Growing: Steady month-on-month growth at a glance in the capital


After a very underwhelming month of October, where the Washington Capitals finished the month with a 5-4-1 record, the team fought their way back, steadily improving each month as the season progressed. On the surface, this makes sense, as some of the new additions to the lineup have gotten a bit more acclimated to Peter Laviolette’s system and injured players are beginning to return to the lineup. On the other hand, there are underlying reasons why this improvement has occurred.

In this post, we’ll take a look at the Capitals’ month-to-month performance and extrapolate the “why” behind this improvement in High-Danger Chance Percentage (HDCF), High-Danger Goals for Percentage (HDGF%), Scoring Chance for Percentage (SCF %), and high-hazard conservation percentage (HDSV%).

[The statistics used in this post are courtesy of Natural Stat Trick. If you’d like to learn more about the statistical terms used in this post, please check out our analytics glossary.]

Month by month improvement

Let’s go ahead and dive right into the metrics: [Click to enlarge].


As mentioned, the Capitals started the season with an underwhelming month of October. HDCF%, HDGF%, and SCF% all fell below 50%, which is never good news.

It’s understandable why the Capitals started off 5-4-1 with disappointing marks in these key categories. On top of that, the Capitals weren’t getting the targets they needed in those high-threat situations, with a .787 HDSV%.

growth

We started seeing steady improvement in November, especially in the SCF% and HDCF% segments. HDGF% is still slightly behind SCF% and HDCF%, but it still largely follows the logic of HDSV%, improving only slightly.

December is where the improvement really caught on. Not only are SCF% and HDCF% above the 50% watermark, but HDGF% has increased to 66.67%. That’s a pretty elite rate of high-risk target conversion (and suppression).

We will know more about the reasons why this happened in a while. The good news is that, although there was a slight dip in HDSV% and HDGF%, the figures have remained stable so far in January.

We can also see a relative improvement in the expected target difference in this time frame:

Although we saw an improvement in November, the rolling differential didn’t really start to move into plus territory until the middle of December. A big part of this is the increased performance in HDGF% and HDSV%.

Now, let’s come to the reasons for capital improvement from October.

The reason behind the improvement

Converting high-danger opportunities and better goaltending

Interestingly, the Capitals’ HDCF% and SCF% only progressed at a slightly positive rate when looking at a rolling percentage over the course of the season:

Why is this important to call out? Well, it really comes down to converting to high-risk prospects and getting those big savings on high-risk prospects. The Capitals’ HDGF% has trended upward over the course of the season:

As the capitals begin to convert to more HDCF and gain more savings in high-risk potential scenarios, the HDGF% of the caps will increase, as we can see in the chart above. We see a real positive trend here.

The Capitals have gone from a low point of having the fifth worst HDGF% to now sitting at 13th in the NHL. Before the ill-fated effort against the Vegas Golden Knights, the Capitals sat in 10th place.

Entering the Sony Milano lineup

With October being a miserable month for the Capitals, the Capitals signed Sonny Milano to a league-minimum contract due to a cavalcade of injuries. Milano entered the lineup and made a significant impact.

Milano leads the forward group for HDGF/60 skaters who have played more than 400 minutes at five-on-five with 2.18. The next best performance in that area is Ovechkin with 1.93. Milano also skated about 245 fewer minutes on the ice at five-on-five than Ovechkin.

Another plus for Milano is that he is not generating excess HDGF by gambling on HDGA. He is third among Capital skaters in HDGA/60 with a 1.09. He is creating high-danger goals responsibly without sacrificing defensive play. With Milan on the ice, 66.67% of high-danger goals are for the Capitals.

Much improved goaltending in high danger situations

The tandem of Darcy Kuemper and Charlie Lindgren didn’t have much of a sub-par game early in the season. It largely comes down to situational issues, especially in high-danger situations. As the season progressed, the Capitals actually didn’t do significantly better at suppressing high-danger prospects.

In fact, the Capitals gave up a season high of 134 HDCA in December, but the HDSV% improved significantly to 87.95%. That’s good for sixth-best in the NHL in December. In January, the Caps’ HDSV% ranked 13th at 84.29% In October, they were 25th with 78.79%. In November, they sat at 24.

This big jump in performance has a lot to do with the improved play of most of the Capitals so far in December and January.

stretch down

The Capitals’ improved play from month to month is indicative of more success throughout the rest of the season. The Capitals have vastly improved HDSV% and HDGF% while turning high-danger prospects into reality as they struggled to bury the first month and a half of the season. The Capitals cashed in on a top-ten caliber goaltender in Kuemper and a quality backup in Lindgren this past summer, and they’re starting to reap some rewards there.

Oh, and a player like Sonny Milano entering the lineup certainly helps. General manager Brian McLellan should consider extending Milano, and fast. His value on the ice has been tremendous, and if he continues his play extending into the 2022-23 season, his value will only increase.

By Justin Trudel


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