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Capitals’ Power Play Gives a Lesson in Regression

Mar 18, 2024; Calgary, Alberta, CAN; Washington Capitals left wing Alex Ovechkin (8) celebrates his goal with teammates against the Calgary Flames during the second period at Scotiabank Saddledome. Mandatory Credit: Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports

The Washington Capitals entered calendar year 2024 with one of the worst power plays in hockey. Through the season’s first 34 games, the unit had clicked on a woeful 11.5 percent of its opportunities, third-worst in the League, and that was after a relatively hot 5-for-23 run.

The struggles were as disappointing and confounding as they were surprising – if there was one area where an immediate positive impact of the offseason moves behind the bench was reasonably expected, it was with the extra man.

Since then, the Caps’ have been’ power play has been torrid, scoring on 28.1 percent of its opportunities, a rate that jumps to 32.1 percent post-KuznetsovAll-Star Break.

It may have taken longer than hoped for, but Spencer Carbery figured it out and the Caps haven’t looked back since.


Wrong. Certainly there have been meaningful tweaks along the way to both personnel and schemes, but the underlying numbers are strikingly similar in the two samples, even a bit worse in the more recent set of games:

5v4 numbers via NatStatTrick

As a heat map, it’s a pretty similar look (you-know-who pounding the rock from you-know-where, etc.), with the volume dropping off and thus the expected goal rate as well:

So what’s the deal? The change in fortunes for the Caps power play are as good an example of regression as you’ll find – they went from an unsustainably bad shooting percentage (5.6%) to an equally unsustainably good shooting percentage (19.7%).

To be clear, “regression” doesn’t mean that an unlucky run will automatically be balanced out by an similarly lucky one, as has been the case here. Rather it means that, going forward, you should expect something along the lines of a rate leading up to the streak based on a large enough sample – so for the Caps’ power-play shooting percentage, that was probably somewhere in the neighborhood of 13 percent, which is what we should expect going forward.

Again, that’s not to take away from impactful changes that have been made that may or may not be captured in the underlying metrics. But the Caps’ power play isn’t as good as it has been over the last month and change, just like it wasn’t as bad as it was over the season’s first month and change (hey, you were warned that it was actually very good!). Let’s just hope this current streak lasts a little longer before regression rears its ugly head again.

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