The Capitals and Bruins are set to kick-off the first round of the 2021 NHL playoffs this Saturday night at Capital One Arena. The team’s faced each other eight times in the abbreviated 56-game regular season, and it’s very likely the two teams could do battle another seven times in the coming days.
When the two teams last met in a best-of-seven playoff series during the 2012 Conference Quarter Finals, the series became the first in NHL history to feature all seven contests decided by a one-goal margin. Joel Ward and the Capitals would eventually drop the hammer on the Bruins in overtime of the 7th game to advance.
In advance of the first round series with the Bruins, we are preparing a series of in-depth posts to get you prepared for the start on Saturday night.
We begin to set the stage with a review of the previous eight games, and take a look at a few of the trends that have emerged during the regular season games. This first post will look at:
- Basic Game Stats
- Shot Attempts/Possession
- Goals and Expected Goals Differentials
BASIC GAME STATS
As we’ve done in all of our previous series review posts, we begin with the basic stats from each game during the regular season. (Click to enlarge).
The Capitals and Bruins split the eight-game series during the regular season, and statistically, the series is just as close as you will see in the following graphs, charts and visualizations.
The following are the averages for each of the aforementioned stats for the eight games played between the two teams so far this season.
How even is this matchup? The Capitals and Bruins both averaged 30.0 shots on goal per game for the eight games played during the regular season.
The special teams battle has also been fairly even during the regular season series, with the Capitals converting two more opportunities than the Bruins. The Capitals finished the season with the league’s third-best power play at 24.8% while the Bruins finished ninth in the league with a 21.9% conversion rate. The Capitals penalty kill finished fifth in the league at 84.0% while the Bruins finished second overall in the league with a 86.0% success rate.
The Capitals led in hits and blocked shots in the season series as well, and both numbers will be worth watching as the series progresses. On the downside, the Capitals have been nearly double the Bruins in turnovers in the regular season meetings. Those numbers will also will be worth watching closely.
The following graph plots the shot attempts percentages for (CF% – blue), high-danger shot attempts for percentages (HDCF% – light blue), scoring chances for percentages (SCF% – orange) and expected goals for percentages (xGF% – light orange) for the Capitals in each of the eight games against the Bruins. (Click to enlarge).
Tossing out the outliers (first and last games), the series has been fairly even, with the Capitals holding a slight edge in expected goals for percentage and a significant advantage in high-danger opportunities. The Bruins have led in scoring chances for and overall shot attempts.
Shot Attempts/Possession Averages
The next table presents the averages for shot attempts and expected goals for the eight-game regular season series.
As noted, the Capitals led the eight-game series in high-danger shot attempts and expected goals for percentages, while the Bruins led in overall shot attempts and scoring chances for percentages for the regular season series.
Shots Per Game
Over the course of the entire season, the Capitals averaged 29.4 shots per game, which is the 18th-most in the league, and allowed 28.8 shots against per game which is 11th best in the league. The Bruins averaged 33.3 shots per game, which is third most in the league, while allowing 27.1 shots against which is second-best in the league.
The Capitals ended the 56-game regular season with a 9.9% shooting percentage at even strength, second to the Minnesota Wild. The Bruins finished the regular season with a 7.3% shooting percentage, which was second to last in the NHL.
GOALS AND EXPECTED GOALS DIFFERENTIALS
The next graph plots the actual goals for and expected goals for differentials (GF – xGF – orange) and the actual goals against and expected goals against differentials (xGA – GA – blue) for the Capitals in the eight games played during the regular season.
After a good start in the first two games of the series, the Capitals have dropped-off in the expected goals differentials, with the Bruins holding the Capitals below the expected goals for and scoring more goals than expected against the Capitals.
The Capitals averaged 3.36 goals per game over the course of the regular season. That’s the 4th highest in the league. They averaged 2.88 goals against for the season, which is 17th in the league. The differential is +0.48.
The Bruins averaged 2.93 goals for per game played during the regular season, which ranks 13th in the league, and averaged 2.29 goals against per game during the regular season, which ranks 3rd overall in the league. The differential is +0.64.
The next graph simply plots the save percentage and goals against average for all goaltenders on the Bruins and Capitals rosters at even strength over the course of the season (not just against each other). It’s their final numbers for the regular season.
The Bruins’ Jeremy Swayman came out of nowhere this season. He’s only got 10 games under his belt, but so far the rookie has played really well, and played well against the Capitals. It will be interesting to see if the Bruins go to him in the series, or default to the proven Tuukka Rask for all of the games.
As for the Capitals, it looks like the much-anticipated decision we were supposed to see has fizzled out, as Vitek Vanecek looks to get most of the games in the first round. Look for Craig Anderson to back him up. Who had that tandem starting the postseason back in January?
Should the Capitals advance, it will be interesting to see if Ilya Samsonov starts to work his way back into the picture. His status is currently unknown and somewhat of a mystery, as he is not actually on the league’s COVID-19-related absences list. The bigger question on the horizon is who will the Capitals protect in the expansion draft?
GOALS SAVED ABOVE AVERAGE, GOALS AGAINST DIFFERENTIALS (xGA – GA) AND HIGH-DANGER SAVE PERCENTAGE
The following graph plots the goals saved above average (GSAA – blue), the high-danger save percentage (HDSV% – orange) and the expected goals against and actual goals against differentials (xGA – GA – red) for each of the goaltenders for the season.
The Bruins Swayman again leads all categories in the above graph, but again, will the Bruins turn the keys over to the kid? Tuukka Rask is a fairly even match-up with Vitek Vanecek.
Vanecek is allowing more goals than expected, which is a concern, and has been a concern all season. Craig Anderson has done well in the four games he’s played. Laviolette blundered in not giving more games to Anderson (and the other depth players) during the regular season, particularly when Vanecek was eating every game while Samsonov was out with COVID.
The season series was extremely close, with teams essentially splitting all of the key statistical categories, and in some instances, like shots on goal, they were exactly tied. Here are a few keys to the series that will bear watching:
- It’s no secret that the Bruins have the edge in goaltending, if Swayman is in the mix, and it’s no secret this will be a concern for the Capitals. Watch the start of the series to see how each of the netminders begin the series. Will the Bruins use the hot (but inexperienced) Jeremy Swayman, or go with the more-evenly matched Tuukka Rask?
- Watch the hit totals as the series progresses. The Capitals have built a team specifically designed to wear down teams in a postseason series. The longer the series goes, the more the advantage will begin to favor the Capitals.
- The special teams battle could also be key. Both teams are strong on both sides of the power play, so if one team gets an early advantage, it could be a key difference over the course of a seven-game series.
- Injuries are also a concern for the Capitals, but with five days until the first game, the Capitals should be close to a full compliment of players by gametime on Saturday night. The status of the mending Capitals and injuries incurred during the series will be key.
- Can the Capitals continue to lead in high-danger chances? The gritty, greasy goals are a key to winning games in the postseason and could be a edge for the Capitals. Watch those numbers, early on.
This should be a physical series with closely contested games. We will have much more in the coming days, but in the meantime, take a deep breath and get ready for the pending high-blood pressure and anxiety-riddled games ahead.
By Jon Sorensen