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Time for another edition of StatTalk

December 12, 2013
Capitals Radio Network

Breaking down the numbers for us on the Capitals Radio Network, our Arik Parnass looks at some possible upward trends for the Caps with a game in Florida tomorrow night. Read more on puck possession, John Carlson's career-high in time-on-ice Tuesday night and more here. Lot of good nuggets to chew on.


Capitals StatTalk December 12


4 – That’s the number of consecutive games, prior to Tuesday’s roller coaster affair, that the Capitals had posted a positive even-strength Fenwick percentage with the score close[1]. In layman’s terms, that means that for four straight games, the Caps outpossessed their opponents at even strength. Why is that notable? Well the Caps haven’t done so four games in a row in Adam Oates’ time as head coach, as the team has generally relied on its power play and goaltending to keep it in playoff contention while hovering around the bottom of the league in possession.


Is this an anomaly, or the beginning of a positive trend? Well the first two contests were against poor possession clubs in the Islanders (19th) and the Hurricanes (28th), but the latter two featured dominating even-strength performances against respectable ones in the Predators (16th) and the New York Rangers (11th), meaning quality of competition couldn’t have been too big of a factor. The Capitals are 25th by this FenClose metric, and if they truly want to improve at even strength, it will be important to recognize that games like Tuesday night need to become the exception, not the rule.


One of the important aspects of fancystats is that they generally reflect what the eye sees on the ice, but they cancel out some of the noise, and allow us to explain parts of what happened, while predicting what might occur next. You don’t need a statsheet to realize that the Capitals’ start against Tampa Bay was discouraging, but Corsi — or total shot attempts differential — can sure illustrate why the visitors jumped out to a 3-0 lead.


The Capitals began the game 0-11 in even-strength shot attempts. That meant that not only were they not getting meaningful possession in the offensive zone, they were chasing the play, which could explain why they ended up taking eight minutes in minor penalties early on.


Overall, a four game streak in the black is encouraging, especially if one considers how much of a powerhouse a team with this power play could be with above average even-strength play. It’s a small sample, but one it’ll be just as important to build on as their three-game winning streak in the goals department.


12 – Ever doubt the predictive ability of shots and shot attempts? On November 6, the Caps led the league in 4-on-5 goals allowed per 60 minutes shorthanded despite allowing the seventh most shots in that period. Now, just over a month later, rather than cut down on shots allowed, the Caps have fallen further back. They’ve dropped from 24th to 28th in shots allowed per 60 minutes on the PK, and predictably they’ve dropped 12 spots in the goals allowed department there as well.


On the day I wrote my first Caps StatTalk, Caps goalies had an unsustainable .970 sv% at 4-on-5. That number has now dropped to .908, still fourth in the league, but not so good it can badly shield PK deficiencies.


34:38 – That was the time on ice for John Carlson Tuesday night, in the shootout win over Tampa Bay. It was the most Carlson has played in a regular season game in his five-year NHL career. The only two games in which he’s played more, overall, were a couple of playoff marathons against the New York Rangers. It’s been clear for quite some time now that Carlson is the true number one defenseman on this team. He starts more shifts in the defensive zone than fellow veterans Karl Alzner and Mike Green, and still puts up comparable possession numbers. He’s in serious contention for a spot on Team USA’s blueline for the Sochi Olympics, and most importantly, he’s signed at less than $4 million per year for the next four seasons. But who is his ideal partner? Here is a chart of the defensemen currently available that he’s played with this year, with the duos’ Corsi For Percentage marked together, and apart.



TOI with Carlson

CF% on ice together

Carlson when apart

Teammate when apart

John Carlson





Karl Alzner





Nate Schmidt





Alex Urbom





Mike Green





Dmitri Orlov





Steve Oleksy






This is what we call a With or Without You (WOWY) chart, inspired by the popular U2 song of the same name. It shows which players do particularly well with or without certain teammates on the ice with them. It is important to keep in mind a couple of things. First, this doesn’t factor in usage. Carlson generally plays tough minutes, meaning that his partners’ underlying numbers will often suffer when paired with him. This doesn’t necessarily mean — and in this case surely doesn’t mean — that he’s dragging them down. Second, Carlson has played with a lot of different partners, and that means that aside from his pairing with Alzner, we are working with small sample sizes, meaning most of this analysis must be taken with a grain of salt.


So who is the ideal partner for John Carlson based on the numbers from this year alone? It seems fairly clear that that person is Karl Alzner. Alzner and Green as a pairing, which has been used frequently by Oates, has sustained a respectable 50.9 CF%, but Green with Schmidt has worked even better (54.2%). Considering the coach’s preference to play righties with lefties, it seems like giving Orlov softer minutes to get acquainted with the NHL — maybe on a pairing with Oleksy until John Erskine returns — and reuniting the team’s 2007 and 2008 first round picks is most likely to see the team move up the even-strength possession board.

[1] Close means within one goal in the first or second periods or tied in the third period. One uses “score close” metrics to eliminate score effects from the sample. In other words, a team that leads a game by 2+ is more likely to sit back and allow shots, but that shouldn’t be held against their possession stats. The inverse is true for a team trailing by 2+ goals. “Score close” metrics are usually used for teams and not players because with teams there is a larger sample size of data to work with.