November 23 2013 10:08AM
Maybe LGD threads should all be titled after movies
Disclaimer: One thing I'd prefer not to do in this preview is discuss the fate of a certain former Leaf centreman, his merits or his flaws, with respect to the reader, he is a member of the Washington Capitals now, and he plays on a line with Jason Chimera and Joel Ward, and that is all that matters.
It must be hockey season, since the Washington Capitals are a bit of an on-ice disappointment. I projected them to be pretty high in the standings at the start of the season, but they're 16th in the league with 25 points, and I'd think part of that success is a bit of an illusion. I thought they'd be towards the top of the table in the Eastern Conference, but they're already five points back of first in the Metropolitan (or PatrickPlus) and 16th in the league, well-back of contender status.
Of course, I've also learned that when a team betrays your expectations, usually it's because your forecasting methods were off, not because there's something wrong with the team or players.
|Corsi Close %||46.5% (24th)||43.5% (29th)|
|5v5 GF/60||2.38 (11th)||2.20 (16th)|
|5v5 GA/60||2.61 (23rd)||1.90 (8th)|
|PDO||100.6 (12th)||103.2 (2nd)|
|5v4 GF/60||11.70 (1st)||8.14 (7th)|
|5v4 SF/60||60.1 (4th)||60.0 (5th)|
|4v5 GA/60||4.65 (5th)||5.87 (12th)|
|4v5 SA/60||64.7 (27th)||62.9 (26th)|
|Penalty Differential||-1 (14th)||-13 (28th)|
The Washington Capitals are the statistical brethren of the Toronto Maple Leafs: they're a poor possession team coasting on very strong special teams, and while they're powerplay success looks legit, on the penalty kill they've been giving up a lot more shots than you'd expect from their goal total. Washington have a .928 save rate on the PK, tops in the entire National Hockey League, so when Jim Hughson tonight remarks that the Capitals have "the fifth-ranked penalty kill" when the Leafs get a man-advantage for the first time tonight, don't worry about it too much. I suspect they'll begin to show weakness in that regard, just as the Leafs did when they were giving up lots of shots and not a lot of goals.
In the offseason, the Capitals didn't replace too much. They were 48.1% in Corsi Close last season, and I believed replacing Mike Ribeiro with Mikhail Grabovski would be enough to bring them up to even possession-wise, and that powerplay would take over and the Caps would be dominant, but evidently I was a little wrong in that regard. Grabovski's had a fine season offensively, but it's been mostly percentage-driven. Him, Chimera and Ward are all above 11% in on-ice shooting percentage, and the line's individual Corsi Close rate is hovering around 46-47%.
(Okay, maybe I'll discuss him a little, because he's a fascinating case study.)
MAPLE LEAFS LINEUP
The big question would be whether Tyler Bozak would draw into the lineup tonight, but reporters noticed he wasn't taking part in line rushes at practice, and Trevor Smith had been swapped out for Frazer McLaren:
James van Riemsdyk - Peter Holland - Phil Kessel
Joffrey Lupul - Nazem Kadri - David Clarkson
Mason Raymond - Jay McClement - Nik Kulemin
Frazer McLaren - Jerred Smithson - Colt Knorr
Carl Gunnarsson - Dion Phaneuf
Jake Gardiner - Cody Franson
Morgan Rielly - Paul Ranger
With the exception of Smithson in for Smith, and McLaren in for Carter Ashton (who is with the Marlies for some reason) this is a good-looking lineup. I think Holland has a lot of potential alongside JvR and Kessel, and a combination of injuries and suspensions has kept that 19-43-71 line that everybody wanted to see in the offseason separated through the first quarter of the season.
Also, I'd like to use the space to talk about how well Morgan Rielly played against Nashville. After consulting the numbers the next day, I noticed that the Leafs out-attempted the Predators 15-11 with Rielly on the ice, despite him starting ten shifts in the defensive zone and just one at the offensive. He saw some good competition too, with the top five Predators he faced, in order, being Shea Weber, Roman Josi, Gabriel Bourque, Kevin Klevin, Viktor Stalberg and David Legwand, all players with fairly good underlying numbers.
