be "yes." Although not every team accumulated more points per game over the remainder of the season than during its skid, each one did make the playoffs. Five lost in the conference quarterfinals, one in the semifinals, and four in the conference finals or Stanley Cup Final.
At worst, that pegs the group as roughly average in the playoff picture, or around 4th or 5th in the conference standings. The Caps organization may have been hoping for better, but that's still a significant improvement from a year ago.
It may be worth noting, however, that the Caps accumulated fewer standings points over the 12 games than all but one of the listed teams — including the version of the Capitals that Bruce Boudreau saw when he first took over the team in November 2007.
Let's take this a little further and look at additional teams with better possession and a worse save percentage — how did they fare?
Maple Leafs aside, again, this isn't a bad group to be a part of.
This isn't to say that Washington doesn't have issues or has nothing to fix. There are always things to improve on. But from the perspective of an outsider, assuming the Caps aren't an outlier from the teams we've examined, it appears likely that the underlying structure is mostly sound.
In other words, this team's issues are probably fixable and should be fixed in short order, which bodes very well moving forward.