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. We revisited that post on Christmas Eve and the results had gotten even better... but some of the numbers underlying those results had slipped a bit, raising some concerns (that fell short of red flags... let's call 'em yellow flags).
A month later - a 10-2-2 month that included a quartet of losses to teams outside the playoff picture - and the Caps are still humming along. More importantly, some of those yellow flag areas appear to be trending back in the right direction. Overall, here's where the Caps stack up against the rest of the League in our now-familiar 15 metrics (data via NHL.com, HockeyAnalysis and Puck On Net; click to enlarge):
Essentially what you see here is what you've seen for a couple of months now - terrific results that have outpaced the five-on-five play behind them. To whit, the Caps' five-on-five PDO over their last 29 games is a stout 104.1 (9.7 shooting percentage, .944 save percentage), highest in the League and certainly unsustainable in the long run. (That said, with the skill they have up front and in goal, it's reasonable to believe that this team's "true talent" is somewhere north of a 100 expected PDO... but not this high.)
Last month, we had a chart that showed the Caps' divergent PDO and Corsi-For percentage trends (10-game rolling totals, with the Corsi-For percentage score-adjusted):
Obviously the possession portion of that chart was troubling. Has it gotten better over the last month? See for yourself:
Shortly after our last look at it, the Caps' possession numbers started to rebound in a big way. In fact, after bottoming out with a three-game stretch leading up to the holiday break in which they posted a score-adjusted Corsi-For percentage of just 42.5 percent against Tampa, the Rangers and Carolina (all wins, mind you), the Caps have been at a robust 54.2 percent in the 14 games since.
The result has been terrific outcomes and a bit of a bounce-back in possession numbers:
Halfway through the season, a good month only moves the needle a bit, but make no mistake - the Caps appear to be back on track (to the extent they were ever otherwise).
Here's how we wrapped things up last month:
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.
All of those points remain (except, perhaps, the "arguably" that preceded the note on the goaltender), but the team has been backing up their sparkling record with strong play up and down the lineup, which is both encouraging and relieving. With the dog days of winter ahead and a PDO wave due to crash at some point, they may slip again. But there's no doubt that this is a tremendous hockey club that can play tremendous hockey for long stretches, which certainly bodes well for the future.