So now that Ranger's settled in, though he's still prone to the odd gaffe, him and Rielly have become a pretty capable bottom pairing.
Although… just as I write this, I check Twitter and see that Mark Fraser may come back into the lineup, which displaces Rielly, and displeases me, rendering that entire paragraph useless. Come on.
Marcus Johansson - Nicklas Backstrom - Alex Ovechkin
Martin Erat - Brooks Laich - Troy Brouwer
Jason Chimera - Mikhail Grabovski - Joel Ward
Aaron Volpatti - Michael Latta - Tom Wilson
Karl Alzner - John Carlson
Cam Schilling - Tyson Strachan
Alex Urbom - Mike Green
And here I was thinking Urbom was a planet…
Ovechkin and Backstrom have been the Capitals best possession forwards, a little under 52%, but they've been beset by some unlucky shooting rates (the Capitals have scored on 6.4% of shots with Ovechkin on the ice) with them on the ice, so people may mention Ovechkin's minus-7.
He's minus-4 in 5-on-5 situations, but one thing to consider is that he is on the ice for every empty-net and powerplay situation, so his plus-minus rating suffers from the odd shorty against but doesn't factor in just how terrific he is on the powerplay. Great statistic here: he's been on the ice for 93.9% of Capitals powerplay minutes so far this season. Second in the NHL is Erik Karlsson (87.2%). First on the Maple Leafs is Dion Phaneuf (62.3%).
At home, coach Adam Oates likes to use his second line with Brooks Laich and Martin Erat as a checking unit, but teams match up power-on-power on the road, which is a pretty good strategy. I think the way to beat players like Ovechkin is to skate with them and expose their weaknesses defensively rather than try to shut down his offence. When you have the puck, he doesn't, and I look forward to watching him and Kessel have competing rushes tonight.
Alzner and Carlson are the top defensive pairing, and they've kept the opposition relatively close to even. Oates doesn't appear to do a lot of zone matching, but Ovechkin and Backstrom do get a good share of offensive zone opportunities. They have a few set plays off of faceoffs which are always dangerous.
Capitals Extra Skater page
(and a paragraph about at useful as most goalie statistics)
James Reimer vs. Braden Holtby. It's the Grey Cup tomorrow, which I still think qualifies as Canada's largest single-game television audience (or some other excuse that discounts the Stanley Cup Final). I'd like to see the Argonauts get a little more fan support. I had season tickets last year, and the team was a lot of fun to watch with Ricky Ray and Chad Owens, but on games I couldn't make it, it was tough to even give them away. Anyway, CFL football is better played in smaller, more-packed venues than gigantic stadiums. Molson Stadium in Montreal is a great example, which seats like 25,000 people but always a tough ticket. Cavernous stadiums like Skydome look empty even when there are 25,000 people that show up.
Anyway, both teams are a nice story. Bruce Arthur wrote a fantastic story about what the Roughriders mean to the province of Saskatchewan. I think Hamilton winning would be a great story as well: they haven't won since 1999, which is an eternity in an 8.5-team league. Hamilton Coach Kent Austin won a Cup with the Roughriders in '89 as a quarterback, and current Ti-Cats QB Henry Burris used to play for the Riders, left as a free agent, and is still booed in Regina when he plays. That was, like, eons ago.
I would recommend tuning in, if only because there's a chance it could be like 30-below if the game runs long, and part of the charm of the CFL is the bizarro weather that kicks in for playoffs. Americans are a bunch of wimps and send their Superbowls to warm venues every year, but any Western playoff game is going to be played under silly temperatures unless in Vancouver. It starts getting cold in mid-October, starts getting incredibly cold in November and starts snowing in mid-November. Unpredictability due to playing conditions is my favourite thing about sports.
Leafs and Capitals play at 7:00 Eastern on CBC.