Washington had a remarkable regular season. According to our work however, we are unsure as to how. Like many other teams, WSH had similar problems on defense especially. Their top 3, Orlov, Carlson and Schmidt were among the best in the NHL at minimizing mistakes. However, the bottom five (most notably Chorney and Weber) scored at the very lower end of the NHL in AB adjusted for time on ice, accounting for 45 negative goals produced (even though some of these five D-men played abbreviated seasons).
This blue line flaw was exposed by PIT in the second round, and we assert the Caps would have lost to PIT regardless of the round played. However it is our feeling that the Caps would have made it to the Stanley Cup Finals (+8.91), and possibly won over SJ (+3.77) had they not faced PIT. A +8.91 is a reasonably high AB score, but is by no means dominant. Even with this positive number, and despite the defensive woes, the performance of the Capitals in the regular season underscores our belief in the mistake minimization thesis; Washington’s success can be partially attributed to the relative ineptitude of the rest of the league.
Check this out; against teams with better regular season AB scores (FLA, PIT, and CHI), the Caps were just 4-5-1. Against teams with positive AB scores, they were 12-9-1 (including NYR, MIN, SJ, and TB). That means the Caps were an astounding 44-9-7 against teams with negative ABs. Therefore, the best we can say about Washington is that they beat the teams they should have beaten; the hallmark of a good team. Unfortunately for Caps fans, they posted a winning record but were nowhere near as dominant against mistake minimizing opponents as they were versus clubs that were solidly negative on the AB metric.
As would be suggested by their record against low AB teams, a number of Caps had outstanding seasons; Oshie, Johansson, Schmidt (among the NHL best ABs and in the top five for defensemen) and Kuznetsov were stalwarts. In fact we opined in the preseason that Oshie would be an amazing fit for Washington due to his prowess in St. Louis. His +12.39 AB made him an unbelievable offseason acquisition.
Of some concern though is that Johansson (+12.80 AB) is an RFA. His AB was the sixth highest in the NHL and thus the Caps must retain him. Otherwise, the team should allow Wilson, Webber and Richards to walk and focus on adding even replacement style defensemen to fill in the bottom five (no easy feat due to the scarcity of NHL caliber D-men and the number of teams requiring upgrades at this position). The bottom line and ultimate downfall for the Caps was that their bottom D-men allowed too many goals at the margin to have qualified the stars elite status, despite their regular season record.