The Capitals may have to fix their possession problem

J.J. Regan
·3 min read

The Capitals may have a possession problem originally appeared on NBC Sports Washington

As far as the standings are concerned, the start of the season could not have gone much better for the Capitals. But amid the little flaws that plague every team in the NHL, there is one glaring issue Washington needs to address: possession.

The Caps keep giving up big leads, they keep taking too many penalties and they do not generate enough power play opportunities of their own. Each of these things is a problem, but combined they all point to the fact that Washington simply does not have the puck enough.

There is no way to measure time of possession in hockey like there are in other sports. Instead, we use shots as a way to measure possession because a team that has the puck more is probably going to end up with more shots.

Washington currently sits in third place in the East Division with 15 points in 11 games. That is pretty remarkable considering the players that have been in and out of the lineup in the early season. The numbers, however, do not paint as glowing a picture.

The Caps rank 27th in shots on goal per game, 27th in shots on goal against per game and 29th in shot differential per game. That's just shots on goal. The Corsi stat expands this to all shot attempts including missed and blocked shots. Washington's Corsi-For percentage ranks 26th.

These are all imperfect tools for measuring possession, but if you combine these stats as well as Washington's penchant for giving up big leads and for taking penalties while not drawing their own, this starts to paint a clear picture of a team that spends the majority of each game chasing after the puck and reacting to the other team instead of dictating play.

Who cares so long as the Caps are winning though, right? Well, that's the thing. You can't win this way, at least not for long. These numbers suggest that what the Caps are doing is not sustainable. That should not be all that controversial. If I told you the Caps won't be able to find sustained success this season with Alex Ovehkin, Evgeny Kuznetsov, Lars Eller, Tom Wilson, Conor Sheary, Justin Schultz, Dmitry Orlov and Ilya Samsonov in and out of the lineup, it's pretty hard to argue against that.

The frequent roster turnover for a team that is adjusting to a new coach in a season that had a shortened training camp, no preseason and a condensed schedule probably has a lot to do with the underlying struggles. It seems fairly likely given the skill and coaching assembled in Washington that this will ultimately improve over time. If it doesn't, the Caps are not just in danger of losing the division - they are in danger of moving out of the playoff picture entirely.

The same can be said about the Caps' opponent on Sunday.

Like Washington, Philadelphia is a team trying to prove it is as good as its record and much better than the analytics indicate. The Flyers sit near the top of the standings with a 7-3-2 record, but rank 31st in shots on goal, 28th in shots against, 31st in shot differential and 31st in Corsi-For percentage.

With these two teams set to clash Sunday (12 p.m., NBC) and again on Tuesday, something's got to give. Which one of these teams will assert itself in these games, and which one will find itself again holding on for dear life?

It is still early in the season, but this two-game stretch for both teams could be a defining moment where one team proves its start was no fluke and it is for real, while the other team gets exposed as more flawed than their current record indicates.