Photo by Bill Wippert/NHLI via Getty Images
Since the Capitals lost to the Buffalo Sabres on Tuesday night, much has been made about the Capitals’ inability to generate shots and scoring chances. The reaction seems a bit of an overreaction from afar, but fears of the Capitals’ difficulties to generate these chances had been rising through the fanbase, despite the Capitals themselves still scoring goals and winning games.
In a game against a Buffalo Sabres team that was averaging 3.79 Goals Against per game and averaging 2.04 xGA (Expected Goals Against) at Even Strength per game, the Capitals mustered up one goal (at Even Strength) and posted a .76 xGA. With a rough definition of Expected Goals being the amount of goals anticipated based on shots and scoring chances, the Capitals gave worrying fans exactly what they did not need.
Since then, the topic of scoring chance creation, and even prevention, has become a hot button topic among the Capitals’ fanbase. The Washington Post’s Isabelle Khurshudyan joined Adam Stringham on the latest Japers Rink Radio to discuss just this, as the two highlighted many stats that point to not only a decrease in shot metrics (shots, Corsi, etc.), but to staggeringly bad scoring chance creation and prevention.
The statistics do not reflect well, and they reflect what many fans, myself included, are seeing on the ice. The Capitals, for some reason, are unable to generate the types of shots and chances needed to consistently score goals, something we saw them do so well last season.
I did a deeper dive into many of the statistics around this, hoping to find bright spots, and came away almost terrified with what I had found. This season, the Caps are 19th in the NHL when it comes to generating scoring chances at even strength (Scoring Chances For per 60 minutes of 5v5 play), but give up the fourth-most scoring chances against (SCA/60). If one looks at High Danger Scoring Chances (HDSC) only, the Caps are dead last in the NHL at generating HDSCs, and allow the second-most HDSCs against. What’s odd is that the Capitals are 12th in the NHL in GF/60, and 16th in GA/60. So what gives?
I looked into why that may be, and found that the Capitals are scoring the third-most goals on shots at even-strength that are not considered a scoring chance, while allowing the second-most goals against that are classified as scoring chances. If we narrow it down and only look at HDSCs, the Capitals score 30% of their goals via HDSCs, the worst in the NHL. The second-worst team is the Ottawa Senators, with 42% of their goals coming via HDSCs and have the fifth-highest amount of goals against on HDSCs.
The Capitals are scoring a high percentage (around 25%) of their goals on shots not considered to be scoring chances, and are the worst team in the NHL at getting to the most dangerous areas of the ice. Defensively, they are allowing a high amount of chances against and are getting absolutely bailed out by their goaltending. They are an average team in terms of goals against (16th in GA/60), but are basically only allowing goals against in scoring chance situations. The issue is, they’re allowing a ton of those chances against.
The easiest way to visualize this is to take a look at Micah Blake McCurdy’s heat map for relative to league average 5v5 Shot Rates. Below is Shots For:
So the Capitals aren’t generating High Danger Scoring Chances, or any type of scoring chances really, and we can tell why. The largest clusters are above and outside of the circles. If we use the traditional “home plate” rule for what is known as the “slot” (tip of home plate at the net, bottom edge at the tops of the circles, as wide as the dots inside of the circles), we see the only hot zones on the edges of the slot, or outside of the slot, with many shots coming from near to the blue line. Some examples of teams generating good net front chances are Toronto, Los Angeles, and Edmonton.
Now for the shots the Capitals are allowing against:
With shots against, we see almost the opposite. Nearly two-thirds of the slot are a red-hot zone of the Capitals allowing more shots than the average NHL team. They have done a decent job on the right side of the defensive zone, but seem to have neglected the center and left sides of the offensive zone. There are many reasons why we are seeing this with the Capitals. Injuries and a decreased talent level from years past have ushered in new faces, both to the Capitals and to the NHL, to join the lineup and can explain the sloppiness and inability to execute. I personally also find the system that they are being tasked with playing is limiting their ability to get to dangerous areas of the ice. The Capitals are playing a conservative system to not allow chances against at the expense of chances for, but have inexperience up and down the lineup making critical mistakes leading to chances against.
Next week, I will follow up to this with clips and examples of the systems, mistakes, and why the Capitals aren’t generating scoring chances and aren’t getting the puck into scoring areas.
Stats courtesy of HockeyViz, Corsica and Natural Stat Trick.
By Tyler Anderson