Slow Start Dooms Capitals Against Sharks: Inside The Numbers

Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images

The Washington Capitals followed up a 1-0 shutout loss to the Vegas Golden Knights on Monday night with a rather lackluster effort (especially through the first two periods) against the San Jose Sharks. To start the game, the Capitals looked disjointed defensively, disorganized in the neutral zone, and ineffective in the offensive zone.

The Sharks stood up zone entry attempt after zone entry attempt by the Capitals, resulting in very little opportunities to even put the puck on net during the first ten minutes of the game. In this post, I’ll take a look at the trend tonight of a slow start translating into a loss.

Statistics used in this post are courtesy of Natural Stat Trick. If you’re interested in learning more about the statistical terms used in this post, please check out our analytics glossary.

As mentioned earlier, the Capitals really struggled early on in this tilt. It compounded through the rest of the first period and really into the second as well. Let’s take a look at the shot attempts by period: [Click to enlarge]

The piece to take away here is not necessarily the percentages of each of these metrics, singularly. Corsi For percentages (CF%) of 51.85% and 60.71% in the second and third period are signs of controlling play, which we’d expect from a team that’s trailing on the scoreboard.

The issue here is that in the first and the third periods, the Fenwick For percentage (FF%) is trailing rather significantly behind the CF%, and the same can be said for Shots For percentage (SF%). FF% tracks unblocked shot attempts, which means in tonight’s game, the Capitals weren’t able to find open seams in the defense and lanes for shots weren’t conducive to getting a shot on goal.

On the other hand, the Sharks, even when they weren’t controlling the majority of CF%, were still at worst 50% of SF%. The reason? The location of shot attempts.

Let’s take a look at the shot map during 5 on 5 play, courtesy of Natural Stat Trick:

The Sharks highest concentration of shot attempts occurred in the low slot, right in front of Ilya Samsonov. That’s a high-danger area.

The Capitals had some concentration of shot attempts there, but really had only slight areas of concentration around the offensive zone. These high-danger area shot attempts result in high danger chances, which looked like this for the Capitals:

Yes, at their worst, the Sharks controlled 60% of high danger chances (HDCF%) in a given period (the third period in particular). The first period and second period are even more dominant for the Sharks in that regard.

It’s hard to win games when you fail to suppress high danger chances. The Capitals generated eight HDCF all game during five-on-five play. The Sharks doubled that. The Capitals aren’t attempting to shoot from the most dangerous spots on ice. Part of that is attributed to good defense, and the Sharks should get some credit there too.

This ties into expected goals for percentages (xGF%) as well, and here’s how the Caps fared by period:

The Capitals had an expected goals for of 1.96 during five-on-five play, which they fell short of. The Sharks had an expected goals for of 3.66, and they scored three goals during five-on-five play. Realistically, the Sharks scored what they deserved, and the Caps did too.


The Capitals aren’t going to win a lot of games if they turn in efforts like this one. The start of the third period was their strongest effort of the night, but it ended up not mattering much when the Sharks extended their lead, again.

The Capitals need to find ways to generate higher quality scoring chances and get to the dangerous areas on the ice for scoring opportunities. On top of that, they’re also not going to get very far if they continue to give up the types of high-danger chances in the low slot.

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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2 Responses to Slow Start Dooms Capitals Against Sharks: Inside The Numbers

  1. Tough to watch says:

    Winning games is not easy. Nothing in life is easy. The beginning of the season seemed easy and things went well. Now that it’s not, the team plays predictable and acts blasé. The powerplay exhibits all of their vulnerability. Everything cannot be Ovi. Use him as a decoy and move around. There’s enough video that the league has their game. As a fan, I’ve become indifferent and blasé too. Not good. It’s contagious.

    • Jon Sorensen says:

      I get your perspective. You’re not the only one. However, I’ll counter with all teams go through a slump at some point during the season. Pittsburgh had theirs early in the season, etc. The team has way too much talent to not start winning games.

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