The Capitals have struggled with slow starts to games over the five games spanning from February 16th to the 23rd. In fact, the Capitals recorded zero even-strength goals in the last five games, prior to Thursday’s matchup with the Penguins. The slow starts occurred all while controlling the possession metrics in each game.
In this piece we’ll take a look at the statistics behind the slow starts for the Capitals, particularly during 5-on-5 play. [Click to enlarge]
Over the past seven games, the Capitals have been outscored in the first period 3-2, which is a statistical outlier when compared to the overall performance of the team this season. The Capitals’ best period has consistently been the second period this season, including the last six games.
Outside of the slow starts, another area of concern is the negative goal differential in third periods where the Caps have been outscored 23 to 16. The Caps have been generating leads in the second period where their goal differential is positive, but allowing more goals in the third period, while playing more defensively and not pushing the pace.
One of the things that would benefit the team is keeping the pressure up with leads. It is typical for teams to sit back a bit more when leading late, so that they don’t give up odd man rushes or other high danger chances. That being said, teams that are trailing generally have higher possession rates since they’re trying to generate more chances to cut the deficit, and that’s exacerbated by leading teams sitting back and playing a more defensive posture.
In Thursday’s 5-2 win against the Penguins, the Capitals were much more effective and tallied an even strength goal for in the first frame. The Capitals posted a 58.44% Corsi For percentage and a 55.17% Fenwick For percentage. On the interesting side of it, the Capitals ended up allowing seven high danger chances against, while only producing three high danger chances for, a 30% HDCF%. As a result, the Capitals’ expected goals for percentage dipped to 39.92%.
In general, the Caps have largely controlled 5-on-5 play during the five games from February 16th to the 23rd, but don’t have the even-strength goals to show for it. Let’s take a look at the game by game metrics below:
You’ll see two blank columns for ‘goals for’ and ‘goals allowed’ above, up until last night’s tilt with Pittsburgh. The bittersweet news is that while the Caps had not generated a 5-on-5 goal in the first period in the last five games prior to last night, they’ve also allowed none. This would appear to be good news on the surface, but the Capitals have given up a power play goal in the first period of each of the last three games prior to last night.
There’s a lot to be said about reducing the amount of penalties taken, but the Capitals’ penalty kill has suffered a bit lately, dropping to 79.7% (16th in the NHL). This is a far cry from last season, where the Caps had the sixth best PK unit in the league at 82.6%. Last night, the Capitals PK unit was very effective, allowing zero power play goals on four shorthanded opportunities.
Overall, the only game where the Caps performed poorly with possession metrics was on February 23rd against the Penguins. They were outpaced in every metric other than ‘goals for’ and ‘goals against’ during 5-on-5 play in that matchup, and the slow start theme really resonated in that game.
Other than that tilt, the Caps’ possession metrics have been good to great in the first periods of the last five games, but the effort didn’t show up on the scoreboard during 5-on-5 play. Overall, the Caps need more “finish” in their starts to games.
By Justin Trudel