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Driving the Bus: Passing Microstats and the Caps

New passing data from InLouWeTrust gives us some good insights into who is producing offense for the Capitals

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Passing microstats allow interested parties an opportunity to examine how (and which) players generate shot attempts...and we know that shot attempts are important.

So before getting any further it's critically important that you read this article from InLouWeTrust, it provides both the data ,and the methodology that produced the data, that we are going over below.

Did you read it?

Alright cool. Now that you've finished reading that article we can talk about the passing data relative to the Capitals. Some of the data will be included below but the entire workbook can be downloaded from InLouWeTrust. So now that we have that all settled let's look at a selection of the available data for the Caps during five-on-five play.

First let's examine SAG, or Shot Attempts Generated. An (a?) SAG occurs when a player makes the pass that leads directly to the shot attempt (so it does not include secondary passes). This stat may shed some insight on which players are directly driving offense with their passing abilities.

So what stands out?

Truly Elite: Let's start with an easy one - Nicklas Backstrom is the best passer on the Washington Capitals (astonishing right?) and is one of the best in the entire NHL. Backstrom ranks seventh in composite SAG/60 among players with at least 300 minutes played in the data set. Sure, Backstrom benefits here from playing with one of the most prolific shooters in the history of the game in Alex Ovechkin, but their relationship is definitely symbiotic; Ovechkin would still be an amazing player without Backstrom, but he would certainly experience a drop-off in production if the two were separated.

Schmidtuation: Much has been made about how the Capitals' defense will be effected by the (presumed) impending loss of Mike Green to free agency, but fortunately the Capitals appear to have at least one option who played in the NHL last season and can pick up some of the slack (and it's not Tim Gleason). Nate Schmidt, by most metrics, appears to be ready to be a regular NHL defensemen, and these stats corroborate that notion. The only defensemen on the Caps that had a higher composite SAG/60 than Schmidt was John Carlson (who, like Backstrom, gets a boost here from playing a bunch of minutes with Ovechkin). Schmidt's passing ability appears to express itself well in the defensive zone and in his ability to start a breakout. Schmidt had the second highest rate of primary passes from the defensive and neutral zones that led to shot attempts and the third highest rate of secondary passes in those same zones that (again) led to shot attempts. If those stats are truly representative of a player's ability to start a breakout and play in transition then there are few players that are better fits for the team's third defensive pairing than Schmidt. (Granted, Schmidt also receives the Ovechkin bump here... sensing a theme?)

Tre Kronor: The Capitals top-three shot attempt generating forwards are all Swedish; Backstrom led the team with a composite SAG/60 of 19.08, followed by rookie Andre Burakovsky (16.35) and Marcus Johansson (12.91).

When you hear people talk about players that "drive puck possession" they are usually referencing a player's relative shot attempt percentage or their With or Without You (WOWY) numbers. While both statistics do a decent job encapsulating a player's impact on both offense and defense, microstats allow for some more in-depth examination. A shot attempt is a good thing. Making the pass that leads to a shot attempt is a good thing. By combining an individual's personal rate of shot attempts with their rate of shot attempt generation (via passes) we gain a better understanding of a player's overall offensive contributions (much like "primary points" combine goals and primary assists). That metric is called Corsi Contribution, or CC. We can also look at Scoring Chance Contribution (SCC), which is calculated the same way but with scoring chances instead of shot attempts.

CC and SCC

The players that drive shot attempt production are those who you would expect to be at the biggest generators, at least for the most part, with Ovechkin leading the way. But if a player has a high CC/60 and a high SCC/60 does that mean that they are driving offense? Not necessarily. A player can have a high rate of contribution and still only factor into a small percentage of the offense that they are on the ice for. To check if that is the case for any of the Capitals we can look at Corsi contribution (and SCC) as a percentage of the team's total shot attempts (and scoring chances) when the player is on the ice.

For the most part everyone is pretty tightly grouped but there are a few exceptions. Ovechkin drives the Capitals; no surprises there. On the other end of the spectrum, however, there is something that is a little surprising and certainly disconcerting, namely how little Tom Wilson contributed offensively. Wilson saw extended time last season on the top line and didn't do a lot with it. After his prolonged stay, Barry Trotz moved Wilson down in the lineup because too many possessions were ending on his [Wilson's] stick. To be fair, we don't know how much of this data tracking occurred while Wilson was on the top line and his play away from the puck helps the team, but he needs to do more with the puck if he is going to be a top-six forward.

While this data is still not complete, and there are definitely a few data points that don't pass the sniff test (did Brooks Laich really contribute scoring chances at a higher rate than Backstrom and shot attempts at a higher rate than Evgeny Kuznetsov?), it's a good step in trying to understand which players are offensive passengers and which are truly "driving the bus".