Breaking Down Games 3 And 4 Of The Capitals-Panthers Series: By The Numbers

Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images

Home ice advantage has shifted back to the Florida Panthers after squeaking out a 3-2 victory in Game 4 in overtime. The OT loss washed out a tremendous effort by goaltender Ilya Samsonov and sends the series back to Sunrise for an all important Game 5 matchup that may ultimately determine the outcome of the series.

In this post, we’ll be taking a look at some of the key metrics and performances through Game 3 and Game 4.

If you’d like to check out the breakdown of Games 1 and 2, you can see that here.

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 3

Let’s check out how the possession stats shook out in Game 3, in particular Corsi For (CF%), Fenwick For (FF%), and Shots For (SF%) percentages:

If you read the statistical breakdown of Game 1 and Game 2, you’d see a similar trend that is surfacing here. The Panthers are a great possession team that generates a lot of shot attempts and regularly hems teams in their own end.

The shot attempts that were generated only tell a part of the story, and we can see that here in chance generation and conversion:

The key to success for the Capitals in their Game 1 victory was allowing the Panthers to have their quantity of shot attempts, but the Capitals would control the quantity of the quality chances, or scoring chances. In particular, the Capitals generated a higher percentage of high danger scoring chances (HDCF) and overall scoring chances (SCF) during five on five play. This resulted in the Capitals scoring all of the goals that presented from scoring chances or high danger scoring chances. Here’s how it impacts goals for (GF) and expected goals for (xGF) percentages:

The reality is, the better the chance, the more likely the result is scoring a goal. On the other hand, the more swings of the bat (read: shots on goal and shots attempted), the more of a chance of an expected goal occurs. This is where the quantity versus quality argument effectively evens out in the end.

This formula seems to be the so-called “secret sauce” for the Capitals when they’re successful in this series. The Panthers were the best offensive team in the regular season, while also posting the highest percentages in CF% and FF%. They are going to get shots on net, but the key is reducing the overall scoring chances and high danger chances. Enter the neutral zone trap.

The Capitals have not had a very heavy handed forecheck this series, instead dropping back into the neutral zone to clog passing lanes and make it incredibly more difficult for Florida’s skill players to carry the puck through the neutral zone and into the offensive zone. This will have an effect on generating more shot attempts for Florida. since they’ll have less opportunities for plays off the rush, and effectively, more shots from the perimeter of the defense.

5v5 Performance in Game 4

Game 4 was ripe for the taking, and nearly resulted in the Capitals leading the best-of-seven series three games to one. Unfortunately, a shot on an empty net that veered mere inches wide of the target and an insane bounce off Garnet Hathaway to Sam Reinhart in the low slot for the game tying goal resulted in the series being tied 2-2.

Here’s the interesting piece: the main difference between the outcomes in Game 2 (a 5-1 loss) and Game 4 (a 3-2 OT loss) was goaltending. The statistics are very similar in terms of trends between Game 2 and Game 4, but the Capitals were right in the mix instead of being blown out after 2 periods. Here’s the possession stats:

For context, in Game 2, the Panthers controlled 59.57 CF%, 60.87 FF%, and 63.46 SF%. The possession numbers that the Panthers posted in Game 4 were better than that. A part of that was the Capitals getting that one goal lead that persisted until the last few moments of the third period and sitting back (or turtling, some might say) to keep the Panthers from getting an easy rush goal to tie the game. Here’s how the chance generation played out:

Luckily the Capitals didn’t perform nearly as badly as they had in Game 2, where they didn’t post a goal during five-on-five play. The Panthers controlled 62.75 SCF% and 66.67 HDCF% in Game 2. The main thing is, the Capitals didn’t control the quality aspect, outright. The Panthers had more overall scoring chances during five-on-five play. Realistically, they controlled both quality and quantity. Here’s the impact on xGF% vs GF%:

With both quantity and quality under control, the Panthers controlled the lion’s share of expected goals. The reason why the Caps kept themselves in Game 4 until the end was due to timely saves from Samsonov and special teams supremacy. Game 4 was a bit too conservative, offensively and resulted in the Panthers controlling the puck for most of the contest. The Caps made the most of their minimal chances.

Conclusion

The Capitals should look back to their performances in Game 1 and Game 3 for the formula to beat the Panthers, especially with the goaltending they’ve been getting from Samsonov. If the idea is to let the Panthers control the quantity of shot attempts and overall shots on goal, then it is absolutely imperative for the Capitals to control the majority of the quality chances.

That, and it’s time to tighten up the discipline. The Panthers had the fifth-ranked power play in the regular season at 24.4%. They’re bound to score at least one power play goal this series.

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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