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Blog Entry

Advice to the Washington Capitals: Shoot the puck

Posted on: January 19, 2012 3:17 pm
Edited on: January 19, 2012 3:29 pm
 
Ovechkin is shooting a lot, his team isn't. (Getty Images)

By Brian Stubits

It's almost everybody in hockey's belief that the Washington Capitals will, in the end, prevail and take the Southeast Division crown. They have been either behind the Florida Panthers or sharing the top spot with them (as they are now) since mid-November.

The rationale goes something along the lines of people believing the Caps can and will play better, or up to their potential, as many say.

Well I can't help but wonder ... what if this is their potential? They aren't the same team they were a couple of years ago. Under new coach Dale Hunter, they won't light teams up. It's not because they don't have players who can score, it's that they stopped shooting the puck.

I'm in attendance for most Capitals home games, I see them play first hand a lot. It seemed to me that every game they have played lately, they have been outshot and outchanced. In this case, perception is reality.

The Capitals have been outshot in each of the last seven games and 12 of the last 13. The only game where they outshot their opponent? The Calgary Flames where the Caps had a 21-19 shot advantage, a number that more often than not will be less than the opponent. In total, they have been outshot in 17 of the 23 games under Hunter.

It actually seems to be getting worse in this regard. The Capitals just played back-to-back games, Tuesday at home vs. the Islanders and Wednesday at the Canadiens. In those two games the Capitals had 33 shots on goal ... combined. The other teams had 59.

In fact, since Hunter came along, the Capitals are averaging only 24.7 shots on goal per game while giving up 30.5 per game. Those team totals are in spite of the fact that Alex Ovechkin is actually still shooting at a high rate, clocking in at fifth in the league in shots on goal. That means the rest of the team? Not so much.

Thanks to my colleague Adam Gretz, here is a chart showing the disparity in shots between the Capitals and their foes, splitting it up also to see the differences between the Bruce Boudreau reign and Hunter era.

You'll notice that the disparity lately is starting to settle into a trend where the Caps are not getting the shots off like their opponents are. It would be logical to assume that that must mean the Caps are focusing more on defense and aren't giving up as many shots either, but that's not the case. Notice in recent games how the volume of shots against has been at 28 or more. To state the obvious, that's not good either, it indicates that they aren't controlling the puck often enough.

What's more, another thing that seemed to me without looking at the stats to be the case is that when the Capitals get ahead, they shut down offensively. It has felt like every game they have won at home recently, the puck has been in their defensive zone for 75 percent of the third period. To illustrate that, take a look at this shots graph from Wednesday's win in Montreal and not the plateaus in Capitals attempts after the goals, marked by the vertical colored lines (via behindthenet.ca). Granted, most teams play more in their zone when they have the lead in the third period, but in the case of the Capitals, it feels pronounced.

Now the interesting part is where I tell you that the Capitals are winning these games. They have won eight of their last 11, in fact.

The question then becomes a matter of if the Capitals can continue to sustain their winning ways if the shot totals remain roughly the same. Let's just say the odds aren't in their favor.

On the season the Capitals are 13-13-2 when they are outshot. It's just more than a point per game, which would put them on pace for around 85 points or so in a full season. Conversely they are 12-5-0 when they outshoot their opponents. It's pretty easy to see the benefits of throwing the puck on net.

Sooner or later those numbers will catch up a team. It's hard to keep up a pace of scoring three goals on 16 shots as they did on Wednesday in Montreal. A shooting percentage a touch under 20 percent in a game? Unsustainable.

One reason why they have been able to creep on the Panthers in the division has been the play of former Panther Tomas Vokoun in net. He has rebounded since he was benched for five straight games and has done an excellent job of keeping the Caps in games and their leads safe.

They have also enjoyed the comfy confines of Verizon Center where they are 17-6-1 this season as opposed to 8-12-1 on the road. Of those eight wins in 11 games, seven have come at home.

Now to be fair, it has to be noted that Nicklas Backstrom has missed each of the last seven games. He is still dealing with post-concussion symptoms since his hit from Rene Bourque when he was with the Flames. That can certainly account for their recent drop in shots, after all he is still the team's leading scorer

The good news in all of this though is that they aren't in a division where a team is going to run away with the lead. We've already seen the Panthers come back to the pack. The same idea holds for the Eastern Conference as a whole. There's still a little less than half of the season to go, but it's sure shaping up to be a situation where there are 10 teams fighting for the eight postseason spots.

But if they don't start throwing the puck on net more, people are going to continue to wait to see their potential.

It's an adage as old as the game itself: Just throw the puck on net and see what happens. There is hardly ever anything bad that can come from getting the puck on goal. A soft shot might go in. A surprising rebound might present itself like a big present underneath the Christmas tree. Or in some cases the goalie can freeze the puck to cause a faceoff in the offensive zone. Stats show how valuable that is to creating offense.

