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Caps By the Numbers

Seriously, if you could have gotten a prop bet in August that, at any point in the coming seasons, of the local pro teams, only the Caps would be above .500, what do you think the odds would have been? At least 15-1, I'd think. Aside from the 1-0 Maryland Nighthawks (home opener this weekend), the Caps are the hottest pro team in town. And, despite the Sens' goalie's spaz-out at the end, I would say coming back from 3-0 to win 4-3 is the kind of thing that truly bad teams just don't do. Maybe mediocre teams, but not truly bad teams. (Besides the Michigan State football team.) A certain hockey-averse editor of mine must be having a fit.

(For any DCU Caps fans, I felt like I was watching a replay of the Revolution game last night. Could the Senators have been any more lamely defensive at the end there?)

(Did anyone see that shot of Heward and Brash giggling on the bench after Ovechkin's goal at the end of regulation? Wonder what that was about.)

(And in case anyone joins me in occasionally watching hockey but not understanding the red poppy worn by seemingly every coach (and many Canadian sportswriters) this time of year, it's an international symbol of remembrance, worn by Canadians and Brits (and even some Americans, I guess). Some poppy-box thefts are currently big news in Canada. And here's the poem that inspired the poppy stuff, which Canadian sportswriters are also familiar with. Smart bunch, those Canadian sportswriters.)

(Speaking of Canadians, feel free to mock me for not knowing this, but why does Glen Hanlon say "specialty teams" instead of "special teams?" Is that what all Canadians say, or is it just him? I kind of like the ring of that. Plus, it would prevent sportswriters from using this sentence: "Team X's special teams have been anything but special this season." Plus, Whole Foods calls its cheese department the "Specialty Department.")

Anyhow, by the numbers. Hanlon spoke at great length yesterday about the two numerical ways the Caps have approached this season. He's mentioned both before, but they're probably worth repeating.

1) Cut out 60 goals. The coaching staff used a complex mathematical formula to come up with the number 60: they identified the teams that had allowed the most goals while still making the playoffs last year (Carolina and Tampa Bay), and they subtracted their goals-against (260) from the Caps' goals-against (306), and got 46, and then rounded up a little. Eliminating those 60 goals, Hanlon said, would be an easier task than constantly comparing themselves to other teams in the standings.

"We have so much work to do before we can make the playoffs; our goal here is to eliminate 60 goals," he said. "I think it's a little more tangible....We just said 'If you eliminate 60 goals, you're gonna be in the playoffs.'"

My problem with this analysis is that more than a few teams did better in goals-against than Carolina/Tampa Bay and still missed the playoffs last year. Minnesota, for example, allowed just 215 goals-against, tied for fourth in the league and 81 better than the Caps, and the Wild still stayed home in the spring.

But if it's working for the Caps, who am I to argue? Through 14 games this year, if you discount the three faux goals-against from penalty-shootout losses, the Caps have given up 45 goals. Last year through 14 games, they had given up 60. Over the course of the season, that would translate into a drop of about 88 goals-against.

2) Earn six points in every five games, which should land the team in the playoffs. Fellow blogger and Official Beat Writer Tarik El-Bashir wrote about this goal last month. So did fellow blogger Ted Leonsis, who argued thus:

I believe in making business metrics simple to understand and [by] breaking our season down into mini seasons, it makes it easier for all stakeholders to focus on the task at hand.

That task is also being obsessively chronicled on the Caps msg board, and the team is only slightly off the pace. Hanlon explained yesterday that last year, the team wasn't even good enough to bother with the old segment ploy, and so instead they concentrated on things like "working hard" and "being good teammates."

"Because we felt going in you could say, 'Ok [we want to limit] our goals-against for these five games,' and we might shoot our wad the first night," Hanlon said. "Now what are you gonna do? How can you say, when you're a team that's projected to get something like 45 points, how could you go to them and say, 'Ok guys, we want to win one of every five games, that's our goal?' You know, it's too hard. Now we can, a little more, touch on these things. But we still don't sit around every day and say, 'Ok look we lost this game, Carolina won, and they're in the Southeast, now we're 9 [points behind].... We just sort of keep on pecking away here at what we need to do to get better."

By Dan Steinberg  |  November 7, 2006; 12:01 PM ET
Categories:  Caps  
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