A Look At The Numbers: Capitals vs Penguins

They did it! The Washington Capitals came back from a 0-2 deficit with 4 straight wins to claim a playoff series. Now all they have to do is… *checks schedule*…defeat the Pittsburgh Penguins. Sigh. 

But don’t fret, there could be some hope hiding in the numbers. Let’s take a look at both teams “fancy stats” in their respective series. Stats provided by Natural Stat Trick and Corsica.

Penguins Capitals
CorsiFor% 53.89% 51.18%
Scoring Chances For% 55.37% 51.17%
High Danger Chances For % 55.47% 58.84%
Expected Goals For% 54.58% 52.76%
Expected Goals For 10 12
Actual Goals For 21 12
Expected Goals Against 8 11
Actual Goals Against 9 13
PDO 106.2 99.1

Overall the teams were pretty darn close, with the edge going slightly to Pittsburgh. But it’s important to remember who they were playing. The Penguins faced the Philadelphia Flyers, while the Capitals drew the Columbus Blue Jackets. It’s not like one team is great and the other is terrible, but the Blue Jackets are definitely the better team, at least when you look at their regular season numbers.

Flyers Blue Jackets
CF% 49.82% (15th) 51.69% (10th)
SCF% 49.14 (18th) 51.42% (11th)
HDCF% 49.43% (18th) 50.48% (14th)
xGF% 50.73% (15th) 51.92% (10th)

The Blue Jackets draw a lot of confidence from their goaltender, Sergei Bobrovsky, who is consistently one of the best goalies in the league. On the other hand, the Flyers used three different goalies in the playoffs. Of the 27 different goalies that made an appearance in the NHL playoffs, the Flyers three goalies were all in the bottom five at 5v5 save percentage. If the Capitals had the luxury of facing the, in the 1st round, it would have been an easy sweep for them.

Screen Shot 2018-04-24 at 12.06.47 PM

But I want to go back to the Caps and Pens PDO from each of their series. All the other stats from the two rivals were pretty close, but with PDO (luck) PIT took home the prize. The Penguins had an astounding 106.2 PDO, which is beyond lucky. The Capitals, on the other hand, had just 99.1, which is very unlucky considering the talent the boys in red have (they had a 101.7 PDO in the regular season).

Again, goaltending can explain the issue. The Penguins were shooting at a 15.07% rate, which is unthinkable. That was first among all playoff teams by almost 5%. The Capitals on other hand shot a 7.38% rate, which is low for them (they shot 9.19% in the regular season).

The Flyers had the worst combined save percentage at 5v5 with .849% in the 1st round. The Capitals had a combined .917sv%, though once Braden Holtby took over it bumped to a .927sv%, which is still kind of low for him. But the Penguins’ Matt Murray also wasn’t too great at 5v5 with a .915sv%, so expect him to better than that against the Caps.

Another way to look at it is the Expected Goals For and Against. The Penguins were expected to score 10 5v5 goals, but they actually scored 21! The Capitals scored exactly what they were expected to at 5v5 with 12 goals. Penguins did get scored on one more than expected, but Capitals were scored on two more times than expected. The luck definitely falls in the Penguins favor here, who had a +10 expected goals for, while Caps had a -2. If the Penguins are expecting the same outcome from the Caps as the Flyers, they will be rudely surprised.

To sum it up, don’t expect the Penguins to score at such a high rate at 5v5 like they did against the Flyers, and don’t expect the Capitals to score at such a low rate at 5v5 like they did against the Blue Jackets.

The two teams are fairly even when it comes to puck possession and chances. The Penguins by series-end will probably lead slightly in both categories, but it should be close enough that the Capitals could squeeze out a series win. Success against the Penguins will ride on Holtby’s shoulders and getting luck they haven’t received in the past.

By Luke Adomanis

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