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Are Caps Still Too Reliant on Power Play?

A look at whether or not improved play at even-strength has helped the Caps mitigate the reliance on their juggernaut power play unit.

Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports

Thirty-three games into a season that's provided plenty of reason for cautious optimism (and, balancing that optimism, plenty of reason to yank clumps of stringy hair from your scalp), one thing is for certain: this team is very different than it was under Adam Oates. The big guns are playing well at even-strength— to the point where even Alex Ovechkin has managed to escape criticism on the possession front so far. The blue-line is producing in a big way. After a dubious start to the season, the goaltending has leveled out. Most nights, the ice is tilted in the Caps favor— the ultimate mark of a team that's doing all mostly the right things.

But Adam Oates's teams, despite a host of deficiencies, always seemed to be in the thick of it during crunch time. And, currently sitting in the 8th spot in the Eastern Conference standings, Barry Trotz has his squad in a position familiar to Caps fans from the past few seasons.

While Oates is now gone, taking with him his handedness fetishesridiculous deployment, and questionable-at-best personnel tendencies, he did Washington the good favor of leaving behind one of the most efficient power play units on the circuit.

Due to Oates's teams' struggles at even-strength and their immense success a man-up, those teams always felt like their overall fate was dependent on whether or not the power play unit would come through in the clutch. With Trotz, through 33 games, it doesn't feel that way at all.

Let's take a look at the numbers.

2014-15 Caps 2013-14 Caps 2012-13 Caps 2011-12 Caps 2010-11 Caps
5v5 Goals 63.92% 61.78% 63.70% 69.72% 66.21%
PP Goals 24.74% 30.22% 30.14% 18.81% 21.00%
Other Goals 11.34% 8.00% 6.16% 11.47% 12.79%

So it actually looks like there isn't much of a discrepancy here— last season Oates's boys notched 62% of their goals at 5v5. Trotz has seen an uptick to 65%, but is that really notable? [Note: these numbers were pulled prior to last night's tilt versus Ottawa, but have been left in tact in order to demonstrate the potential meaning in the shift of goal allocation].

Well, yes. The '14-15 season is less than halfway, and those percentage numbers aren't fully mature, compared with the 82-game sample size of '13-14. Over the course of a season, the ~3% improvement in 5v5 goals will yield approximately 17 addition tallies. Apply the same logic to the ~3% improvement in goal production in situations besides 5v5 or powerplay, and you're looking at another 7 goals, for an aggregate increase of 24 non-powerplay goals. In the other direction, the Caps are projecting to score 9 fewer PPG than last year's 68, helping us arrive at a total of 15 additional tallies, all the additions coming in situations other than the power play.

That translates to about 5 points in the standings.

[Note: the additional goals come from year-over-year goal volume projections. In 2013, the Caps scored 139 5v5 goals and 18 "other goals". This year, they're projecting to score 156 at 5v5 and 26 in "other" situations. The takeaway is that because the percentage this year corresponds to a greater volume of data (goals scored), the percentage point increase is more meaningful— or, distilled, the 2014 goal scoring pie will bigger than the 2013 pie, and the 5v5 will be an even bigger piece.]

How does this 64/25/11% goal allocation compare to other teams— namely those who have found success when it matters? Below, we take a look at the same allocations for the last 6 teams to play in the Stanley Cup finals.

13-14 LA Kings 13-14 NYR 12-13 CHI 12-13 BOS 11-12 LA Kings 11-12 NJ 2014-15 Caps
5v5 Goals 67.68% 66.36% 72.48% 75.59% 62.77% 64.81% 63.92%
PP Goals 21.72% 22.43% 16.78% 14.17% 26.06% 21.30% 24.74%
Other Goals 10.61% 11.21% 10.74% 10.24% 11.17% 13.89% 11.34%

With the exception of the 2011-2012 tilt between the Kings and New Jersey, Stanley Cup finalists appear to lean on 5v5 goal production more than the Caps, which comes as no surprise. It's interesting to note just how similar that '11-'12 Kings team (an 8th seed before rallying for the Cup) was to this year's Caps, in terms of situational goal production.

Scoring goals isn't the only variable in the equation here, however. Allowing goals at evens was also a hallmark of those defensively deficient Adam Oates's squads, who in 2012-2013 allowed 2.23 goals/60 at 5v5, and the following season worsened to 2.34 GA/60. Trotz has significantly improved on both of these campaigns, with his team sitting on the right side of the league with a 2.18 GA/60.

So, while they percentages haven't shifted overmuch, the Caps are scoring more at even strength, while allowing fewer goals— this number manifest in their immense year-over-year GF% improvement. This alone means that they're not as reliant on the power play as year's past.

There's not necessarily all that much there here, but the data is interesting. It also shows that while the Caps still allow the power play to carry the load a bit more than some teams whose success they'd like to emulate, it's not an unprecedented model for winning. And, only 33 games into the new regime, everything seems to be moving in the right direction, which, frankly, is all you can really ask.

Also note that the data size is still small enough that it can move significantly in either direction. For instance, prior to last night's game, where only 1 of the Caps' 2 goals came at even strength, the Caps' were hovering around 65% of their goals scored at 5v5. Then, those two additional data points dropped it to the 63.92% it's at today.

Given the Caps solid play at evens, coupled with the shockingly few power play opportunities they're receiving, it stands to reason that their goal allocation will trends towards evens.