It took until the final day of the season—heck, the final minutes of the final day of the season—for the Caps to find out who they’d be facing in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. We now know the Caps will face the Carolina Hurricanes.
At first glance the Hurricanes would appear to be a less scary opponent to the alternatives (Pittsburgh and Columbus), but they shouldn’t be taken lightly. Analytics paint the picture of a dominant possession team. They rank second in Corsi for percentage, third in scoring chance for percentage, and fourth in high danger scoring chances for percentage among NHL teams. The Caps rank 18th, 19th, and 29th in those categories, respectively.
The Caps, however, are much more effective with the chances they get. They have the best scoring chance shooting percentage in the league and the fifth best conversion percentage of high danger scoring chances. The Canes are 27th in converting scoring chances and 30th in converting high danger scoring chances.
Possession numbers, of course, aren’t everything. Despite getting outplayed, at least in possession terms, in three of their four meetings with the Canes this year, the Caps won all four games.
The Caps have a better power play at 20.9 percent to Carolina’s 18 percent. The Canes’ penalty kill is more effective at 81.9 percent to Washington’s 78.8 percent, but the Caps’ penalty kill has been far better since the deadline acquisitions of Carl Hagelin and Nick Jensen, operating at 84.4 percent since March 1.
Individually, the Canes are again superior in possession statistics over the Caps. They boast 18 players over 50 percent on-ice 5v5 Corsi for percentage to the Caps’ 8. Whether the individual numbers are a result of the team numbers or the other way around is unclear, but regardless, the Canes control a lot of play and their players’ numbers show it.
Conventional wisdom says the Caps have superior goaltending with Stanley Cup Champion Braden Holtby in net, but the teams have an identical 5v5 save percentage of 92.07. Petr Mrazek’s .931 5v5 save percentage is also better than Holtby’s .923 mark.
None of this is to say that the Carolina Hurricanes are a better team than the Washington Capitals. There’s a reason the Caps won the division and Canes finished fourth. The Caps are the better team and should win this series. But they shouldn’t take the Canes lightly, and fans shouldn’t see the 4-0 season series as a guarantee of a playoff series win. We know better than anyone how much can go wrong in the playoffs, and this series, like most, will be a battle the whole way.
Note: stats are from Naturalstattrick.com, Hockey-Reference.com, and NHL.com and are through 81 games.
By Tiger Bjorlund