For the first time since the 2016-17 season, the Capitals lost their season opener, dropping the tilt against the Boston Bruins 5-2. The overall performance was mired by a powerless power play, defensive miscues, and the inability to generate high-danger chances at a high enough rate to keep pace with the Bruins for the duration of the game.
We’ll take a deeper look at some of the underlying statistics for tonight’s game in this post. The statistics used in this post are courtesy of Natural Stat Trick. If you’d like to learn more about the statistical terms used in this post, please check out our NHLAnalytics Glossary.
The way the statistics panned out for this game really tells the story of why the Capitals ended up losing this game. Here’s a breakdown of a few of the key metrics we use to measure team performance during five-on-five play:
For large swaths of the game, the Capitals owned possession of the puck in the offensive zone and generated shot attempts at a higher rate than the Bruins. The issue we start to see is the quality of those shot attempts were not as a result of an increase in scoring chances or high-danger scoring chances.
The Bruins generated 24 scoring chances during five-on-five play to the Capitals’ 18. On top of that, the Bruins had 10 high danger chances to the Capitals’ seven. That discrepancy in scoring chances and high-danger chances is what drove the expected goals for percentage (xGF%) to skew towards the Bruins, even though the Capitals generated more shot attempts.
This is not to say that generating more shot attempts is a net negative. It’s shot attempts in the right places that generate high-danger chances, like a rebound to the low slot or a deflection.
Often times, the Caps were taking shots from low danger angles, where the Bruins’ shot attempts were more focused in higher danger areas. Here’s a visual from Natural Stat Trick to illustrate that:
The Bruins’ shot heat map is largely centered in the slot area between the faceoff circles. All three of their five-on-five tallies occurred in that area. Shots from that area on the ice are more likely to have to travel through a lot of bodies (see David Pastrnak’s goal in the first period) or are a result of a high danger chance (like David Krejci’s third period goal that iced the Caps’ chances at a comeback).
On the other hand, the Capitals did have a concentration of shot attempts from the low slot, but the other areas of excess attempts were outside of the faceoff dots and low in the zone. Those are easy angles for goalies to take on shots, so the odds of those goals–outside of perfect shots–are relatively low.
Five-on-five performance by forward lines
With the Caps’ revamped forward group which includes the new additions of Connor Brown and Dylan Strome, many (including me) were interested in seeing how the new lines would perform without much chemistry being built, due to it being so early on in the season. One line did not disappoint in terms of underlying statistical performance:
The Aliaksei Protas, Strome, and Anthony Mantha line was unreal tonight during five-on-five play. This kind of performance is going to make it tough for Peter Laviolette to consider moving Protas off that line and getting Connor McMichael more minutes.
They controlled the pace of play, generated a goal, and were successful in terms of generating high-danger chances and outpacing their competition in overall scoring chances. They were unlucky enough to be on the ice for a Bruins goal, though.
The surprising side was how much the Conor Sheary, Nic Dowd, and Garnet Hathaway line struggled outside of Sheary’s rush goal. They were out-possessed, out-chanced, and still somehow were not on the ice for a goal against. They were often hemmed into their zone and weren’t executing the cycle play in the offensive zone as much as we’ve been accustomed to with their play in the past.
Overall, the results are decently promising moving forward. It’s clear that the entire team needs to tighten up defensively so they can stifle scoring chances and high danger chances, while springing their own high danger chances on counter attacks.
There should be no panic as a result of the performance tonight. It’s just the start of a long season, and there are some promising signs in tonight’s loss. There are definitely some adjustments needed on the power play in terms of execution.
On top of that, the Capitals really need to tighten up defensively and limit high danger chances against. The best goalies in the world (and Darcy Kuemper is included here) can only stop so many high-quality chances. The Caps need to play better in front of Kuemper and Lindgren to put them in the best possible position to succeed.
By Justin Trudel