I'd suggest the team adopt the motto of shoot first, ask questions later.

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @BrianStubitsNHL on Twitter.

Comments

Since: Jan 20, 2012
Posted on: January 20, 2012 4:18 pm
 

Nice graph

Your graph gave me a seizure. I'm guessing every angle in one line is a specific game?  So connecting the lines tells me there were also shots taken in between these games?  And a sample size of 14 (I think, again, it is hard to tell on such a terrible visual) for games Hunter has coached tells us little or nothing.  Big deal, the team is adjusting to a coaching change. My advice: hire a twelve year old to make your graph next time.



Since: Jan 2, 2007
Posted on: January 20, 2012 3:19 pm
 

Advice to the Washington Capitals: Shoot the puck

You're right about one thing, Jason.  Only Ottawa and Detroit have more wins in their last ten games than the Capitals.  As long as the marks are going in the win column, I don't care how badly you get outshot.  Could it be a problem down the road when they run up against a team in the playoffs that specializes in shot blocking and tight defense?  Of course.  But this is still January and teams still have another 35 games to play before the real season starts.
 



Since: Apr 6, 2008
Posted on: January 20, 2012 12:47 pm
 

Advice to the Washington Capitals: Shoot the puck

yeah... cause the 1 and 2 seeds always advance in the NHL playoffs


Caps used to roll through everybody outshooting them all the way to get swept in the playoffs...

time to try something new? 



Since: Mar 30, 2010
Posted on: January 20, 2012 9:27 am
 

Advice to the Washington Capitals: Shoot the puck

It really doesn't matter cause in the end Washington will get bounced in the first round anyways. The east will come down to Boston and New York anyways. 



Since: Aug 24, 2006
Posted on: January 20, 2012 9:16 am
 

Advice to the Washington Capitals: Shoot the puck

As mentioned Backstrom is hurt...   That's the bottom line.



Since: Feb 26, 2008
Posted on: January 20, 2012 9:14 am
 

Advice to the Washington Capitals: Shoot the puck

The Caps were being outshot pretty regularly with Boudreau.  And they were still winning.  Shots are like passing yards in football.  Sure, they help.  But they don't win you games.  If you're outshot 30-2, but win 2-0, what does the shot count mean then?



Since: Sep 28, 2007
Posted on: January 20, 2012 8:29 am
 

Advice to the Washington Capitals: Shoot the puck

You can throw all the stats you want out, but at the end of the day its all about the "W." And the Caps are gettting a lot of them right now, ride the wave until it crashes then worry about a new game plan.



Since: Jan 13, 2008
Posted on: January 19, 2012 9:14 pm
 

Advice to the Washington Capitals: Shoot the puck

I know some unhappy season ticket holders. They go to the games and watch as they pass the puck and pass the puck and they never pull the trigger. Not to change the subject but how long will it take Evgeny Kuznetsov to get in the line-up? He plays with passion and loves going to the net but he's 172 lbs. I think they'll make a trade-deadline deal. I hope it's a good one, something has to happen.



Since: Nov 29, 2006
Posted on: January 19, 2012 5:42 pm
 

Advice to the Washington Capitals: Shoot the puck

Unfortunately I have been posting the same thing recently. It is unsustainable to do what they are currently doing. Besides the fact, as a fan it is terrible to watch. Especially since we have been spolied for 3 seasons with an offensive juggernaut. I will give Hunter the benefit of the doubt for now as he is still getting used to being an NHL coach. However if this trend turns into a season long thing, this team wont make the playoffs and Hunter will be shown the door. No one wants to see this style of hockey-it makes your eyes bleed



Since: Jan 25, 2010
Posted on: January 19, 2012 4:49 pm
 

Advice to the Washington Capitals: Shoot the puck

As I said in another thread, I feel this is the Caps now.  THey do not have defensive players who can play up front as Green did.  Wideman is active but not nearly as active and not the passer who Green is.  The Caps have two bona fide centers and one is injured.  Either Ovie line (whatever it is) or Semin line (whatever it is) will have a center.  Laich has to play on one of these lines and Knuble should be on other.  Knuble, even though he is showing age is always in crease and making it easier.  They have lost their youthful exuberance and have lost speed.  Fehr, Laich, Fleishmann all had speed and agressiveness.  They are now another Jersey and will need outstanding defense.

THis is possibly not so bad in playoffs by the way.  Detroit won several cups without numbers.  Remember Caps outshot Habs 4 to 1 in playoffs and won.  The game against Habs might be Caps of near term with high percentage shooting.  Goalies must be outstanding.  Lately they have been.

Don't give up.


The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com