Slow Start Dooms Capitals Against Senators: By The Numbers

Photo: @Capitals

The Washington Capitals had a sleepy start to their Super Bowl Sunday matinee against the Senators, falling into a two-goal deficit by the end of the first period. There’s a greater trend of the Capitals having a lack of success when trailing after the first period that we’ll cover in the course of this post.

The statistics used in this post are courtesy of Hockey Reference and Natural Stat Trick. If you’d like to learn more about the statistics used in this post, please check out our analytics glossary.

The Capitals do not fare well when they start the game slow. According to Hockey Reference, the Capitals are now 6-6-5 when giving up the first goal, including 3-6-3 at home. To compound that, when trailing after the first period, their record is 3-4-5 overall and 3-4-3 at home.

To put that into perspective, all but two games where the Capitals trailed after the first period happened while playing at Capital One Arena.

Here’s a look at the splits in five on five statistics for the first period against Ottawa:

The long story short here is that the Senators completely outclassed the Capitals in the first period in every important metric except for scoring chances for (SCF%). Even so, the percentage difference makes it look better than it actually was, since the Capitals only out-chanced the Senators 7-6 in the first.

These kinds of efforts (or lack thereof) is what sets the tone for the game. It’s clear this team rarely recovers from slow starts. The two-goal deficit to start the second period was clearly too much for the Capitals to recover from today.

The Capitals did make a push during five-on-five play in the second and third periods, and ended up leading each of the categories in the graphic above, outside of high-danger chance percentage and expected goals for percentage. Not to point out the obvious, but it’s really hard to win when you’re outscored 3-0 during five-on-five play.

The skaters in front of Ilya Samsonov made his job much more difficult. When you go and look at the five-on-five statistics for save percentage and see Samsonov sitting at an .870 save percentage, you might think he had a bad game. That lacks the context of him facing seven high-danger shots against and four medium-danger shots against. Samsonov allowed two high-danger goals against and one medium-danger goal against.

There’s another interesting tidbit about today’s matchup, and that’s Laviolette’s decision for Ovechkin’s linemates. After the win in Montreal on Thursday, it makes some sense that Laviolette would decide to keep the trio of Joe Snively, Evgeny Kuznetsov, and Tom Wilson together with Ovechkin out of the lineup, due to border policies in Canada.

But, looking at the statistics this season for Ovechkin and how his line performs with Kuznetsov versus Nicklas Backstrom as his center is really intriguing:

If we look at raw percentages for this data, it’s clear that Ovechkin and Kuznetsov are a lot more effective on the ice together than Ovechkin is with Backstrom. Not only is the Ovechkin line worse, defensively with Backstrom, but it’s also worse offensively.

The other piece of context here is that Ovechkin and Kuznetsov have played a lot more together than Ovechkin has with Backstrom. Here are these statistics over a rate of 60 minutes played:

The rates tell a similar story for Corsi shot attempts for and against, as well as true shots on goal. Ovechkin is on the ice for a higher rate of shot attempts against and shots on goal against when deployed with Backstrom than when he’s deployed with Kuznetsov. Here’s goals for and against with expected goals for and against:

Still pretty affirming here. Ovechkin is considerably more effective offensively when deployed with Kuznetsov. Ovechkin and Kuznetsov are on the ice for a lower rate of goals against when deployed together. To put it bluntly, Ovechkin and Kuznetsov should be two-thirds of the first line every time they’re both healthy and playing in a game.


The Capitals and slow starts can no longer be muttered in the same breath together. With the lineup still reeling a bit from absences from key contributors like T.J. Oshie, the level of effort has to be there from the start. The Capitals need more three-period efforts than what they’re putting out there recently.

That, and keep Ovechkin and Kuznetsov on the same line. They’re more effective in every phase of the game when together.

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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6 Responses to Slow Start Dooms Capitals Against Senators: By The Numbers

  1. Franky619 says:

    It should always be 8-92-43 like the first few months of the season and during the stanley cup run of 2018. 4ht line should also remain the same 62-26-21. 2nd and 3rd line you just mix and match and hope for the best. Backstrom is’nt much better than Eller stop trying justify his contract by hoping Ovy carries him. Also Sheary should’nt play 1st line he’s more useful 2nd or 3rd sheltered from chacking line and 1st pair Dmen.

  2. Anonymous says:

    Play the young guys.

  3. Franky619 says:

    By the way great article, I feel like it’s obvious with the eye test that Ovy and Kuzy make a more dynamic and more efficient duo than Ovy and Nick but it’s nice when the advanced stats tell the same story.

  4. Diane Doyle says:

    It’s gotten to the point where I’m considering bringing a book to home games so I can read when the games go south.

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