Better than Expected: How the Capitals’ Actual ‘Goals For’ Outpace Expected ‘Goals For’

Photo: @Capitals

Over the past five seasons and through the first four games of the 2021 NHL regular season, the Capitals’ actual goal scoring has routinely outperformed the expected ‘goals for’ metric. This can be explained by a multitude of factors, some of which we’ll be identifying in this piece.

Expected ‘Goals For’ is a metric that Evolving-Hockey defines as “the total goal probability of all Fenwick shots“. Fenwick shot attempts are all unblocked shot attempts made by a team, since blocked shots have inherently extremely low probability of resulting in a goal. This is the difference between Fenwick and Corsi shot attempts, which includes shot attempts that result in a blocked shot.

Now, let’s take a look at the Capitals’ actual ‘goals for’ and ‘goals against’ marks compared to their expected results (statistics courtesy of Evolving-Hockey):

Click to enlarge

As you can see above, the Capitals routinely outperform their expected goals figure. Even so far in the 2021 season, the Capitals have nearly doubled their expected goals figure during five-on-five play.

One of the reasons why the Capitals have outpaced their expected ‘goals for’ figure at five-on-five play is the fact that they have had an above average shooting percentage since 2015. In fact, they have the highest shooting percentage in the NHL when statistics from 2015-2020 are combined.

That’s where the “luck” factor comes into play. Based on these metrics, we can assume that the Capitals are scoring goals from areas or opportunities where the probability of a Fenwick shot attempt are inherently lower than other areas, such as immediately in the slot below the circles.

To be clear, since this is a trend over a number of seasons, we can likely conclude that having high quality goal scorers can lead to more goals with lower probability. With a perennial Rocket Richard contender like Alex Ovechkin on the team, goals are going to come easier.

The outpacing of expected goals for with actual goals is typically what better teams do. The Capitals lead the league in actual ‘goals for’ and ‘expected goals for’ differential from 2015 to 2020 with 112.37. Slightly behind them is perennial Stanley Cup contender and defending champion Tampa Bay with 112.19.

You can see how the Capitals have trended so far this season, thanks to a graphic from Charting Hockey:

The main reason why the Capitals are in the “fun” quadrant is that goaltending hasn’t been as strong this season in terms of overall goals allowed. The Capitals are definitely outpacing in goals scored vs expectation, but are a bit on the bottom half of goals saved versus expectation.

If the offense can keep it up, and the defense and goaltending gets stronger this season, the Caps should have good success.

By Justin Trudel

About Justin Trudel

Justin is a lifelong Caps fan, with some of his first memories of the sport watching the team in the USAir Arena and the 1998 Stanley Cup appearance. Now a resident of St. Augustine, FL, Justin watches the Caps from afar. Justin graduated with a Bachelor's of Science in Political Science from Towson University, and a Master's of Science in Applied Information Technology from Towson University. Justin is currently a product manager at a non-profit in Jacksonville, FL. Justin enjoys geeking out over roster construction and cap management.
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1 Response to Better than Expected: How the Capitals’ Actual ‘Goals For’ Outpace Expected ‘Goals For’

  1. Diane Doyle says:

    However, the next four games will see a drop in the Actual Goals compared to Expected Goals, with Ovechkin and Kuznetsov both out. I’m expecting low scoring games. The “new” lines are basically a second line, a third line, and two fourth lines.

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