Why are the Capitals scared of Connor McMichael?

Connor McMichael was an extra skater at Tuesday’s morning skate, implying he’ll be a healthy scratch again for tonight’s game against the Philadelphia Flyers.

McMichael would be scratched for the seventh time this season. That’s not a good idea.

Connor McMichael

McMichael, 21, is the Capitals’ youngest full-time player on a considerably more experienced squad. He has nine goals and nine points in 10:26 of playing time per game. Despite this, the youthful winger appears to have fallen out of favor with head coach Peter Laviolette.

Nonetheless, Laviolette remained cautious about McMichael’s season late last month. “There are some positives,” Laviolette stated. “There are some ups and downs, and some nights when you’re the star of the show.” There are evenings when you’re a scratch.

“Throughout the year, he has kept his head on straight, worked hard, done the right things, and quietly gone about his business in a positive manner.”

That’s solid but reasoned praise for the player, which makes the repeated choice not to play him all the more perplexing. When Connor McMichael is on the ice, Washington is unquestionably a superior club.

The on-ice statistics from Natural Stat Trick during the five-on-five play are shown below. Each percentage represents Washington’s proportion of total occurrences, with fifty percent being even and higher being preferable. One column represents shifts in which McMichael is on the ice, while the other represents shifts in which McMichael is on the bench.

While goaltending and shooting are not factored in, the Capitals are a dominant club when McMichael is on the ice. This season, the Calgary Flames have an anticipated goal percentage of 57.4 percent. When McMichael is on the bench, the Capitals’ possession rate drops below 50%, implying that their opponents have the puck more and are accomplishing more with it.

Then there are literal goals, when shooting luck and goalie play a role. Everything changes. The Capitals are now below average even when McMichael is on the ice and dominate when he is off the rink.

Here’s how the shooting and to save percentages affect the goal-for percentages.

Connor McMichael

Ilya Samsonov and Vitek Vanecek, the goalies, save some of their worst efforts for McMichael’s shifts. (Some top-six players, such as TJ Oshie, have had comparable bad luck.) McMichael also has the lowest on-ice shooting % of any full-time Capitals forward. (The wounded Carl Hagelin had a somewhat lower one, but that’s another story.)

This is simply lousy luck. It’s a happy accident that has blinded a coaching staff that is already prejudiced against younger players. It’s self-sabotage, depriving the Capitals of the speed and productivity they so need.

To avoid being eliminated in the first round for the fourth time in a row, the Washington Capitals must make little adjustments anywhere they can. Here’s a simple one: they should use Connor McMichael.

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