Breaking Down The First Two Games Of The Capitals-Panthers Series: By The Numbers

Photo by Joel Auerbach/Getty Images

After a…humbling experience in a Game 2 Thursday night against the Florida Panthers, the series is headed back to DC knotted up 1-1. Through the first three and a half periods of the series against the Panthers, the Capitals looked like they had risen to the occasion against the league’s best team in the regular season and that the gap in team talent wasn’t quite as wide as the playoff seeding might tell you. On the contrary, the following two and a half periods weren’t quite so promising.

In this post, we’re going to be taking a look at some key metrics and performances through the series so far. We’ll unpack some key areas where the Caps are performing well, and not so well.

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

5v5 Performance in Game 1

First up, let’s take a look at some of the possession stats, mainly Corsi For percentage (CF%), Fenwick For percentage (FF%), and Shots For percentage (SF%) in Game 1:

Overall, the Panthers controlled a higher percentage of all shot attempts (CF%) and unblocked shot attempts (FF%). This isn’t quite a surprise because the Panthers led the NHL in CF% in the regular season with 56.36 CF% and in FF% with 56.06.

The Caps did take the advantage in actual shots on goal, but it’s clear that the Panthers had more swings of the bat in the offensive zone during five-on-five play, .

Now, let’s take a look at chance generation and conversion:

This is where the stats start to tell an interesting story. Although the Capitals allowed more shot attempts than they attempted themselves, the Caps controlled overall scoring chances and high danger scoring chances in Game 1. As a result, the Capitals scored more goals off of scoring chances.

To connect the dots a bit from the last graphic to this one, although the Capitals didn’t attempt as many shots in the offensive zone, they generated a higher ratio of shot attempts to dangerous chances. This is effectively the trade-off of quantity versus quality exemplified: the Panthers scored two goals during five-on-five play because of sheer quantity of shots attempted versus the Capitals scoring two goals during five-on-five play because of quality of chances.

Here’s expected goals for percentage (xGF%) versus actual goals for percentage (GF%):

The narrative continues here. xGF is weighed heavily by high danger and overall scoring chances, so it’s not a surprise that the Capitals held the advantage here in Game 1 of the series.

Goaltending Performance in Game 1

In Game 1, the Capitals were able to hold the league’s best offensive team to a mere two goals, down from their 4.06 GF/60 rate in all situations during the regular season. Here’s a look at save percentages between Bobrovsky and Vitek Vanecek:

During five-on-five play, the goaltending was extremely comparable in terms of overall save percentages. Vanecek did outperform Bobrovsky on high danger save percentage (HDSV%), but overall, they did each only allow two goals during five-on-five play.

Here’s where the trend in Game 1 starts to be concerning, and might have predicted the future for Game 2’s meltdown:

Here’s the deal: Bobrovsky may have given up two goals, but his expected goals against (xGA) was slightly higher at 2.19. Vanecek gave up slightly more goals than expected since his xGA figure was down at 1.73.

A large part of this is that the Capitals limited the amount of high danger chances in front of Vanecek, where the Capitals generated more high danger and overall scoring chances on offense.

The Capitals were generating more dangerous scoring chances and shot attempts, which spikes the xGF% and also drops the average shot distance since more shots were attempted in the higher danger areas of the ice, like the low slot.

The Capitals forced the Panthers to throw more pucks on net from the perimeter of the offensive zone, resulting in a higher average shot distance. The issue is, Vanecek’s average allowed goal distance is over double that of Bobrovsky’s. You can’t ask for much more from the defense than forcing shots from nearly 41 feet away from the goal on average.

5v5 Performance in Game 2

This one isn’t pretty. Here’s the possession metrics for Game 2:

This is what it looks like when you let the NHL’s highest scoring and best possession team in the regular season have its way. Utter domination in the offensive zone, and a whole lot of one-and-dones in the defensive zone. If the Capitals want to win more than one game in this series, there can’t be more of these types of performances.

What’s quite shocking is just how bad these numbers are considering the fact that the Capitals actually had a really strong possession performance in the first period (55.17 CF%, 63.16 FF%, and 60 SF%).

This is the point of concern: The Capitals entered the third period trailing 5-1. Most teams push harder when they’re trailing and at least try to muster a comeback. The Panthers’ third period was by far their most dominant. They controlled 71.88% of Corsi attempts, 80% of Fenwick attempts, 84.21% of shots on goal, and 100% of high danger chances during five-on-five play. That domination resulted in controlling 92.9% of expected goals for in the third frame. Ilya Samsonov entered the third period in relief to be greeted with a firing squad.

There’s not even much to say other than the tables turned greatly on the Caps in Game 2 when it came to chance generation and converting on those chances. The Caps failed to record a goal on a scoring or high danger chance, and the Panthers controlled the vast majority of those chances.

The graphic above tells you the recipe for giving up five goals against during five-on-five play and scoring zero in the meantime.

This is just more fodder for telling the story for just how bad the Caps were at five-on-five play in Game 2. Goaltending surely wasn’t winning you the game, but the performance in front of Vanecek outside of the first period wasn’t winning you the game either.

5v5 Goaltending Performance

For this one, we’ll focus on the two starting goalies and not Samsonov who joined the game in relief for the third period. While Samsonov performed extremely admirably in relief, the issues were with Vanecek.

Bobrovsky was perfect during five-on-five play while Vanecek’s numbers were paltry. A .706 SV% during five-on-five play is going to result in a loss 99.99% of games outside of a 10-9 offensive extravaganza.

The next graphic is where it starts to sting a bit more:

The Capitals actually forced a lot of shots from the perimeter. Vanecek faced more shots from distance than Bobrovsky did, and it resulted in Vanecek allowing five more goals against than Bobrovsky. The volume surely doesn’t help, but the average goal distance being down at 20.2 feet on average means that some longer range shots went in that should’ve been stopped.

And the coup de grâce: Vanecek’s five-on-five xGA was lower than Bobrovsky’s (likely due to the fact he only played two periods). Ultimately, Bobrovsky kept the Panthers in the game when the play in front of him faltered in the second, and Vanecek didn’t bail out the Caps when they needed him.

A key example of this is Marchment’s goal mere moments after the Caps scored on the power play to draw the game within one in the second period. A save there might have sealed a different fate for the Caps in Game 2.

Conclusion

The themes that plagued the Caps in the regular season have continued into the playoffs: wildly inconsistent goaltending and wildly inconsistent performances overall. Goaltending isn’t solely to blame for the meltdown in Game 2, but the Capitals need to adjust on both ends of the rink (and likely in the neutral zone) to keep the Panthers at bay.

A first round upset over the President’s Trophy winning Panthers is much more attainable with performances like Game 1. Keep an eye out to see if the Capitals can rebound from a humbling, blowout loss in a matinee matchup on Saturday.

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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