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Mike Mazzuca The Hockey Writers

Published on Wednesday, December 7, 2016





Where’s the ‘Big Red Machine’?

The Washington Capitals looked like titans among gods last year, running away with the President’s Trophy and setting a franchise record with 56 wins. You could have bet on there being a celebratory parade in downtown D.C. following the finale of the 2016 Stanley Cup playoffs.  Fast forward to this year, and they have become mortals. The Caps are not scoring at the same pace and the top players are not generating as many scoring chances as role players.

Red Alert in DC

After 24 games, Alex Ovechkin and co. are hanging on to the first wild card spot with a 14-7-3 record for 31 points. They have more wins in regulation and overtime than divisional foe Philadelphia Flyers and have earned one more win than the Tampa Bay Lightning who have registered 30 points through 27 games. And, thus, the Caps are clutching a playoff spot.

Last year, after 24 games, Washington was trailblazing through the Eastern Conference with an 18-5-1 record. Goaltender Braden Holtby was playing lights out, and management assembled a skilled Cup contender through offseason moves.

They amassed 78 goals through 24 games for a 3.25 goals-for average. Today’s Caps have collected 61 goals in 24 games, for a 2.54 goals-for average. This can be attributed to improved rivals (Penguins, Rangers, Islanders, Blue Jackets, Lightning) and teams more accustomed to Washington’s system. Despite the season being young, the mental edge Washington had yesteryear has disappeared.

On April 2, 2016, following a 4-2 loss to the Caps, former Colorado Avalanche head coach Patrick Roy stated the Capitals were “a team on a mission.” Washington had picked up their franchise-record 55th win of the season that night.

Even the legendary television journalist Larry King, who covered Capitals and Baltimore Orioles games during the early 1980s, predicted Ovechkin would hoist the Stanley Cup at season’s end.

Since this year’s squad is one of the deepest of the Ovechkin era, just getting by in the standings is alarming.

Analytics Talking

Here’s a taste of last year’s individual CF% and Opp CF% (over full 82-game season) as found at

2015-16 top four Washington players based on Corsi-For

Acquired via Name CF% Opp CF%
Draft, 2009 Dmitry Orlov 53.2 49.3
Draft, 2004 Alex Ovechkin 53.1 50.3
Free Agency Justin Williams 53.1 50.1
Draft, 2010 Evgeny Kuznetsov 52.4 50.1

Here’s a look at this year (23 games):

2016-17 top four Washington players based on Corsi-For

Acquired via Name CF% Opp CF%
Free Agency Lars Eller 58.4 49.6
Free Agency Brett Connolly 56.3 49.4
Undrafted Nate Schmidt 55.5 48.9
Free Agency Justin Williams 55.1 49.7

(CF% measures the the number of shots (on net, missed, blocked) taken by the player or his teammates while a player is on the ice)

(Opp CF% measures the number of shots (on net, missed, blocked) taken by the opposing players while that player is on the ice)

Brett Connolly and Calvin de Haan (Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports)

Brett Connolly and Calvin de Haan (Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports)

Even though it is great to get contributions from new players, the absence of the previous top 4 – except for Williams – is not a good thing. This year, Orlov sits 13th with 52.4 CF%, Kuznetsov ranks 17th with 49.5 CF%, and Ovechkin is 18th with 48.6 CF%. That is not where you want Ovechkin to be.

Washington will likely see its numbers evolve over the course of the season, and that will affect the team’s direction.

Hockey is a game of skill, leadership, and bounces. The Capitals have the skill. They have the leadership. They are not getting the bounces they had last year. Combine that with the many twists and turns of a hockey game and opposing teams cracking head coach Barry Trotz’s system, and we can see Washington is still trying to define its season.


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