Washington sports fans have a habit of skepticism when it comes to winning. It has been a long time since we have had a championship team—we’ve come close but never taken it all the way. So as we look at the NHL standings today and see the Caps on top, we also keep hearing how poorly they are playing. It seems some of the bloggers and media don’t want to get our hopes up. You know, we’ve been here before…
Are we the best right now? How do we tell? Is it more than just putting wins in the column? The fun thing about stats is you can slice them any way you want to tell your story. We don’t do deep statistical analysis here but let’s take a stab at some simple numbers to compare how our players stack up against our closest competitors. Let us know what you think.
It Takes A Team
No one is going to the Stanley Cup Finals without a strong team effort. The Caps have that. Looking at the active roster, every consistently active player has at least one goal—all but Brooks Laich and Nate Schmidt have two. Stan Galiev isn’t playing right now and he has yet to light the lamp.
Five players have double-digit goals—Ovechkin (17), Oshie (13) Kuznetsov (10) Williams (10), and Backstrom (10). Chimera has 9 and will probably join their ranks in a game or two. Five teams have at least four players in the same category so this stat may be relatively meaningless. However, with scoring an average of 3.12 goals (ESPN) a game, it seems to reason that their numbers will keep growing.
Everyone is assisting. Everyone has points in the A column which indicates a team-wide effort to create scoring opportunities. This may be the more important stat when looking at how the Caps are playing as a team.
The defensemen are hot this year. John Carlson leads the Caps defenseman with 27 points. He is part of the offensive posture we are seeing in every player. The addition of Taylor Chorney with a +8 has proven a good fill for the loss of Mike Green.
And then there are the net-minders: Braden Holtby and Philipp Grubauer. Holtby is the winningest goalie in the league right with 21 wins and is in second place at 1.96 for goals against average (GAA). He is the centerpiece of the Caps success. Grubbs is no slouch. He hasn’t had as many opportunities to play but when he stepped in for Braden during the Bolts game he turned the team around and helped seal the win. He was great in the Caps most recent matchup in Raleigh and with a .914 save percentage; he too brings the right stuff to the game.
Around the Metropolitan Davison
How do the Caps compare in these areas against their rivals. Let’s start with our own division where we have a slight edge right now.
Islanders: All but two of their players have goals and three players have double-digit goals. Everyone is assisting and all but one defensemen has a goal and most have multiple assists. Goalie Jaroslav Halak is winning half his games (10) as is their backup goalie, Thomas Greiss (9). Halak is a 2.09 for GAA and 5th in the league.
NY Rangers: We know they are struggling right now. All but one of their players has a goal on the sheet and four of their players have 10 or more goals. Looking at the assist column, everyone is helping out, including the defensemen. Their goalies are not doing as well as they have in the past and could be the largest reason for their decline. Henrik Lundqvist has won just half of the games (15) in which he has played, putting him 4th in the league. Antti Raanta has won 4 of his 10 games. They have a .925 and .919 save percentage, respectively. Lundqvist has slipped to 26th place in GAA at 2.43.
The Weakest Links
Does it matter that other than Braden Holby, only Evgeny Kuznetsov shows up in the top five of any of the league leader categories. Ovi is inching up in the goal category but lags 5 points behind top seater Jamie Benn of the Dallas Stars. You have to slide down to 16th place before you find a Cap (Backstrom) on the assists board and 17th (Backstrom again) under points leaders. Kuzy sits in second place with a +17 in the plus/minus column. The Caps are 11th in the league when it comes to the average shots per game (29.9) while the top ranking teams in this category, LA Kings and Dallas Stars, average 32.2 shots.
The fourth line is doing what a fourth line should be doing—giving the top line a breather and looking for scoring opportunities when they are on the ice. Michael Latta has three goals, Andre Burakovsky two and Brooks Laich one. They may not be the strongest link but they aren’t the weakest. Latts (AKA Sparky) has energized the team with his recent goals and enthusiasm. Burakovsky has not lived up to the hype yet and we aren’t sure what’s going on with Laich.
As a team we are playing better together than we have in years. The challenge for the team though is that Braden Holtby is the weakest link. Yes, he is the best goalie we have had since Olie Kolzig and yes he is out performing most goalies in the league, but many of our wins rest on his shoulders. As we heard after Trotz pulled him in New York, the team needs to do better by him. It’s great that he has an incredible save record; however, the team needs to do more to keep the puck out of his zone and in the net at the other end. But we have to ask, what if something happens to Holtby? Can the team rally and move forward or has he become such a stabilizing factor that they might lose their advantage? Any team with a powerhouse net-minder (i.e., NYR) has to ask what happens if their goalie slips.
The Caps are spreading the wealth, so to speak. With the top six scoring across the board we don’t have one star standing out as a scoring leader. That’s a good thing. It means that our opponents don’t know who to focus their defense on because Trotz’s Boys keep changing it up. That is probably our single strongest advantage right now. It isn’t all about Ovechkin reaching 50 (or even 500). It’s about creating chances and celebrating the team scoring.
So why compare league leaders then? The teams with the league leaders are, for the most part, in the Western Conference and should we make it to the final show—we will be facing one of these teams there. We may have a healthy lead now in our own division and conference and it will take a strong presence to hold that lead. If the Caps continue to pull out wins in hard-fought games, they are likely to maintain the edge that will take them to the playoffs. But let’s be real—they need to shoot more and score more. In some respects they are still a bit of a heart attack team. It remains to be seen how we will do once we start facing the Stars, Blackhawks, Blues, Kings, and Sharks in February. We have a month to secure our lead and prepare for the force of the west.
Bottom line: we’re pretty good. Don’t start talking about the DC curse yet. We have a long way to go. We aren’t quite half way through the season and we can still relax and enjoy the game for the next few weeks. The team has some things they may need to tweak, but they have a positive attitude and that should carry us to February when we can see how we match up against the West. In the meantime, lets keep enjoying these guys and Rocking the Red!!