Photo: Joe Sargent/NHLI via Getty Images
From a statistics standpoint, Tuesday night’s overtime win against the Penguins was one of those games where you look at the breakdown of possession stats during five-on-five play and wonder how this game was even close. At the end of the day, hockey is a sport where games can be decided by the random bounce of the puck.
Although the vast majority of the statistics we use to measure the quality of a performance shows that the Penguins had the advantage, there’s a story to be told here as to why the Capitals were still successful.
From an advanced analytics’ perspective, this game was a tale of two games: what happened in the first period, and what happened after that. Here’s a look at the shot differential during five-on-five play by period:
The Capitals paltry two shots on goal in the first period during five-on-five play was certainly not a high-water mark for this squad. The Penguins also generating 19 Corsi shot attempts during the first period compared to the Caps’ five.
That’s not a recipe for success on most nights. The second period was still not good, but the Capitals entered the third period tied 3-3, with the unique opportunity to have a reset with the game tied.
The shots on goal differential turned positive, but that’s not all:
The Capitals really laid an egg in the first period, but in the second and third, generated seven high-danger chances for compared to four high danger chances against. So even with the shot differential heavily favoring the Penguins in the second, the Capitals controlled high-danger opportunities. That’s why the Capitals entered the third period tied.
The third period was by all measures extremely even, but the Caps still had the advantage in expected goals for percentage (xGF%):
Any period where you exit with a 2-2 tie after the first twenty minutes with a 12.18 xGF% is a net win. The Capitals controlled the majority of expected goals during five-on-five play after the low marks in the first.
- Realistically, what we can conclude from the game tonight is that the Capitals didn’t generate a large quantity of chances, but generated a high percentage of high danger chances proportional to the amount of shot attempts and shots on goal they generated.
This can be a dangerous game to play, though. First periods like the one we saw tonight are not a recipe for success. Without solid goaltending, a shorthanded goal, and a nifty goal on the power play, the Caps might be looking at a notch in the loss column instead of an overtime win.
By Justin Trudel