The 2017-18 iteration of the Washington Capitals is one that has seen more year-over-year change than most of the campaigns that preceded it. From the departure of Justin Williams and Marcus Johansson in the top-six and the subsequent arrival of Jakub Vrana, to a depleted blueline corps that, six games into the season, has already seen NHL debuts from Christian Djoos and Madison Bowey, the Caps are operating with a notably shallower roster than what hockey fans in the Nation’s Capital are used to seeing.
It’s common for us to analyze the Caps performance compared to the field of teams against whom they compete. The following analysis, which will be updated periodically throughout the season, instead seeks to understand how the Caps are performing when compared to their former rosters.
First, let’s take a look at possession numbers, with the necessary caveat that six games into the season, the sample size for this year’s data is still extremely small, and thus volatile.
According to adjusted data from Corsica, the Caps are currently relinquishing shot attempts at a greater rate than at any full-season clip during the Behind the Net era, and only generating them more successfully than the 2013-14 Adam Oates-coached squad. So in summary, not great.
We’ll move now to special teams, starting with the power play.
You can see here that this year’s power play unit is generating shot attempts at a lesser rate than any of the last ten Caps teams that came before them, and is being buoyed by a shooting percentage north of 18% that is unlikely to be sustained. In the previous four seasons, the team never eclipsed 16%.
Alright, so early indicators at even-strength and a man to the good aren’t great... but what about the other side of the coin: penalty killing?
The news here isn’t much sunnier. Sure, the Caps seem to be suppressing shots on the penalty kill pretty well, but they aren’t getting the big save that they’re used to.
So, the team is indexing poorly at fives and on the powerplay, while receiving worse penalty-kill goaltending than they’ve ever received over a full-clip. The squad’s sure got a lot to work on, and while none of this is cause for panic, the early season performance across the board is at the very least worth a raised eyebrow.