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If You Think the Capitals Are Good... Here We Go Again

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The Caps are lucky and good, which is a nice combination

NHL: Boston Bruins at Washington Capitals Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

You may recall that last season we did a high-level check-in with the Caps every month or so to see how they were stacking up against the rest of the League and trending. With the All-Star break upon us, now is a good time to pick that exercise back up, so, without further ado, here's a League-wide ranking in 21 metrics (data via NHL.com, Corsica.Hockey and Puck On Net; click to enlarge all charts in this post):

Yep, pretty pretty swell (and hey there, Bruce Boudreau’s Minnesota Wild).

Back in April, we said “this is who the Capitals are - a team whose results may well outpace their middling-to-good underlying numbers, thanks to strong special teams, finishing talent and goaltending.” That appears to still be the case (particularly with regards to two of our “new” metrics, Scoring Chance Percentage (SCF%) and Expected Goals For Percentage (xGF%). In fact, they’ve more or less picked up where they left off:

You’ll notice dips from where they ended last season in power-play percentage (which has been on the upswing lately) and shots per game (and a smaller drop-off in goals-per-game rank), but a sizable uptick in Score-Adjusted Corsi-For percentage (SACF%) and unadjusted CF%. Interestingly enough, however, those improvements haven’t been mirrored in unblocked shot attempt share (FF%) or on-goal shot attempt share (SF%), both of which were better to begin with. But, by just about every measure, the Caps are better than they were a year ago at this time... when they were 35-8-4 (making this year’s 33-10-6 record look somehow unimpressive by comparison).

Circling back to the first chart, you’ll notice that the Caps have the League’s highest five-on-five shooting and save percentages. But simply noting the rank doesn’t provide adequate context for just how high those two numbers have been, to date, so here’s some context (via Corsica):

Those are the highest single-season totals in time frame for which we have the data (which dates back to the start of the 2007-08 season), so 240 82-game seasons, and another 60 of 46-52 games (the lockout-shortened 2012-13 season and this year so far). And among those 300 team-seasons, the only team with a higher five-on-five shooting percentage over an 82-game season was the 2009-10 incarnation of this same squad and no team has stopped a higher percentage of shots at fives than this year’s club.

That is one hell of a combination.

It’s also wholly unsustainable, and part of the reason there’s such a discrepancy between the Caps’ xGF% (a middle-of-the-road 50.4%) and their actual, eye-popping 64.4 goals-for percentage. Now, you can take these expectations with a grain of salt... but be sure to at least take them somehow. Yes, the Caps almost certainly have above-average finishers and an elite goaltender. But this is just bonkers.

Putting aside, for a moment, the Caps’ otherworldly percentages, there’s reason for optimism because the Caps, as of today, are a better puck possession team than they were at the end of last season. Puck On Net has them at a SACF% of 52.8 right now, after finishing last season at 51.5 percent. That may not sound like a big difference, but take away the six games John Carlson has missed (during which the team has posted a woeful 45.9 SACF%), and the Caps have a strong 53.8 SACF%, just a tick below 2009-10’s 54.0. (Say what you will about Carlson, but the team is much better with him in the lineup, for a number of reasons.) In other words, this team, when healthy, is 2.3 percentage points above last year’s already-solid club.

Is this the best Caps team we’ve seen? Maybe. It certainly could be the most well-rounded. And that should help soften the landing when that regression comes (and it will come - recall that this is just about the time last year that they swooned a bit, though a healthy lead in the standings no doubt contributed to that).

The Caps have been lucky. The Caps have been good. The Caps have been lucky and good. And guess what two things you can say about just about every Cup winner that you can recall...

Yep.