Blame It On Bad Luck?

“Pound my knuckles hard against the floor…”

Sorry, had to get that out of my sytem.

Remember how Bruce Boudreau’s job security was put into question during the 9-game losing streak in December? People were saying that he “doesn’t coach defense,” “doesn’t make adjustments” and that “he had lost the team?” Similar things were said after the Caps blew a 3-1 series lead to the Montreal Canadiens in the playoffs last year. Now I’m hearing people say that he’ should be awarded his second Jack Adams trophy for “turning things around” in Washington. Yes, the team defense has improved and so has the penalty killing but what if all of the problems the Caps faced last Spring and this December had less to do with Boudreau’s coaching and more to do with just plain bad luck?

Nucks Misconduct made a post suggesting that better teams do fare better in the playoffs but every team is suspect to statistical regression and the Caps were definitely one of them. They had a regular season PDO (Shot percentage + save percentage, usually used to determine how lucky/unlucky a team is. 100.0 is a normal PDO) was 102.7% and it dropped to 97.7% during the playoffs. With a small sample size, team’s are vulnerable to regression in the playoffs since a lot of crazy things can happen like running into a hot goaltender or a certain player hitting a point streak that can make a series go in a different direction from what most expect.

With this season, the Caps have experienced quite a bit of regression in shooting percentage. It’s expected when looking at the numbers for some of the players last year. Eric Fehr’s, Brooks Laich’s and Mike Knuble’s stick out in particular. It’s what happened to Boston after the 2008-09 season. The player who experienced the biggest regression in shooting percentage is Alexander Ovechkin.

2005-06                12.2%

2006-07                11.7%

2007-08                14.6%

2008-09               10.6%

2009-10                13.6%

2010-11                   8.7%

That’s a noticeable drop-off this season and it definitely explains why he’s sitting at 29 goals and not above 40 like he usually is at this point in the season. He’s not the only one whose shooting percentage has had a drop-off. Nicklas Backstrom’s has fallen from 14.9% to 9.7% (though he’s shooting the puck a lot less) and Mike Green’s actually experienced a drop-off last season from 12.8% to 9.3%, which is expected when you have a defenseman that scores 31 goals.

During the losing streak, the Caps PDO was only 90.4% with an abysmal shooting percentage of 3.6%, again that’s a small sample size but it definitely indicates that the team was having a bit of bad luck during that stretch. What about the most recent 9-game winning streak?  The Caps had a PDO of about 104% during then with a 9.2% shooting percentage, showing we had some good luck, especially with our goaltending.

Speaking of which, all of the luck the Caps have had this year hasn’t been bad. Yep, the penalty killing has seen plenty of good luck this year. They are ranked in the top 5 of the NHL with an efficiency rate of 85.7% and I made an earlier post addressing, Behind The Net’s notion that the Caps PK was better lucky than good, which it was at the time but our save percentage when killing off 2-man advantages dropped from .932 to .826, which looks more reasonable. Meanwhile, our save percentage when killing off 4-on-5’s jumped from .892 to .906. The article also claimed we had “legitimately below average goaltending” and at the time we did since they were factoring in Holtby’s numbers at the time. Since then, our goaltending at even strength has jumped to .926 thanks to some strong performances by Neuvirth and Holtby. Again, with a small sample size, shit happens. Luck happens and it’s gone both ways for the Caps this season.

I think Derek Zona”s post on Copper and Blue illustrates this point better than I do.

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