Many fans around the NHL have had the season opening matchup between the New York Rangers and the Washington Capitals circled on their calendar. Outside of this being a typical marquee matchup between rivals in the Ovechkin era, the Rangers seemingly structured their entire roster as a response to the Tom Wilson-Artemi Panarin fiasco at the tail-end of last season.
There will likely be fireworks, but there’s a lot to be excited about outside of the fisticuffs and scrums after whistles. We’ll be taking a look at some of the key analytical areas in this post. To learn more about the analytical terms used in this post, please check out our glossary. Statistics in this post are courtesy of Natural Stat Trick and Hockey-Reference.
The Capitals were in the top half of the league in ‘Corsi For’ percentage and ‘Fenwick For’ percentage, meaning that the Caps were generating more shots attempts than they were allowing to their opponents.
A popular view on shot generation is that quantity of shots can lead to quality of shots, since chances off of rebounds and deflections are typically categorized as high danger scoring chances. While the Capitals have some room to improve there, the Rangers have a lot of improving to do:
If all things remain equal going into this season (which they aren’t but it’s the first game!), the Capitals have a distinct advantage in shot generation. The Capitals’ Corsi and Fenwick metrics are likely going to be somewhere around last year’s performance, mainly because much of the roster is still intact. The Rangers have had a bit more roster turnover and are hoping for a bit more growth and performance from their young talents in Alexis Lafreniere and Kappo Kakko up front.
The difference for the Capitals is some of the changes on the backend. Martin Fehervary has a very small sample size of six NHL appearances, but posted a 52.9 CF% and a 53.8 FF% in those contests. Additionally, Trevor van Riemsdyk getting more ice time is solid for possession stats, since he posted 51.4 CF% and 51.5 FF%. For reference sake, Zdeno Chara (49.7 CF%, 48.8 FF%) and Brenden Dillon (49.8 CF%, 49.7 CF%) both left the roster this offseason and posted worse possession numbers.
The Rangers added Barclay Goodrow, who was a part of the dynamic third line on the Stanley Cup Champion Tampa Bay Lightning. He posted a 55.3 CF% and a 55.8 FF% last season. On the flip side, the Rangers traded away skilled middle six winger in Pavel Buchnevich (47.0 CF%, 47.3 FF%) in return for Sammy Blais (46.3 CF%, 45.8 FF%) and draft capital, which is a slight downgrade in possession metrics.
If the Capitals can generate more shots on goal, they typically fare well. The Caps were 21-9-1 last season when outshooting their opponents compared to 12-6-4 when being outshot. The Rangers were 12-7-3 when outshooting opponents and 15-13-3 when being outshot.
Goals and Expected Goals
The Rangers were an interesting team last season regarding actual goals for versus expected goals for. They were under the 50% watermark for xGF%, but ended up having a 52.25 GF%. It’s not atypical for teams to outpace their expected goals figure, mainly because teams can still score on low danger chances (such as a wrist shot from the blue line or a bad angle shot). Here’s how the Rangers compared to the Caps in this regard last season:
The Caps have systematically outpaced their xGF figure season to season. The Caps are typically a solid offensive team, and can generate goals at a higher rate. Typically, higher skilled teams’ goals for outpace their expected goals for.
The Caps were better than the Rangers in this area last season, but since the Rangers are a younger team, they will likely improve as players develop more towards their potential. Since the Capitals are an older team, there’s likely a ceiling where the team will perform over the season, especially with a largely static roster construction.
Until we get a larger sample size of how these teams play this season, we have to rely on the solid sample size of the 2021 regular season. These statistics could vary greatly over the course of the season since the schedule opens up much more than last season where teams were only playing their division rivals.
The Capitals have the edge based off of last years statistics, but without Nicklas Backstrom and potentially Alex Ovechkin, this could be a tight matchup. The Capitals were 4-4-0 against the Rangers and were outscored 26-23 in the eight game series. The Caps and Rangers are going to be battling for a playoff spot this season, so each of these head to head matchups matter, even this early in the season.
By Justin Trudel