Now that the Capitals power play has fallen back to Earth a bit, their inconsistency in the net is under the spotlight. They scored eight goals total in their first two games with a power play that was five for nine (55.6%). The great special teams play, Grabovski’s hat trick and Ovechkin’s run disguised the bad goaltending.
With Ovechkin on a tear and the offense firing on all cylinders, the thinking goes that the Caps will get it together in the net and be back to their winning ways. Then the power play goes 1 for 10 over the next three games—all losses. The offense still looks good with them getting a lot of production (73 shots over the past two games). The power play may remain the best in the league, but the 50% success rate had to end at some point. Now that it has, the Caps are not (and simply cannot) out score teams in wide open games to win.
In the first two games Washington allowed 10 goals. Keepers are going to have their ups and downs, so pulling Holtby after allowing three goals on eleven shots against Calgary could be seen as a normal part of a long regular season. He did rebound in his next chance stopping 19 of 21 against Dallas in a 2-1 grinder. A 3-2 loss to the Hurricanes makes Holtby’s play in Calgary look more like a bad trend rather than a freak incident though. Do not take my word for it—Oates picked Neuvirth after poor showings by Holtby to try to slow down the red-hot Avalanche. Neuvirth was ineffective allowing five goals himself.
Stats: the Caps are allowing opposing teams to put 32 shots on goal per game. 12.7% of those are going into the net, or 3 of every 25 shots. According to Hockey Analysis, the Capitals are producing at an average pace offensively and allowing average production from other teams; their Corsi ratings are middle of the pack. Point being here is that the defense is not bad, just mediocre. Also, if you agree that Corsi and possession are linked (still not sold on this myself, though widely accepted) Washington is sharing possession equally with their opponents (50.1% Corsi for percentage).
My interpretation of these stats is simple: if puck possession between the Caps and their opponents are basically the same, then the other team is using their possessions more efficiently. It does not seem to be a case of bad defense, because the defense appears to be average, but the goals against average (3.22) is ranked 27th out of 30.
Beyond stats though, the goals look bad when you watch the game. Neither Neuvirth nor Holtby look sharp. Last year when the Caps made their turnaround it was mostly because Ovechkin became successful in his move out of the center position and started scoring again. The offense is playing well and the defense is okay, but the goaltending is a major issue. It might also be the hardest to solve. There just are not a lot of options here for a team near the top of the salary cap.
But what should the Caps do if they cannot steady the goaltending problem on a team that is built to win now? Grubauer is an option possibly, but in his one game so far he has a 3.79 goal against average and low .867 save percentage. David Leggio is not fairing much better at 3.00 and .885. Should the Caps be thinking trade for a consistent goaltender and at what cost?
It is too early for panic, but the Caps should be considering their options as their window of opportunity is narrowing.
My name is Tim Bourcier and I am contributor for the Washington Capitals and hockey in Europe. Prior to working with The Hockey Writers, I worked with a professional hockey club in Budapest, Hungary. I also wrote articles for the MOL Liga and international hockey tournaments. I am near a PhD in Economics and I have eight years work experience as a statistician.
You can check out my previous work, new stuff and wonky analysis over at my blog: bourciertm.wordpress.com. Also, check out my blog for the KHL team in my home city at www.bearshockeyblog.com