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Underlying Numbers Encouraging for Capitals

The numbers behind the numbers portend good things

NHL: San Jose Sharks at Washington Capitals Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

For the third time in Barry Trotz’s tenure as the head coach of the Washington Capitals the team has a Score-Adjusted-Corsi-For Percentage (SACF%) of 54% or greater through the team’s first 12 games of the season. The current iteration of the team has controlled 54.6% of all shot attempts which is the second highest percentage in the League, and, as frequent readers of the site already know, SACF% is the best indicator of future team success .

So which players on the Capitals are driving this edge in shot attempts? To answer that question we turn to the data of Micah Blake McCurdy (@ineffectivemath & hockeyviz.com).

Washington Capitals WOWY

The players who are outperforming the rest of the team by the largest margins are Lars Eller and Andre Burakovsky.

Eller play has been very solid through his first 12 games as a Capital. The point production isn’t quite there yet but he’s shown himself to be a significant upgrade over the team’s 3C options from last year.

Burakovsky is having one hell of a start to the season. He’s currently second on the team in Points Per Sixty Minutes of Five-on-Five play (P/60) and given the chances he’s been getting there may be more to come. Keep an eye on his involvement in breakouts from the defensive zone, there isn’t a ton of data out there yet but I think it’s the part of Burakovsky’s game that’s improved the most since he entered the League.

Brooks Orpik’s strong play is also worth noting. His positioning has been really strong to start the season and he often seems to be in the right place at the right time. It’s clear that he’s adapted very well to his new role on the third defensive pairing. His contract may be a bit of an albatross, but Orpik’s play has looked significantly better than what we saw from him in last year’s playoffs.

Now, there are still some things that the Capitals could probably tweak to maximize the team’s puck possession. Alex Ovechkin has been producing a lot of points at five-on-five (5v5). He leads the team in P/60 and is tied with T.J. Oshie for 5v5 goals. But his poor possession numbers are a little concerning which leads to this next point: Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom shouldn’t be playing on the same line. Not only does playing them together theoretically limit the Capitals offense, the two of them simply haven’t been playing very well together. The sample size is still small but the two of them have only controlled 48% of the shot attempts when they are both on the ice.

The Capitals would be well served to field a diversified offense and putting these two together doesn’t appear to be the the best way to do that right now. Not to mention that splitting the two allows for Backstrom to pivot a potential shutdown line, something we’ve been advocating around here for quite some time (personally I’m a big fan of the Tre Kronor line and their 64.7% SACF).

The results aren’t going to be constant; the Caps are going to win some games they should lose and they’ll probable lose some that they “deserved” to win. What’s important is the process, and the process looks awfully good to start this season.