Do the Washington Capitals Pass Too Much?

If you’ve been in the stands for a Caps game the last two seasons recently, you’ve probably heard many of your fellow fans yell one (or all) of the following, especially while the Caps are on the Power Play:




Clearly, fans think the team moves the puck too much, passing up good shots in lieu of the ‘pretty play’. So the question is: do they? In order to determine how often the Caps play keep-away before scoring a goal, we will take a look at the number of passes the team makes in the offensive zone leading up to each goal this season (empty net, penalty shot and shootout goals excluded). We’ll also break out the offensive zone passes by type: even strength, powerplay, home and away.



The Caps average 1.05 offensive zone passes per goal  at home and 1.38 passes on the road. The Caps, a rushing-style offensive team, seem to opt for the quick shot more frequently at home than on the road (showboating for the red-clad fans?). For comparison sake, last years’ Cup winner and current #2 scoring team in the NHL, the Boston Bruins, averages 1.24 passes per goal at home and 1.57 passes away. In reviewing Boston’s goals, the majority of their even strength tallies are scored off offensive rushes, breakaways and forced turn-overs in the offensive zone as the result of a strong forecheck.



This is when most Caps fans start to get antsy and mutter ‘shoot’ under their breath. Those sitting in Verizon Center might be right. At home, the Caps 18th ranked PP averages 3.54 passes to score a PP goal but only 2.33 passes on the road. Many Caps fans would say “See! They pass too much!” Unfortunately for those fans, one look at the league’s top ranked power play of the Vancouver Canucks squashes that theory. The Canucks average 3.29 offensive zone passes per PP goal overall, slightly more than the Caps’ unit with 3.16 passes overall. The Bruins’ 12th ranked PP averages 3.10 passes at home but only 2.58 passes on the road, similar to the Caps.



“Dump it, get on the forecheck, be tough to play against. The one thing that he’s said since he’s come here is we’re not gonna score a whole lot of rush goals. He said against good teams in the playoffs, you don’t score those easy rush goals. He said you have to work for your goals, you have to be physical, you have to forecheck, score your goals off the cycle, [that] if you watch playoff hockey, that’s how the goals are scored.

That recent quote from Brooks Laich would make it seem that the old run-and-gun, shot off the rush Caps would quickly become a thing of the past under Dale Hunter. Under Bruce Boudreau, the Caps averaged 1.22 offensive zone passes per even strength tally and 3.14 passes on the PP. With more dumping, chasing, and cycling, one would expect the number of passes to increase as the puck was moved around in the corners before a shot was taken. Unfortunately, that hasn’t the case. Under Hunter, the Caps are actually passing less, with only 1.13 O-zone passes per goal at 5-on-5. On the PP, the team is only slightly better at 3.20 passes per goal.


So, the next time you find yourself yelling at the Caps to shoot more often, you might want to stop yourself. You should probably be yelling things like ‘Cycle!’ or ‘Pass!’ more often, since that’s what they’re being told to do in practice. And we should probably, you know, encourage them.