Thursday, August 9, 2007

Caps Progress Review - By the Numbers

The Capitals announced back in the 2003-2004 that they would undergo a rebuilding process and quickly began trading most of the teams assets for draft picks and prospects. They were fortunate enough to win the draft lottery and picked Alex Ovechkin with the number one overall pick in the 2004 entry draft. According to the the team, the plan was to let the young players show what they could do for two years and then evaluate their strengths and weaknesses. After two trying years the Capitals have started filling in some of the holes during this summers free agency market. The numbers from these past two years are very telling.

First off is the overall record. In 2005-06 the team went 29-41-12 and in 2006-07 they went 28-40-14. Both years accumulating 70 points in the standings and finishing in last place in the Southeast Division.

In the goal department in 05-06 the Caps scored 230 goals and in 06-07 scored 234 goals. Opponents scored 300 and 275 respectively. While cutting the goal differential dramatically in 06-07 they were still out scored by some 41 goals. One of the more noticeable stats is shots on goal. The past two years the Caps were out shot by their opponents by a whopping 874 shots. The need to score more goals was one of the areas addressed by the team in free agency this summer. The Caps brought in former Cap Michael Nylander and Victor Kozlov. Nylander had 83 points last year and is expected to center the first line with Ovechkin. Kozlov had 51 points with the New York Islanders last year and looks to play on the second line with Alexander Semin and Nicklas Backstrom, the number four pick in the 2006 entry draft. The team also resigned their captain Chris Clark to a three year extension. In two seasons with the Caps, Clark has scored 50 goals and 93 points. The younger Caps including Matt Pettinger, Eric Fehr, Brooks Laich, Jakup Klepis, and Tomas Fleischmann will be looked at to contribute more to the offense as 134 of the 234 goals scored last season was the product of four forwards ( Ovechkin 46, Semin 38, Clark 30, and Dainius Zubrus 20).

Special teams has been an Achilles heel for the Caps. They scored 72 power play goals in 05-06 and 67 in 06-07 while giving up 116 and 82. Admittedly, the Caps have acknowledged that they just didn't have the personnel to run an effective power play. They acquired free agent Tom Poti to be their power play quarterback. On the Islanders power play last year, Poti had 6 goals and 26 assists. They also expect Backstrom to contribute his play making abilities here as well. The penalty kill ranked 23rd last season and 28th in 05-06. While there was some improvement here there needs to be much more if the teams wants to be competitive. The defense is the big question mark for this years team. The Caps defense has lots of prospects in Milan Jurcina, Steve Eminger, Mike Green, and Jeff Schultz and some of them will step up. The Caps have also brought in a couple of veteran defensemen with a lot of European experience in Josef Boumedienne and Jamie Pollock. General Manager George McPhee has indicated that no more moves will be made until after the start of training camp. The hope is that the young defense corp has matured enough and the competition for the spot will show who is ready for a full time position on the blue line. If no one appears to be breaking out, the Caps may have to look for a free agent or trade to fill this need.

The in-game stats show some interesting trends. Stats for hits, takeaways, giveaways, blocked shots, and missed shots are all quite subjective and tend to vary from arena to arena so take them for what they are. The Caps out hit their opponents by over a hundred each of the past two seasons and the level remained consistent. 1,542 hits in 05-06 and 1,556 hits in 06-07. Takeaways were nearly the same for the Caps over the two seasons but the opponents increased their takeaways by 134 last season. Opponents averaged 88 less giveaways over the two season span. For the 05-06 season the Caps blocked 33 fewer shots than their opponents, but this number increased to 151 for the 06-07 season. Missed shots were very consistent with the Caps averaging 923 and their opponents averaging 1023. A difference of 100 per season. What these stats show is the Caps play a more physical game than their opponents but need improvement in their puckhandling and defense.

In 2005-06 the Caps ranked 10th in face-off win percentage. In 2006-07 they ranked 17th. The change from 50.4% to 49.8% can be attributed to a couple of factors. One was the loss of Jeff Halpern who had a lifetime face-off percentage of 53.9% and 55.2% in 05-06. The second was the fact that the Caps had no one who consistently played the center position. Finally, it took awhile for Boyd Gordon and Brooks Laich to become proficient at the art. Both started slowly but were very good at the end of the season. Gordon finished with a 52.1 win percentage and Laich finished at 51.9%. Gordon work really hard last year to improve this aspect of his game (in 05-06 his percentage was 46.3) and it showed as Head Coach Glenn Halon had him take almost all of the important draws in the latter stages of last season. Next season the Caps look to improve this area with the addition of Backstrom.

Penalties were a big improvement in th 06-07 season. The Caps took 158 fewer penalties for 266 fewer minutes in the box. This also coincided with the Caps taking only 1 more penalty than their opponents last season. In the 05-06 season the took 65 more penalties than their opponents. If they can continue this trend they will be in a position to have more power play chances than their opponents which is always a good thing.

Goaltending for the Caps was once again Olie Kolzig and Brent Johnson with a little Fredrick Cassivi thrown in. Overall the goalies improved in most areas. The goals against average was down 0.32 goals per gave and the save percentage was up from 89.6% to 90.3%. The save percentage in 06-07 was slightly above their opponents 90.1%, but Caps goalies faced 435 more shots than their counterparts. The goalie situation is stable for the start of the year with Kolzig starting and Johnson as back up. Michal Neuvirth and Simeon Varlamov are young goalies that showed promise last on their on the junior and European teams. Both were signed by the Caps this summer and led to the decision not to qualify Maxime Daigeault in June. Kolzig is in the last year of his contract and has said he wants to play for three more years. We''ll have to wait and see if it will be with the Caps.

The last area is the one that hurts. The Caps were a miserable 1 win and 11 losses in the shootout last year. It was hard to believe since they had 7 wins and 6 losses in 05-06. In 06-07 skaters scored 5 goals in 40 attempts with only three players scoring a shootout goal (Ovechkin 2-12, Semin 2-10, & Pettinger 1-4). Hopefully the addition of Kozlov 13-25 and Nylander 10-24 will help. The goalies did not fare much better. They allowed 18 goals in 40 attempts. Their save percentage dropped from 70.2% to 55.0% . The Caps simply need to do better in this area of the game. They lost 11 possible points in the standing because of it. Hopefully with the new additions there will be a new attitude about the shootout and us Cap fans can watch it again.

So season three of the Capitals rebuilding project is set to begin on September 14th with training camp at the Kettler Iceplex. This will be a telling year in the progress of the rebuilding Capitals. We'll watch the numbers and see what trends change and what doesn't, but the numbers don't lie. If they're good there will be much to cheer about. If not, well, lets not think about that yet.

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