The Caps will be in Jersey tonight to take on the Devils and their new tough guy (and if you're a N.Y. area Caps fan planning on attending, make sure to check in with Pepper), but rather than attempt to preview the relatively meaningless game, I thought I'd run a few numbers by you from last season, namely a break down of home and road plus/minus.
While plus/minus may be a somewhat silly stat to begin with, it's nevertheless interesting to take a look at some anomalous results in the home/road splits of last year's Caps. For example, both Alex Ovechkin and Viktor Kozlov were both plus-28 overall, with much of that coming on the road (+18 for Ovi, +19 for Kozlov). Is it odd that they'd be so much more successful in buildings in which opponents could more easily get their top defensive forwards out against the Caps' top line? Perhaps (though it should be noted that among the NHL's top ten scorers, half of them had a better plus/minus on the road, including Ilya Kovalchuk, who was somehow a plus player away from home). And is it odd that the center on that Ovechkin-Kozlov line for most of the season, Nicklas Backstrom, has a much better home plus/minus (+11 to +2)? Under Glen Hanlon (i.e. before being promoted to the top line), Backstrom was minus-four on the road and minus-one at home. Not a single member of the Caps' top trio had a home/road point differential greater than Kozlov's four.
How about a glance at defensive pivots? David Steckel and Boyd Gordon had similar roles for most of last season, and yet Steckel was plus-seven better at home and Gordon was plus-seven better on the road. Gordon's split makes sense - at home he'd often match up against opponents' top offensive threats, whereas on the road, he'd often face lesser talent - and so does Stecks', I think - as the fourth-line center on most nights, he was used more sparingly and in favorable spots at home, while teams could more easily take advantage of Steckel and his wingers on the road (though Gordo actually had lower quality linemates on the year).
On the blueline, the splits that stand out are Shaone Morrisonn's and Tom Poti's. The two played the 3rd and 4th most even strength minutes on the team last year, but had opposite splits, with Mo posting being plus-ten better at home and Poti finishing plus-13 better on the road (and each man's partner had a similar, albeit less drastic, split). Perhaps Morrisonn's differential can be explained by the desire to get Mike Green out against lesser talent at home and to utilize the Poti-Jeff Schultz pairing against opponents' top threats... but if that were the case, you'd expect the latter duo to have a higher quality of competition than the former pair, which was not the case (though it's close). Or perhaps the numbers were just a fluke.
The bottom line here is... well, there isn't one. It's a lot of correlation with little in the way of causation. You can come up with a theory to explain any of these splits and convince yourself of their validity, but, at the end of the day, plus-minus is still somewhat devoid of rhyme or reason. How else to explain that of the top 31 plus/minuses in the NHL last season, 15 players had a better number at home and 15 were better on the road (Ryan Getzlaf was +16 both home and on the road)?
All that said, who's got a theory on any of these that they want to throw out there?
Elsewhere 'Round the Rinks:
Vogs has the translation of an interview with Simeon Varlamov that's worth checking out.... TSN.ca's Caps preview might be garbage, but at least you could remove the team and player names and still know which of the NHL's 30 squads was being previewed, unlike with this turd.... Speaking of lazy writing, Yahoo! (Ross McKeon, I presume) offers up the following analysis: "Viktor Kozlov was a crucial late season pickup by GM George McPhee. Kozlov served as a great team leader, especially for the Russian kids, and he’ll do more of the same this year." Sergei Fedorov had a similar impact.... Apparently everyone seems to think that winning the Southeast Division is the Caps' "divine right." And here I thought they were the favorites because they've put together the best roster, have the best coach and the best player in the SED.... Add Justin Taylor to the list of players sent back to juniors who had a hell of a time at rookie camp (and he's just about the only London Knight scoring these days).... And add another chapter in the Boudreau storybook.... Finally, a question for the group based on this article (and h/t to PPP) - would you rather the team you follow win one Cup and then stink for a decade or be consistently competitive with the possibility (but no guarantee) of a Cup over the same time period?