Photo by David Becker/NHLI via Getty Images
We recently took a look at the analytics of both the Vegas Golden Knights and the Washington Capitals throughout the playoffs and how they match up with one another. We found that they are pretty even, though the Caps had more injuries and had tougher opponents.
A stat that really stuck out was the Golden Knights PDO, specifically they’re insane .961sv% at 5v5. I wanted to dig a bit deeper into their goaltending. There’s no doubt that the Golden Knights would not be in the Cup Final, or at least so quickly, without their backbone Marc-Andre Fleury. He is putting up some insane numbers in the playoffs.
These numbers are provided by Corsica. If you look all the way to the right side you’ll see a stat called “GSAA”. This stands for Goals Saved Above Average. They use the Expected Goals data to determine through where shots are located, their type, distance, etc the exact percentage of it going in. This doesn’t mean 1 shot has a 100% chance of going in, but if a goalie stops 5 shots that had a 20% of going in then he stopped a total 1 of goal that is expected to go in.
All of that to say Fleury has saved over 17 goals that were expected to go in at all situations! The Golden Knights have played 15 games in these playoffs, Fleury has saved on average over a goal a game. 7 of Vegas’ 12 wins were 1 goal games, 3 of them in OT. If you remove empty net goals then it’s 9 of the 12 Vegas wins were by 1 single goal. Without Fleury playing lights out they could very much have been out of the playoffs earlier.
Braden Holtby on the other hand has saved just 2.74 goals more than what was expected at all situations. That isn’t bad, it just pales in comparison to what Fleury is doing. Matt Murray had a GSAA of 3.46 on the way to his first Cup (his second Cup run he had a 5.21 GSAA but he only played 11 games so who knows if it would have stayed that high).
And that is where MAYBE the Capitals can find some light. Fleury is a good goalie, but he is not as good as his numbers show. Before these playoffs, in 115 playoff games spanning 11 years, Fleury had a .908sv%, he has a .946sv% right now. More often than not a goaltender will come back down to Earth like Fleury did last year against the Ottawa Senators. And if Fleury does that then the Capitals could really take advantage and pile on the goals.
This by no means Fleury will definitely return to his average game playing, hot goalies are hot for a reason. Jonathan Quick in the 2011-2012 Cup run had a GSAA of 13.6 and Tim Thomas in the 2010-2011 Cup run had a GSAA of 15.43, so who knows, maybe Fleury can keep his insane run going. But Quick also had a 5v5 save percentage of .944% and Thomas had a 5v5 save percentage of .950%. They didn’t even hit the .961% Fleury is currently sitting on, so he will most likely come down even a bit, which might be all the Caps need to squeak out a win they need.
The best way to break this run that Fleury is on is to score early and often in the series. Easier said then done, but the more the Capitals let Fleury keep his goal totals down, the more his confidence and his team’s confidence grow. And there’s no doubt about it that a team gets a huge boost from their goaltender, while at the same time just deflating the other team. Remember game 7 last year against the Penguins? The Capitals were absolutely pouring it on and nothing went it. Ultimately it was Fleury’s lucky stick knob save that just took all the air out of the Caps.
Also, the Golden Knights will be literally sitting for a week before they play their first game of the Cup Finals. It’s great for them because they will have plenty of time to rest up, but also it could potentially throw Fleury off his stride. Not playing competitive hockey for a week isn’t easy to recover from. But Fleury is a Cup winning vet so wouldn’t put it pass him to continue to dominate game 1.
The point is the Capitals need to find a way to score, whether it’s from Fleury throwing himself off or the Caps scoring to force it. The latter is preferable. Crash the net, make it difficult for him. Get a couple early and his confidence could get shook, which could lead to his team’s confidence getting shook. Because that is what’s fueling the Vegas team; they think they can win every game. And why shouldn’t they think that? They have only lost 3 playoff games!
The key to this series Marc-Andre Fleury. If they can solve him then the Capitals could be looking at their first Stanley Cup.
By Luke Adomanis