Mentioning the Washington Capitals power play almost immediately summons forth visions of Alex Ovechkin stationed at the top of the left faceoff circle, launching one-timers and snap-shot bombs, terrorizing goaltenders league wide.
There is another element to the power play just as vital to its success as an Ovechkin one-timer, that’s John Carlson manning the top of the zone.
I’ve previously analyzed the importance of Carlson’s feeding Ovechkin during 5v4 play, using data amassed by the passing project; an incredible initial flow of data that set the stage for the statement below.
For ‘Ovi’, most primary passes for a shot on goal at 5v4 originate from John Carlson at the point. The way to Ovechkin in his office for one-timers is dependent on Carlson feeds.
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At the time of that piece, the passing project had recorded 27 Washington games, the last tracked game just prior to Carlson’s initial 2015-16 injury at the end of December that cost the rearguard 12 games. Since then, the passing project has released another data dump at the end of January, but only included two more Capitals games, stifling my ability to investigate further using the same base as the previous piece, especially to look at just how the power play structured in Carlson’s absence – and if there’s a true replacement for the defenseman feeding ‘Ovi’ for one-timers.
Carlson, however, did got some love from Arik Parnass analyzing special teams on its own, and teased a snippet of just how important Carlson’s contribution at the top of the zone are over twitter last night.
6 teams I've tracked, 11 D have at least 100 personal shot contributions. PET is PSC/O-zone giveaways for clears... pic.twitter.com/075s1CGgAZ
— Arik Parnass (@ArikParnass) March 15, 2016
Small sample size here, but what does it all mean?
— Arik Parnass (@ArikParnass) March 15, 2016
Assuming a main element of his responsibility is to accept the puck at the top of the zone after the barrage of activity on the left side of the ice (strong side), to move it to Ovechkin for the shot, one can also assume that the opportunity to produce a giveaway drops proportionally.
Using War-on-ice we could see Ovechkin’s Corsi For at 5v4 and look at the dip after the initial Carlson injury after the steep ascent to a peak just before the defenseman got injured. A similar dip occurs in missed shots, an element that generated a great proportion of the shot attempts prior to Carlson’s injury.
The pattern is palpable with Washington’s team level 5v4 play, rising in shot attempts – while slowing down in goals scored and shooting percentage flat lining while Carlson was on the shelf.
The chart below depicts the 10-game moving average for the Capitals CF60 (Corsi For per 60) and GF60 (Goals For per 60) along with team-level shooting percentage.
The boxed areas represents the time period where Carlson was injured. The curious part is what happened when he returned from injury, with every variable dipping. He’s currently out of the lineup as of late February, with a surprising uptick in all three variables. The Capitals have adapted to the loss of their main point man in the recent term, it may seem. But the playoffs are coming and adapting is important.
I broke down the Montreal Canadiens shot share in a recent post on McKeen’s Hockey that could shed a little bit of light on the Capitals power play. Shot shares are the percentage of the underlying components (shots, missed and blocked shots) that make up overall Corsi – or shot attempts.
This is what Washington looks like starting from October 2014 up to March 15, 2016. Shots are represented by the bar chart with the scale on the right, while missed and blocked shots are represented by the lines with a scale on the right. All scales are percentages.
Once again, the boxed areas represent the injury time to John Carlson in ’15-16.
Leading up to Carlson’s December injury, the Capitals had already begun the uptick in the amount of blocked shots as a percentage of shots represented in the 5v4 Corsi makeup, from the 15% range to 25% peak. Missed shots dramatically declined, replaced by blocked shots. It actually seems like a greater percentage of shot attempts were getting through to the net despite the dipping CF60 during that same time period.
Carlson returned to record two power play points in 13 games (13-0-2-2), clearly off the pre-injury pace where aside from an eight-game stretch in November produced steady 5v4 output. There’s a noticeable drop in shots on goal, and steep incline in the amount of missed shots, while blocked shots remained closer to the high end of the scale in the 20-25% range, unlike the 15% range prior in the season. More shots weren’t hitting the net, and the corresponding drop in shots represented in the Capitals Corsi for.
By the time of the latest Carlson injury, blocked shot shares had dipped back down to the 15% range, while missed and shots on goal resumed the same high level range, similar to prior to the initial Carlson injury. In the meantime, blocked shots are rising and missed shots dipping as a percentage of Corsi, while shots on goal seem to be remaining constant.
With the playoffs right around the corner, the missing John Carlson from the point could lead to the temporary strategy invoked for his replacement during his season’s absence. The Capitals special teams can be a major boom or bust on their drive for a Stanley Cup.