It’s a game that can’t seem to get out of the headlines. Crazy 8-7 overtime games like the Capitals-Penguins showdown on Monday night will probably stick in the memory of hockey fans for a while, especially for the fans of the two teams that participated in the game. Commentators, writers and fans can talk all they want about the goals and missed penalties, but there may be something that goes under the radar in this game.
With the Capitals holding a 3-0 lead and looking very strong, there was a moment in the contest that one can look at as a turning point. The Patric Hornqvist- T.J. Oshie debacle, perhaps? The moment in which Oshie is battling for a puck in the corner and Hornqvist comes in hard and catches Oshie high with his elbow. A missed penalty yes, but the Caps had to move on. Unfortunately for the Capitals, he took Daniel Winnik with him after both were called for roughing later in the game.
As history now shows, the Penguins went on to score two goals during the ensuing 4-on-4 play, one from Penguins star Evgeni Malkin just a minute into the matching minors and one from Conor Sheary about 45 seconds after the Malkin goal.
The Capitals were playing well before then, but for whatever reason, they allowed the Penguins to get back in it. That was the obvious turning point in a game in which the Capitals looked great and it began to look like an average hockey game. All because of two 4-on-4 goals that gave the Capitals problems for the next 45 minutes.
Was it just the 4-on-4 Penguins goals that gave the Capitals problems, or are the Capitals struggling at 4-on-4 in general?
According to Corsica.hockey the Capitals have spent the seventh-most time playing 4-on-4. It may not be really important at all, but when one combines it with other stats, the Caps might want to stay away from 4-on-4 hockey. While both teams were a man down, the Capitals rank 18th in Corsi % or shot attempts % at 48.44%. If one wants the actual numbers while playing 4-on-4, the Caps have attempted 31 shots while allowing 33 attempted shots.
An attempted shot is just that, an attempt. Then, look at shots that actually get to the net. Of the 31 attempted shots by the Caps, only 14 of them registered as a shot on goal. How many of the 33 attempted shots against counted as actual shots against? The number for me is too high, at 22. The majority of the Capitals’ shots aren’t getting to the opponents’ net, while most of the opponents’ shots are forcing the Capitals goalies to make a save.
Which means one can skip to the next point. Save percentage while playing 4-on-4. The Capitals are tied for last in the NHL in 4-on-4 save % at .818. What does that tell us? It could tell us that Washington is allowing way too many shots, not getting enough blocks or getting in shooting lanes, and/or allowing too many scoring chances.
Again, according to Corsica, out of the 31 shot attempts and out of the 14 actual shots, one, just ONE, scoring chance for. The one scoring chance for is bad enough, but they have also allowed eight scoring chances, which is fourth-worst in the NHL.
That means the Capitals get 1.18 scoring chances per 60 minutes, and allow 9.46 scoring chances against/60. If you want to compare that to 5-on-5, the Caps get 9.33 SCF/60 and allow 9.07 SCA/60.
If you ask me, you can’t look at one stat and figure something out, but you can put stats together and that can help one better understand scoring chances. We looked at shot attempts, which are middle of the pack, we looked at actual shots, which again ranked pretty much right in the middle of the league, and we looked at scoring chances for and against, which both rank towards the bottom of the league. All of that can be added up and tell us why Washington has scored zero goals and allowed four goals while playing 4-on-4.
The 33 shots attempts against isn’t terrible. The 22 shots against, not bad. The thing that can be looked at as a negative: Braden Holtby has faced seven legitimate scoring chances while the Caps are playing 4-on-4. Of goalies who have played 20 minutes or more of 4-on-4 hockey, there is only one player who has faced more legitimate scoring chances than Holtby; Roberto Luongo of the Florida Panthers has faced eight.
Luongo however, has a very big advantage in this category, and that is his save percentage. His save percentage sits at .875. Holtby possesses a mediocre .517.You can’t blame goalies for giving up scoring chances, as that’s pretty much one of the major objectives of the game: to not allow scoring chances.
What does all of this mean? All I can really take from this, is that the Capitals probably want to avoid playing 4-on-4. They simply cannot afford to take penalties when they are getting a power play opportunity. Quite honestly, if the Capitals are going on the penalty kill, it still might be a better idea to just kill the penalty, considering the Capitals have one of the best PK percentages in the league.
The Caps probably won’t win a Stanley Cup because they’re great playing 4-on-4 hockey. At the same time, I’m not sure they’ll lose a ton of games because they are poor while playing 4-on-4. it is, however, something that can change momentum in games, just like we saw against Pittsburgh just a few days ago. While it may not be a concern, it is something the Capitals are going to want to fix.
By CJ Witt