Back in January, we took a look at whether or not the Caps' game was foretelling of playoff success, according to research by Micah Blake McCurdy. The results were promising. According to the ranking system we devised, the Caps' had the League's second highest "Deep Playoff Potential Score" -- a quick and dirty metric rigged up for a high-level application of McCurdy's research.
The Caps achieved this state of promise through solid possession play and more-than-solid goaltending. So we don't necessarily need to go through the exercise again to glean that the Caps aren't quite so favorably situated - your eyes and, increasingly, gut - tell you that. Nonetheless, below are their 20-game rolling averages (courtesy of war on ice) for the three components that McCurdy found to be most important.
Let's start with shot-rates. First, the rate at which the Caps have been attempting shots at five-on-five:
Hey, they've actually been generating shot attempts at essentially their season high pretty much since the middle of February!
Not so fast.
That's almost certainly the result of how often they've been playing from behind. Here's a look at the Caps' score adjusted shot generation numbers (and it's worth noting that all of Micah's research is done with score adjusted data):
Yeah, in actuality, the Caps are just about at their lowest point of the season when it comes to meaningful shot attempts. Well that's not good. Now let's take a look at the other side of the coin: shot suppression.
This piece of the equation has actually remained relatively constant. Probably not overmuch to worry about. However, to maintain success by having shot suppression remain steady means that those shots also need to be stopped at the same rate. And that certainly hasn't happened. On to goaltending...
That trend would be pretty great if it was, say, goals-against average.
This is adjusted save percentage, meaning it incorporates how effective Holtby is versus shots of different danger levels compared to his masked peers throughout the League. Let's hand it off to J.P. for a breakdown of components:
On Holtby, 10-game rolling 5v5 Sv% by shot "danger" - eliminated really soft ones, not making as many tougher stops. pic.twitter.com/gzXdxUED2u— Japers' Rink (@JapersRink) March 21, 2016
Now, there are plenty of reasons why the Caps' performance could have dropped off, the most common of which are probably key players missing large gaps of time with injury (or playing through injury), and "human nature" being the term ascribed to general lack of urgency due to a massive standings lead. After all, if on-ice behavior changes based on score-state, why wouldn't the same be true based on standings-state? Barry Trotz isn't so forgiving at this point:
Trotz: "I’m not going to let guys off the hook. There’s no excuse for the sloppy play, the lack of execution."— Isabelle Khurshudyan (@ikhurshudyan) March 21, 2016
The general sense is that the Caps' will "flip the switch" once the playoffs begin (or, hopefully prior to that), largely on account of their ability to do so after falling behind in games for much of the last two months - the Caps have the League's best winning percentage when allowing their opponent to score first (you know the drill).
All that is fine and well, but bad habits can be hard to shake (and particularly when they've yielded positive results with some regularity), so ideally you'd like to see the team string together a few games reminiscent of October through January. For instance, if the team could start climbing the charts on, say, a five-game rolling basis, it might begin to feel like there was some evidence to back up the notion that they've flipped a switch.
Let's start with Holtby, probably the most active ingredient in the Caps' cocktail for success. Here's his five-game rolling adjusted save percentage.
As you can see, in aggregate Holt's last five games have been his best such stretch since back in early January. That's a great sign.
The shot metric components, however, don't look nearly as promising.
Shot generation continues to fall, and although suppression isn't so dire, it's probably not ideal either. Hopefully the near return of the team's top defensemen helps these numbers a little bit, allowing Trotz to better play the bench boss's chess game. Throw in the fact that Trotz's shakeup of the forward corps yielded good results (both possession and production) in two of the three games since, and you start to think that maybe the system has been thoroughly shocked. But they're not there yet... and their competition is:
Trotz was also very complimentary of the #Pens. "They're in playoff-mode. They wanted it more and we got exactly what we deserved tonight."— Wes Crosby (@OtherNHLCrosby) March 21, 2016
One thing that's for certain is that with only eleven games remaining in the regular season, if the Caps plan to "flip the switch" before the playoffs, they're running out of time to show the circuitry still works.