Cat-astrophe averted

I watched the Caps game Saturday night, almost live. I must admit, though, that I was paying a lot less attention than I usually do.

The lineup was the same as on Friday, with OV still out, which was disappointing, if not surprising.

What I did notice, while watching, was that the Panthers were generally doing better. What makes the stats look better (for the Caps), is that the Cats spent a lot more time on the power play, and the Caps blocked a lot more shots (23-11, which is actually closer than I thought). What those mean are that many (twelve) of the Cats shots don't show up in '5-on-5 even' analysis, and that the blocked shots don't show up in Fenwick.

The result of that is that the Fenwick, 5-on-5 evens number was slightly in the Caps favor (52.5% for Caps), but Corsi was wildly negative (41.7% for Caps). And all-situations analysis doesn't work in the Caps favor, for either Fenwick or Corsi. Not promising.

But the problem with looking too narrowly at that is that the Cats were on the power play so much because the Caps were mostly chasing them. And if blocked shots are that uneven, it means that the team doing all the blocking is spending way too much time defending.

So, the end result, the win, was good to see (even if it took a shootout, thanks to a nice goal from Campbell and Flash with a couple minutes left).

And I'm almost glad to see that, thanks to that late goal, the 35-ish straight penalty kills streak was broken. I always thought that was pretty fragile, and it is quite a tribute to both Holtby and Neuvy that it happened, but I felt like it was masking some serious weakness in the Penalty Kill. I hope that more attention gets paid to the shots they're allowing. It's still too many.

Unsurprisingly, without OV, the power play did look less powerful, although Fehr did do a credible job of taking OV's position there. But the play seemed a bit less cohesive. Again, no big surprise there.

Ok, what were the good parts? Well, I'd like to say something about playing from ahead, instead of behind, because that's definitely preferable. But that was mostly due to superior goaltending (really, Neuvy had a fantastic game, with several "how did he do that?" saves, and careful reading of above shows he saved eleven of twelve penalty kill shots, which is also great), not due to superior skater performance. What was good was that a) they didn't let up and give up a goal right after scoring and b) they responded to Florida's first goal with their own goal. And Latta and Schmidt both looked good.

But it still feels like they're spending too much time chasing the other team; they need to start being the ones driving play.

I'd like to make an excuse of OV being gone leading to driving play happening less, but the last two games have been half of the team's games on the season with positive 5-on-5 close Fenwick differential. So OV coming back isn't going to do it, all by itself.

I think a lineup shakeup is needed, particularly among the forwards. And the defensemen need to play better, both offensively and defensively, in their own end. And that includes the three at the top of the lineup; I don't think any of the three of them are playing to their abilities. I think the bottom three there have been about as good as one could realistically hope.

But I still don't understand the line combinations, outside of the top line. Well, the "third" line has looked very good, so I wouldn't mess with that. But I think Laich and Brouwer need to be separated (unless you're going to make it a straight checking line, which would be a waste of Erat's talents), and would like to see Fehr moved out of center (Latta looks perfectly serviceable as a checking line center).

Anyway, I think the whole thing's a bit of a mess, and I hope that part of it is that Oates is running experiments to figure out optimal lines.

And, of course, part of the driver with this was the shuffling done to keep Wilson up at the beginning of the season. Backstrom, Grabo, Perreault, and Latta/Beagle would have been one heck of a center group. And that was sacrificed in favor of giving $1.3M Wilson seven minutes a night? Well, water under the bridge, I guess, but seeing Perreault getting a point a game, and killing it in Fenwick, continues to be irritating.

Ah well, need to stop sounding like a broken record, and hope things improve. Next chance is tomorrow night against the Islanders. One odd tidbit for that one; neither team has yet scored an overtime goal, so bet on a shootout if they get to overtime. At least the Caps have superior goaltending; go Caps!

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