Capitals Squander Third Period Lead Against The Leafs: By The Numbers

The Washington Capitals dropped an important opportunity to grab two standings points against Toronto on Sunday night, losing in the shootout after squandering a two-goal lead late into the third period. With an outright victory, the Caps would have moved into a tie for third place in the Metro Division with the Pittsburgh Penguins with a game in hand. After tonight’s result, the Capitals are still slotted in the second wild card spot, staring down a matchup with the Florida Panthers.

If you’d like to learn more about the statistical terms used in this post, please check out our analytics glossary. Statistics in this post are courtesy of Natural Stat Trick.

Controlling 5-on-5 play

What makes the shootout loss against the Leafs sting even more than the playoff seeding scenario, is the fact that the Capitals borderline dominated the Leafs during five-on-five play: [Click to enlarge].

During five-on-five play, it’s hard to ask for much more from your forwards and defensemen. They controlled the lion’s share of all the key metrics. The skaters put together a full 60 minute effort during five-on-five play, and there’s not much you can complain about there.

The goals were there. The chances were there. The Caps took control of this game, during five-on-five play, from the start, and you can see how the pendulum swung in the Caps’ favor here:

The Caps held a strong advantage in shot attempt differential, which isn’t surprising considering the percentages shown above. Not only that, the Capitals continued pressing on the gas after Marcus Johansson scored to make the game 3-1 in the third period. You can see that push above after Johansson’s goal (the furthest right red dot) with the escalation in shot attempt differential.

All in all, a lot was done right, including shot suppression in the highest danger areas, as well as generating high volumes of shots in the right areas:

The Capitals two goals scored during five-on-five play were scored in the highest danger zone on the ice: right in front of the goal. The Caps forced more shot attempts from worse angles on the ice.

Lacking the timely save

So, if the Caps did mostly everything right tonight, why did they lose? There’s likely a few things that you can point to, but the one thing that stuck out like a sore thumb to me was the lack of the timely save.

Vanecek gave up two third period goals that were rather questionable, to say the least. The Ilya Mikheyev goal that brought the Leafs back within a one goal deficit was a shot that should be saved 99 of 100 times. Mikheyev shot from a bad angle with no screen, and beat Vanecek five hole.

Another point to add there is that there’s no way that Mikheyev should have been able to free wheel himself around the entirety of the Caps’ defensive structure. Still a save you expect your goaltender to make, though.

The game-tying goal was another one that I’m sure Vanecek wants back. He got back to his post lackadaisically, failed to get in position in time, and it resulted in Jason Spezza tying the game.

If Vanecek is in position on the post here, that puck doesn’t find its way in. The only way to explain it is that Vanecek wasn’t expecting the puck to be pushed back to the slot on a broken play behind the net.

Where to go from here?

It’s clear the Capitals have a group that’s capable of winning games here, but in the playoffs, the timely save is king. Think back to Game 2 of the 2018 Stanley Cup Finals, where Braden Holtby made “The Save”. The series could have panned out completely differently if Holtby doesn’t make that save. Which goalie on the roster can make that timely save? How do you decide to start game one of the playoffs at this point?

Good thing Peter Laviolette gets paid the big bucks to make that call.

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 Capitals Squander Third Period Lead Against The Leafs: By The Numbers

  1. Anonymous says:

    Ugh. That’s a blown point. The Caps did seem tired at the end, maybe not. First game back after long road trip is always dicey.

  2. Jon Sorensen says:

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