Capitals vs. Islanders: Series Review And Trends Analysis

Photo: AP/Frank Franklin II

It’s not an actual playoff series, but it’s certainly gonna to feel like one. The Washington Capitals and New York Islanders are set to begin a three-game set starting Thursday night in New York. Once again, first place in the East Division will be on the line.

The two teams will square-off again on Saturday in New York and then return to the District for their season series finale next Tuesday at Capital One Arena.

In the run-up to the first game on Thursday night we wanted first shed some light on the first five games of the series played so far this season and then identify key trends from the previous five games. We will look at:

  • General game stats
  • Save percentages
  • Shooting percentages
  • Shooting/possession metrics
  • Low, medium and high-danger shot attempts
  • Goals and expected goals differentials
  • Goaltenders

GENERAL GAME STATS

We begin this review with a look at the basic game stats from each of the five games played so  far.

The Capitals won the first three games of the series (in the District) and the Islanders have won the last two games (on the Island).

Game Averages

The following are the averages for each of the aforementioned stats for the five games played between the two teams so far this season.

The Islanders have led in shots on goal, (and shot attempts, as we will see later in his post). They also hold a slight edge in face-offs , hits and blocked shots for the series.

The Capitals have dominated the special teams battle from the first game of the season series, averaging a whopping 50% on the power play. They are currently first in the league on the power play at 27.6%. The Islanders are 25th in the league on the power play at 17.5%.

The Capitals are seventh in the league in penalty kill at 83.5%, while the Islanders are 10th in the league at 82.5%.


SAVE PERCENTAGE (EVEN STRENGTH)

The following graph plots the save percentages of each team at even-strength for each game of the five games played to date. The Capitals (red) and Islanders (blue):

The Islanders have two of the league’s best netminders in Semyon Varlamov and Ilya Sorokin. However, the Capitals netminders have stepped up in the series, leading two of the games at even-strength and essentially playing even in the first game of the series.

Vitek Vanecek is 2-1-0 in the series. Ilya Samsonov is 1-1-0 against the Islanders so far this season.


SHOOTING PERCENTAGE (EVEN STRENGTH)

The next graph simply plots each teams shooting percentage at even strength for each of the first five games of the series. (Capitals – red, Islanders – blue).

This stat is fairly even over the course of the five games played. The first game was essentially even, with the Capitals dominating the second game and the Islanders dominating the fourth game. Both teams have been shutout in one game at even-strength.


SHOOTING/POSSESSION METRICS

The following graph plots the shot attempts percentages for (CF% – light blue), high-danger shot attempts percentages for (HDCF% – medium light blue), scoring chances for percentages (SCF% – medium dark blue) and expected goals for percentages (xGF% – dark blue) for the Capitals in each of the five games to date. (Click to enlarge).

Possibly the most concerning set of stats are those presented above, as the trend has been steadily decreasing with the possible exception of the last game.

The Capitals overall higher shooting percentage (10.8%, first in NHL) has countered these stats to some degree, but the overall trend is surely concerning to Laviolette and company. The Islanders are 6th in the league in shooting percentage at 9.2%.


LOW, MEDIUM AND HIGH-DANGER SHOT ATTEMPTS PERCENTAGES

The next visualization plots the low, medium and high danger shot attempt percentages for each team in each game. Capitals (red) and Islanders (blue):

The Capitals have led in low-danger shot attempts in three of the five games while the Islanders have led medium-danger shot attempts in three of the five games. The Islanders have led in high-danger shot attempts in four of the five games to date. This can indicate that the Islanders have been doing a better job getting the puck into the scoring zones, and hold an edge in battles low and around the crease.


GOALS AND EXPECTED GOALS DIFFERENTIALS

The following plot depicts the actual goals for and expected goals for differentials (GF – xGF) and the actual goals against and expected goals against differential (xGA – GA) for the Capitals in the first five games of the series.

The Capitals outperformed the expected goals for and expected goals against in the second and fourth games. The fourth game is an interesting game in that, although the Islanders won the game, the Capitals outperformed the Islanders in a majority of the statistical categories.

The Islanders dominated the third and fifth game of the series, with the first game of the series essentially even.


GOALTENDERS – 5v5

The following graph plots the save percentages and goals against averages at five-on-five for each of the Capitals and Islanders goaltenders.

Again, this is an area where the Islanders have outperformed the rest of the East Division so far this season, and will be a key indicator in how the three game series will play out.


GOALS SAVED ABOVE AVERAGE AND GOALS AGAINST DIFFERENTIALS (xGA – GA)

The final graph plots the goals saved above average (GSAA – blue) and the expected goals against and actual goals against differentials for each of goaltenders so far this season.

Both of the Islanders netminders have outperformed the Capitals netminders by a wide margin so far this season.


SUMMARY

The next three games are going to go a long way in deciding who will take home first place in the East Division this season. But it doesn’t get any easier after that, as the Capitals then have a two-game set against the Penguins. The Penguins have a much easier strength of schedule in the remaining games and are just one point behind the Islanders and the Capitals in the standings.. (Click to enlarge).

But first things, first. The three-game set against the Islanders will be a great measuring stick for both teams as the postseason approaches. Watch the shot attempts by location, goaltending at five-on-five and the specials teams battle for early indications on how each team is performing.

These should be great games.

Data courtesy of Natural Stat Trick

By Jon Sorensen

About Jon Sorensen

Jon has been a Caps fan since day one, attending his first game at the Capital Centre in 1974. His passion for the Caps has grown over the decades, which has included time as a season ticket holder, social media and community organizer, and most recently led to the founding of NoVa Caps in 2014. Jon earned a Bachelor's of Science in Civil Engineering at Old Dominion University, and is a Systems Engineer during intermissions, which has been instrumental in supporting his Capitals habit.
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