Well, here we are again. The Washington Capitals won the Presidents’ Trophy as the NHL’s best team in the regular season. They were the favourites for the Stanley Cup, and they somehow found a way to lose before the Eastern Conference final.
We’ve done this song and dance before, looking at series’ the Capitals dominated on paper and lost. The Capitals took 59.9 per cent of the shot attempts in the series, and took 57.3 per cent of the shots on net, two metrics that would suggest they held a decided advantage in a tight series, but it’s not all that simple.
Whenever a team has a heavy advantage in terms of Corsi and loses, the instincts of most people are to assume that their opponents were brilliant defensively, keeping dangerous chances down and the good Corsi team is just piling up shots from the perimeter.
Sometimes that’s actually the case, but usually it’s not. There are however, other factors to consider, so let’s look at the question of shot quality in detail for this series and see what may have gone wrong for the Capitals.
For the most part, the Capitals had a distinct advantage when it comes to shot quality in this series, though the biggest advantages are in scoring chances overall, and the margins are much thinner when it comes to chances on net, and high-danger chances.
Even still, the Capitals did hold an advantage on pre-shot movement on their scoring chances as well, generating more passes to the slot and more backdoor passes than the Penguins did, though the Penguins were the better team off the rush, which may have been due to them being forced into a counter attack style.
The Penguins did end up with a higher shooting percentage than the Capitals, 11.8 per cent to the Capitals’ 7.9 per cent, largely because the Penguins’ put up close to the same number of chances on net despite fewer overall shots, but it’s important to note that this disparity in shooting percentage resulted in a 20-18 goal advantage for the Penguins in the series.
Based on the shots that were taken, it’s impossible to deny that Marc-Andre Fleury outplayed Braden Holtby, but neither goaltender was forced to stop a large number of high danger chances, this was a pretty tight defensive series that still ended up with more goals scored per game than league average. Nobody got goalied here.
The yearly refrain in mid-May is that the Capitals deserved better, and based on the play of the skaters anyway, that holds true this year, but in a seven-game series where the teams were separated by two goals, and that separation happened in game seven, it’s tough to look at the series as anything more than a coin flip gone wrong.
With that said, the Capitals were terrible in game seven, generating a series-low 10 scoring chances, only five of which actually got to Fleury. The Capitals’ two most dangerous chances of the game were both off the stick of Lars Eller, who is a good role player, but probably not the player you want shooting with your season on the line.
Alex Ovechkin had a great chance from the middle of the slot near the end of the second period with a lot of net to shoot at, but he happened to rip it off the shaft of Fleury’s stick. Had that shot been a centimetre to the left or right, we might be talking very differently about this Capitals team, and that’s been the case now for about 8 years.
The trouble with situations like the Capitals have found themselves in is when teams overreact to failure, which Washington did before when they tried to turn Ovechkin into a checker under Dale Hunter for a little while.
This certainly seems like the end of the Capitals’ window with a plethora of free agents to worry about this summer, but how many times had people thought the San Jose Sharks were out of their window before they made the Stanley Cup Final last year?
It’s often said that the Stanley Cup is the hardest trophy to win in sports, and the Capitals are the perfect example of just how hard it can be.