It’s deja vu all over again for the Capitals, who have now lost three-straight playoff series since hoisting the Stanley Cup in 2018. The meager run includes two-straight series where they only won one game in the series.
For a team that still has many of the main contributors from the Cup winning team, three quick exits in the playoffs in a row are not going to sit well with the front office. Let’s take a look at some possession and high-danger chance generation numbers throughout the series:
Although the overall effort during five-on-five play was much improved from Game 4, that’s not really saying too much. The Capitals owned the share of shot attempts and high danger chances for, but didn’t outperform the Bruins where it counted; the Bruins netted all three of their goals during five on five play.
David Pastrnak’s highlight reel goal in the second period was a result of a slick move and a complete and utter defensive breakdown. Patrice Bergeron’s second goal was most definitely one that Ilya Samsonov wants back; a wrist shot from the high slot with a clear sightline to the puck off Bergeron’s stick. The third goal, Bergeron’s second, was a complete meltdown of a breakout from the defensive zone. Winning teams don’t do these things ad nauseam, and the Capitals did this to themselves all series long.
Here’s the shot attempt volume chart from Natural Stat Trick:
Although the Capitals really started pushing shot attempts in much higher quality areas of the ice, Bruins’ goaltender Tuukka Rask limited second chance opportunities. The only substantial second chance opportunity was on Conor Sheary’s goal 11 seconds into the third frame, which came after an unfathomable 147+ minute five-on-five goal-scoring drought. For a team that feasted offensively at five-on-five during the regular season, this was a complete implosion of the Capitals’ identity under Laviolette.
Not only did the Capitals struggle at even strength, they were nearly outclassed in every situation on the ice. The Capitals, who had finished with the third best power play in the NHL at 24.8%, struggled significantly this series, posting a 14.3% success rate. On top of that, the penalty kill struggled immensely, dropping from the 5th best unit at 84% to 73.7% in the postseason. The Capitals’ quality of play severely diminished in this series. In the series set against the Bruins, the Capitals posted a 30% power play success rate and a 87.5% penalty kill rate.
With such a steep drop-off in performance against a team that the Capitals should have been very familiar with, there’s a few keys to why this happened. One, players are not executing the way they should. It’s pretty clear using the “eye test” that this team was not playing up to the standard that the Caps themselves expect.
Second, the coaching staff has failed to make necessary adjustments to strategies in every phase of the game. The team was disjointed, underprepared, and ultimately failed. After three quick playoff exits under two different coaches with much of the same roster in place, it’s getting hard to defend the players and blame the coaches.
Here’s how the Capitals’ skaters performed this series in high danger chance and high danger goals for percentages:
You may notice a lot of zeroes for high danger goals for percentages from some key players on this team’s roster, namely Alex Ovechkin, Anthony Mantha, Daniel Sprong, Evgeny Kuznetsov, Michael Raffl, Brenden Dillon, and Nicklas Backstrom. It’s very hard to win games in the playoffs if you’re not potting a few goals on high danger chances, especially in a series where you’ve been giving up those chances in bountiful amounts. The best performing player in these two metrics is the 44 year-old Zdeno Chara. That’s not acceptable.
Now, let’s take a look at goals for percentage versus expected goals for percentage:
First off, let’s talk about John Carlson. He posted a 33.33 GF% and a 32.87 xGF%. Those are abysmal numbers. That means 66.67% of the goals scored while he was on the ice were scored by the Bruins. And the 32.87 xGF% tells you that it wasn’t due to bad luck, it was due to paltry performance.
Now, having one bad series isn’t the worst thing on earth, but Carlson posted awful numbers in the quick exit against the Islanders last season, posting a zero percent GF% and a 33.67 xGF%. There needs to be a magnifying glass put on Carlson’s deployments and matchups, because he’s clearly getting feasted upon.
Nearly the entire Capitals roster, outside of Zdeno Chara, Nic Dowd, Garnet Hathaway, and Carl Hagelin, were outclassed in this series. That’s a really tough pill to swallow, considering that’s your fourth line and a 44 year old veteran who’s likely to leave the team this off-season.
At the end of the day, the Capitals were supremely outclassed in this series, and it wasn’t particularly close. The first three games were very tightly competitive contests, but the skill and effort gap that the Bruins opened in games four and five were pretty clear.
The Capitals did not deserve to win this series and didn’t. It’ll be surprising if there aren’t substantial moves made this off-season; the question is what direction will those moves be in? A swapping of pieces to move this team into a faster team that compete with more skilled rosters, or a retool? The ball is in Brian MacLellan’s court, now, who has never been shy about making deals and signings when needed.
By Justin Trudel