By The Numbers: Capitals Shred The Sabres

Photo: @Capitals

The Capitals got back into the win column after beating the Buffalo Sabres, 5-3 at Capital One Arena. Alex Ovechkin tied Brett Hull in career goals at 741, Tom Wilson netted two goals, and John Carlson added a tally on the power play. The Sabres played the Capitals tough, but the depth, talent, and experience of the Capitals pushed them past Buffalo.

Let’s a look at a few of the key advanced analytics for the overall 5-on-5 performance between the two teams. If you’d like to learn more about the advanced analytical terms used in this post, please check out our glossary. Statistics in this post are courtesy of Natural Stat Trick.

You might be surprised to see that the Capitals did not control the possession game in a contest where they scored four goals during 5-on-5 play. The Caps pulled the differential in Fenwick shot attempts a bit closer together due to 15 blocked shots, where the Sabres only had six.

The Caps actually dominated the possession game in the first period, earning 60 CF%, 66.67 FF%, and 64.29 SF%. On top of that, the Caps generated two high-danger chances, and 80.01 xGF%. After all that, they exited the first period with only a one goal advantage.

Ultimately, the shots that matter are the ones that actually make it on net, and the Caps and Sabres earned an even split there. The Capitals ended up out-shooting the Sabres 30-28 in all situations.

The clear differentiator is the high-danger chance generation. The Caps generated eight HDCF, where the Sabres only made 5. The Caps scored two high-danger goals tonight during 5-on-5 play, and gave up one (Cody Eakin’s snap shot on the Ovechkin defensive zone turnover).

Special teams were also a differentiating factor, where the penalty kill pitched a shutout, and the power play was able to convert late in the third period on a point shot from John Carlson.

Now, let’s take a look at each skater’s on ice performance:

Typically, we’d look at line performance here, but the only line that received considerable ice time as a unit was the Ovechkin – Kuznetsov – Wilson trio, and the rest were mix-matched due to the Nic Dowd injury. Instead, we’ll look at on-ice performance during 5-on-5 play.

Connor McMichael continued his strong stretch of play at the NHL level. It still appears that Coach Laviolette doesn’t fully trust the rookie quite yet, with McMichael only getting 10:27 in ice time, even with Dowd’s injury and a goal scored. There’s going to have to be a time where Laviolette lets the younger guys play a bit more, especially with half of the Caps’ top six forwards  injured (TJ Oshie, Anthony Mantha, and Nicklas Backstrom).

Ovechkin and Kuznetsov continued high caliber play during 5-on-5 play. The Ovechkin – Kuznetsov – Wilson line had a combined eight points (Ovechkin and Kuznetsov with three points each, Wilson with two points), and are making a case as one of the best lines in hockey. Ovechkin currently has 21 points in 12 games, which is an absurd 143.5 point pace. Kuznetsov is producing at a 109.33 point pace currently. Wilson is currently on a 75 point pace.

Let’s take a look at the defensive pairings:

The Fehervary – Carlson pairing received the most 5-on-5 ice time with 13:33, even as they posted the worst possession figures of the three pairings, and were on the ice for two goals against together. On the bright side, the pairing was on the ice for two high-danger chances for and none against.

The Fehervary – Carlson pairing has been very hot and cold throughout the 12 games to start the season, and it may be warranted for Laviolette and his staff to revisit the usage of this pairing, and whether or not they should be leading the pairings in ice time, especially considering the overall effectiveness of the other two pairings in comparison.

Orlov and Jensen posted decent numbers, suffering mainly in Corsi shot attempts and scoring chance suppression. They were effective in xGF%. The TvR – Schultz pairing was pretty weak in regards to possession metrics, but evened it out with a higher rate of scoring chances generated, high danger chances generated, and xGF%.


The Capitals were able to outperform a pretty mediocre outing in possession metrics during 5-on-5 play, but were substantially better in high-danger chance generation and high-danger goal conversion.

The Capitals penalty kill also pitched a shutout, now at 78.8% effectiveness this season. The power play also converted, moving up to 18.6% effectiveness. Both units are ranked 20th in the NHL, so some improvement is required there for more success in the standings.

The Capitals will likely have to work through yet another injury in the forward corps. The question is, will Laviolette trust McMichael to skate more minutes in a more meaningful role, or will he continue to get sheltered while Lars Eller and Evgeny Kuznetsov are leaned upon even more heavily?

By Justin Trudel

About Justin Trudel

Justin is a lifelong Caps fan, with some of his first memories of the sport watching the team in the USAir Arena and the 1998 Stanley Cup appearance. Now a resident of St. Augustine, FL, Justin watches the Caps from afar. Justin graduated with a Bachelor's of Science in Political Science from Towson University, and a Master's of Science in Applied Information Technology from Towson University. Justin is currently a product manager. Justin enjoys geeking out over advanced analytics, roster construction, and cap management.
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