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Not-So-Distant Early Warning

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A look at what the Caps’ offense in the early going may portend for the future

NHL: Buffalo Sabres at Washington Capitals Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

Okay, let’s get one thing out of the way up front: the Caps have played all of six hockey games (one-third of which have come without arguably their two most important offensive players) following an almost non-existent training camp during which new and old players were tasked with learning and implementing a new system. There is little reason to think that the Caps we saw yesterday, for example, will look the same on the ice as they look one or three months from now.

That said, early returns in at least one area could be potential red flags, especially in context of some earlier concerns. Specifically, the Caps’ five-on-five offense through a half-dozen games has been, well, woeful. To wit, their adjusted expected goals-for (xGF) rate per sixty minutes is 1.63, worst in the League, per Natural Stat Trick. (As a point of reference, last season’s Caps posted 2.45 in that stat, fifth in the League and a tick above prolific Tampa.) They’re in the bottom five in shot-attempt metrics and second from the bottom in scoring chance rates after a poor offensive showing against Buffalo on Sunday. Yes, they’re missing players and practice time... but even Alex Ovechkin has posted the lowest shot rate of his career through the first four games.

On the plus side, they’ve managed to double their expected goal rate, posting 3.29 goals per sixty, thanks in large part to a League-best five-on-five shooting percentage (12.7%). Still, while the Caps have always fancied themselves a “quality over quantity” team on offense, and have typically outperformed their underlying metrics in these areas, this type of over-performance likely can’t (and won’t) last.

So the Caps’ efficiency will almost certainly regress in a bad way and the team’s play will likely regress in a good way... but just how much remains to be seen. And that’s the cause for early concern because, you see, Peter Laviolette isn’t exactly an offensive mastermind:

In fact, it’s been quite some time since Laviolette has had a positive impact on his team’s offense (at least insofar as how Hockey Viz measures it):

This is the point in the post where we note things like “he’s never had an Alex Ovechkin before,” remind everyone that Barry Trotz wasn’t exactly known for his offensive acumen before arriving in D.C., and note that the goal of hockey isn’t to score four goals per game, but to outscore opponents (something the Caps have done fairly well so far, thanks to a perhaps underappreciated defensive effort).

But the reality is that these aren’t Bruce Boudreau’s Caps, they probably aren’t Barry Trotz’s Caps and maybe they’re not even Todd Rierden’s Caps [insert joke here]. They’re enduring a learning curve under particularly trying circumstances, and certainly doing well to pick up points along the way. How much better they can get remains to be seen, but how much more exciting... well, maybe not that much. For now, though, they’re just... dull.