Just before Thanksgiving, we took a glance across a handful of metrics and deduced that the Caps were a pretty good team that was playing pretty well - they were top-seven across our board of metrics.
Fast forward a month and the results have gotten even better - the Caps are tops in the League in points percentage, fueled by the circuit's best goals-against per game (thanks, Braden Holtby!) and second-most prolific offense (thanks, power play!).
But while the results have improved (despite little room for improvement), the numbers that underlie those results have slipped a bit, which makes those results a little less convincing as to the team's overall quality (as we've discussed in the interim here and here). Take a look (data via NHL.com, HockeyAnalysis and Puck On Net; click to enlarge):
Essentially what you see here is what you've seen for the past month - terrific results that have outpaced the five-on-five play behind them. To whit, the Caps' five-on-five PDO over this span has been a robust 104.5 (9.1 shooting percentage, .954 save percentage), highest in the League and certainly unsustainable. For you visual learners, it looks something like this (this chart shows 10-game rolling totals, and the Corsi-For percentage is score-adjusted):
And just to hammer home the point, here's a comparison of the Caps' ranks in our categories from a month ago to today:
Better outputs, worse inputs.
To be sure, the NHL is one of those "results-driven businesses," and the Caps' results to date have been terrific. That absolutely matters, most notably for the cushion in the standings that it provides, of course - points earned in November are worth the same as the ones earned in the first week of April. But the wins - the "what" - matter, for the most part (but not entirely), retrospectively, whereas the underlying play - the "how" - is more important prospectively.
The Caps are still a good team. Unquestionably. Their record says they're a top-tier team, primed to contend for a championship. The underlying numbers don't necessarily tell the same story at this point (like they did a month ago), but with an arguably elite goalie and inarguably elite power play, the Caps can still be a great team without necessarily dominating at five on five. But they need to be better than they've been lately, and they know it.
The good news is that this Caps team hasn't really fired on all cylinders yet - early on, Holtby and the power play were playing below expectations, while the team's possession metrics were terrific; since then, the script has flipped somewhat. The pieces are clearly all there, and no one wants to peak in December.
So in this season of hope and such, let's hope that it all comes together when the results are the only thing that matters.