Is playing net for the 2009-10 Washington Capitals somewhat like playing for the mid-'80s Edmonton Oilers? Relative to league average scoring, this year's Caps are surprisingly competitive with Gretzky & co. Washington's average of 3.83 goals per game is 38% better than league average. The only edition of the dynasty Oilers to top that mark was 1983-84, when the team scored a record 446 goals and was 41% better than league average.
Jose Theodore has attracted some attention lately because of he has not lost a game in regulation over his last 24 games played (20-0-3). In one of those games Theodore was pulled after 3 early goals, and only escaped because his teammates game up with 3 late markers to pin the loss on replacement Semyon Varlamov. Even if we count that game, 1 regulation loss in 24 games remains a most impressive team record. I'm interested, as always, in how much of this record is because of the goalie and how much is because of the team.
If you look at the list of games, there are certainly some where the team bailed out their goalie. Theodore gave up the first goal about half the time in his starts, so he wasn't holding off the opposition early. The Caps had games where they trailed 5-3 in the second period, 4-1 in the second period, 5-2 in the third period, 3-0 in the third period, and 3-1 in the second period, and in every case they came back to either win or at least force overtime. Obviously the prolific offence had a big part to play in those big comebacks, which are still very unlikely in general in today's NHL.
On the other hand, Theodore's distribution of save percentage by period is pretty interesting over this streak.
First Period: 238/261, .912
Second Period: 218/243, .897
Third Period: 207/214, .967
For the most part, the Caps did not completely dominate their opponents for 60 minutes. Of all the third periods that Theodore played, the Caps only started with the lead in seven of them. They were trailing six times, and tied nine times. Without getting that high rate of saves from their goalie late in the games, the Caps probably wouldn't have won as many. On the other hand, it's at least possible that there were some playing to the score effects in there. The shots against drop as the game goes on, it could be that the team was focused on their personal counting stats in the early part of the game and around the 40 minute mark started to turn their attentions towards bringing home the "W".
I'm not sure whether this year's Caps are getting a bit lucky based on the percentages or whether they are collectively doing something to make them shoot/stop the puck at a higher rate than expected. Generally in those types of questions you can almost always assume that it's luck, but when you have such an extreme outlier as Washington is it makes you at least wonder.
I think Theodore has probably been running hot in a few key game situations. He's definitely contributed to the streak, but there have been more than a few times when the snipers in front of him did all the heavy lifting. I also think he got a bit lucky in terms of the goal distribution, winning quite a few games by 4-3 or 5-4 scorelines. Some in the media seem to not respect Washington because of their goaltending situation. I wouldn't write them off entirely because of that, but we should expect Theodore's playoff performance to be much closer to his career average of .908 than the .922 he has during his latest unbeaten streak.
Just as a bit of trivia, in his 2001-02 Hart Trophy season Theodore had a stretch where he had a .933 save percentage and 2.18 GAA yet was just 11-11-6.
P.S. Sorry about the silence around these parts lately, hope to be back on a more regular posting schedule as we head into the playoffs.