Caps PK; Better Lucky Than Good?

A recent article on Behind The Net suggested that the Washington Capitals success on the penalty kill is more luck-driven than the unit actually improving. Washington’s penalty kill has been heavily gashed over the past few years with only a success rate of only 80% from 2007-2009 and last year’s was even worse with a success rate of 78.8 %. This season, however, it’s a different story with the penalty kill being 85.5% successful. Why would someone suggest that this is merely luck driven rather than the penalty kill actually improving? Their 5-on-3 save percentage definitely suggests the former.

Season     3v5 Sv%
2010-11     0.938
2009-10     0.750
2008-09     0.757
2007-08     0.742

Short handed save percentages are largely luck driven and the Caps have been getting a lot of it this season. It’s going to be very hard for the Caps to maintain that ridiculous save percentage for the rest of the year and I that number will regress overtime. Washington’s regular penalty kill stats look slightly more reasonable;

Season PK% GA/60 SA/60 SV%
2010-11 85.5 5.0 47.1 0.894
2009-10 78.8 7.2 50.0 0.856
2008-09 80.6 6.7 52.4 0.872
2007-08 80.5 6.5 51.3 0.873

One thing to note is that the Caps penalty killing unit has undergone a pretty significant change this year with Shaone Morrisonn leaving and younger players like Karl Alzner and John Carlson getting more time on the PK. Tom Poti was also injured for a significant amount of time and he was one of the team’s top 4 penalty killers the past few seasons but is Poti seeing less time a good thing? Poti was on ice for more shorthanded goals than any other defenseman last year and just has bad penalty killing techniques. I know we’re going by a small sample size here, but Carlson, Alzner and Hannan have been on ice for less goals COMBINED this year (31) than Poti last year (33). Plus, Boudreau’s more aggressive approach to the PK should be taken into account this year which could have led to their success. However, the shot totals haven’t decreased by much this year so it’s definitely possible that their PK is more lucky than good.

The Behind The Net article also suggests that the Capitals suffer from “legitimately below average goaltending” from all three goalies this season, yes that includes Holtby. The league average goaltending save percentage is .919 and the Caps goaltenders have a combined save percentage of .916 (it looks worse if they used Holtby’s actual save pct instead of replacement level), which is slightly below the league average. Varlamov and Neuvirth have a combined even strength save percentage of .917, also slightly below the league average. I’ve been high on Neuvirth for awhile but his numbers aren’t exactly as great as they were at the beginning of the year. He’s a good goalie but is it possible we were overrating him? Neuvirth is pretty much a league average goaltender no matter how you try to spin it. Average in his save percentage last year and it still comes up at around .917. That said, he’s only 22 and is a rookie so he can get better and I’m fine with having a league average goaltender that we’re only paying $1.0+ a year for. You can definitely say that Varlamov is an above-average goaltender but he can’t stay healthy, which hurts his value and was the reason we even needed to call-up Holtby in the first place.

Anyway, what I’m trying to say is that I agree with the article. The Caps PK has been very, very lucky this year, mainly when killing off 5-on-3’s and we could definitely see that .938 save percentage decrease soon. Same can be said for their 85.5% PK efficiency this year. How much will it regress by, though?  Good question. I will say that the change of personnel on the PK and new approach definitely should be taken into account. Especially when looking at how much better Alzner and Carlson are playing compared to Poti and Morrisonn last year.

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