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Japers' Rink Mailbag: Ovechkin's Best Chance, the Power-Play and Puck Possession

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Missed opportunities, lost power-play producers, the defense, poassession and more in this week's edition of "you ask, we answer."

Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

Yet another big 'Bag. Let's do this:

[You and I know it's 2009-10, but let's let Muneeb answer this anyway...] There are two things we need to think about — the quality of the Capitals team and the quality of opposition it may face along the way.

To get a baseline estimate, we can calculate probabilities using the log5 method, taking each team's score-adjusted Corsi percentage as its "true talent" and awarding home teams an extra 0.05 win probability. We can then calculate the odds of the Caps winning four games against each potential opponent, and multiply them all together for a Stanley Cup probability.

First, here are the opponents the Caps faced or would have faced in each year:

Year

ECQF

ECSF

ECF

SCF

2008

Philadelphia

Pittsburgh

Montreal/NY Rangers

Detroit

2009

NY Rangers

Pittsburgh

Carolina

Detroit

2010

Montreal

Philadelphia

Boston/Pittsburgh

Chicago

2011

NY Rangers

Tampa Bay

Boston

Vancouver

2012

Boston

NY Rangers

New Jersey

Los Angeles

2013

NY Rangers

Boston

Pittsburgh

Chicago

2015

NY Islanders

NY Rangers

Tampa Bay

Chicago

And their possession numbers, per war-on-ice:

Year

WSH

Rd1 Opp

Rd2 Opp

Rd3 Opp(s)

Rd4 Opp

2008

56.0

46.5

45.6

46.6/54.4

59.9

2009

55.8

52.7

48.3

52.2

58.2

2010

54.1

46.9

51.1

52.9/52.1

58.1

2011

51.2

48.9

52.7

51.6

53.4

2012

48.5

54.5

48.3

50.7

55.2

2013

49.2

51.7

55.6

50.1

56.0

2015

51.9

53.5

50.6

53.9

53.8

That gives us the following win probabilities for each round. Multiply them all together for the Stanley Cup probability on the right.

It seems clear that 2012 and 2013 were longshots, so let's eliminate those right off the bat. This past year was a tough one for the Caps as well because of the tough sequence of four teams (at least two of which seemed to elevate their games in the postseason). 2011 falls because of the three tough potential opponents, so even though the Caps were slightly stronger down the stretch, it's still not enough to get to the level of 2008-10.

2008 was the strongest possession season, but that 11% Cup probability may be an overestimate — the team seemed burnt out by the playoffs, and Pittsburgh and Montreal were better than their possession numbers thanks to the three-headed monster down the middle and the power play, respectively. 2009's 10% may be a bit high as well — Pittsburgh was a far stronger team in the final quarter of the season under Dan Bylsma.

That leaves 2010. The team was about as good, possession-wise, as it was the previous two seasons, shot the lights out, and had a fairly manageable path to the Stanley Cup Final. It was the team's best shot at winning the Stanley Cup, slightly better than 2008 and 2009.

Of course, it's quite possible that the best Ovechkin Era Caps team is the one they're putting together right now, so stay tuned.

Next up, one from the comments...

Mailbag

The Caps lost their top power-play defenseman in Mike Green and their numbers two and three power-play goal-scorers (and top-two options for the slot position in the 1-3-1 power-play) in Troy Brouwer and Joel Ward, and all three of those players were among the team's top-seven skaters in power-play ice time. So it's certainly a valid question to ask.

At a high level, there's no better predictor of future power-play success than shot rate (not even conversion rate is as predictive). To that end, the Caps were third in five-on-four Corsi-for rate and tops in Fenwick-for rate last season, so that's an encouraging start when we're talking sustained power-play success. Will the losses of Green, Brouwer and Ward cause that number to drop? Probably not - it's hard to imagine that those forwards were driving that shot rate in any meaningful way (and, in fact, with improved puck-carrying options, their replacements might even help generate offense), and the Caps actually saw an increase in shot rate with John Carlson on the ice versus Green. In fact, back in March we concluded that Carlson was a better option for the top power-play than Green was. (Counterpoint: last year's playoffs.)

The Caps should stay near the top of the League in power-play conversion rate as long as they have you-know-who lurking you-know-where. And while they could drop out of the top three, they won't drop far.

One final thought: the Caps could easily offset any drop-off in efficiency with an increase in opportunities. Last year they got the eighth-fewest power-play chances in the League; with just one more power-play chance every three games, they could withstand a slide of more than 2.5 percentage points and still score the same number of goals (60) that they potted on the power play in 2014-15.

The top-six should look a lot like last year's, with the same top-four (Brooks Orpik-John Carlson, Karl Alzner-Matt Niskanen) and a third pairing of Dmitry Orlov and Nate Schmidt. But I still say they need a better seventh defenseman than Taylor Chorney.

Put it this way - last season, the Caps were pretty healthy on the blueline, especially in the top-four (the quartet combined to miss only four man-games, all Orpik) and still used ten different defensemen on the season. The year before, they used 14. The year before that, a dozen (in just 48 games), and 11 in each of the three seasons preceding that. You get the point - they're likely going to be into double digits on defensemen used in 2015-16. And past the top-six identified above, Chorney and Connor Carrick, and maybe Madison Bowey for a cup of coffee, who's the tenth guy? Ryan Stanton? Who's next? Maybe they cross that bridge when they get to it, but they're likely going to need a little more deep depth on defense.

[We'll let Adam take this one.] In my mind the biggest limiting factor for the Capitals (in terms of puck possession) next season is going to be style of play. The Capitals now have enough talent to dominate the neutral zone. The additions of Oshie and Williams reflect management's desire to employ players that are both skilled and sturdy (rather than just the latter). The question now is whether the coaching staff will modify their playing style to take full advantage of the rosters' players.

Barry Trotz has frequently spoken about how a coach needs to adjust his system based upon his personnel and has claimed to have done so in the past; specifically in regards to his time in Nashville while coaching Paul Kariya. So, assuming that Trotz agrees with my assessment of the Capitals and their current skill level, and he does modify his system to promote controlled offensive zone entries, I see no reason to doubt the Capitals will improve upon their puck possession numbers from last year.

Even if the system doesn't change, I believe they will improve. The team posted a score-adjusted SAT% of 51.9% last season. Due to the improved player personnel, the expected maturation of the team's young players (namely Burakovsky and Kuznetsov), the decreased playing time for a few aging veterans, and potential system changes. I expect the Capitals to post a SASAT% between 53 and 55% next season.

Ironically, probably the first time he starts hurting. So... by Halloween?

Book burning?! Here's a better option for that book - donate it to your local library. As fas as explaining it to your kid, replace it with something else and she'll forget all about it. Does she like Russian literature? Because this book seems fitting right about now...

Well-accepted? No, not really. But there is this from the much-maligned (and fairly so) "Department of Hockey Analytics," which claims to show that high-end players actually do step up performance in contract years. For the overwhelming majority of players in their attempt to answer this question, however, contract year spikes aren't a thing (and for half of the pool, there appears to be a likely age-related dip).

On the road it would be a really good huevos rancheros with a spicy bloody mary, and at home probably a hash of potatoes and whatever protein is leftover in my fridge with a fried egg on top and a cup of coffee. That said, you can't beat cold pizza or Chinese food on certain mornings.

Not only is there life on Keplar-452b, but their most clever lifeforms delight in asking off-topic Mailbag questions about whether or not there's life on earth.

***

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.