The playoffs are upon us! The Caps and Bruins start a best-of-7 series tomorrow night which should promise to be at the very least interesting. Despite the difference in record, both teams are coming in on massive hot streaks, which should make for a pretty wild ride. So here’s all the numbers and advanced analytics that you should keep in mind as the roller coaster that is the next two weeks gets underway. Unless otherwise stated, all data used in this article comes from Natural Stat Trick, and many of the graph formats take inspiration from those used on HockeyViz.com.
Let’s start with the Caps and then move on to the Bruins, and start off with the more simple topics before getting more in depth. For starters, let’s look at how the teams have performed over the course of the season. Expected Goals measures both the quantity and quality of shot attempts a team has taken in the course of a game. So by looking at the percentage of expected goals belonging to a team (as opposed to its opponents) we can approximate how well they played. Looking at this over the course of the season gives us a picture of how each team is trending as we head into the playoffs.
Keeping in mind that you generally want to be above 50% the Caps started off the season quite poorly. A lot of that is due to needing to warm up to Peter Laviolette’s system. And once they did, they took off putting up impressive numbers throughout February, despite missing key pieces. Meanwhile the Bruins were going through a pretty hefty slump during the same time.
March was dreary for the Caps while the Bruins hit their rock bottom early in the month and began a hot streak that would last until the end of the season. The Caps had their rock bottom moment just before April Fool’s Day, and have since been steadily improving.
Long story short, both teams are coming into this series having won several of their last few games, and doing it by heavily outplaying their opponents (not just getting lucky random bounces) so this should be a pretty exciting series. Which is great for people who aren’t a fan of either team. For those of us who are emotionally invested though, I think this is going to be an absolute emotional roller coaster.
Washington Skater Performance 5v5
First, a brief explanation of what you’re looking at. The red coloring indicates the performance of non-Caps players, on other playoff teams, just to add a little context. The darker the red, the more players there. For example, in their time with the Caps, Mantha and Raffl have been abnormally good, meaning they are in the lightest region. Meanwhile, Dillon and Hathaway have played about the same as a lot of other players on playoff teams, so they are in the darkest region. Again, expected Goals measure both the Quantity, and Quality of shot attempts.
Obviously seeing Ovechkin so far down is a little concerning, but keep in mind he usually HEAVILY out scores his own expected goals, so his actual goals look a lot better, which we will get to shortly. Mantha and Raffl have clearly settled in with the new team (although some of that can be attributed to them joining the team after the team as a whole had learned Laviolette’s system, and shown dramatic improvement).
Also, Jensen has shown a lot of confidence this season when it comes to offense, but he has been a phenomenal shut down guy for the Caps. Another point we will explore further later on is change over the course of the season, which will explain what Schultz is doing so far down in the “Bad” region, after such a promising start.
There’s a lot of good here, looking at where the Caps are, relative to other teams. Getting a lot of good opportunities is one thing, but lets take a look at how well they have or haven’t been converting on those chances.
As expected, having Ovechkin on the ice drastically improves the Caps odds of scoring. The same is true of Sprong and Kuznetsov. I’m a little surprised at how snakebitten it would appear Eller was this season, considering he’s one of the team leaders in Expected Goals. Raffl’s apparent ability to keep pucks away from, and out of the net should prove quite useful considering the Caps’ current goaltending situation.
Of course, you can’t discuss playoff related analytics without discussing the fact that coming into the playoff hot can play a massive impact on how well you do. Just ask 2018 Holtby. His performance dramatically improved from the first half of the season to the second, and while it wasn’t enough to make him the starter, it was enough to propel him to the greatest 16 game stretch this team has ever seen.
With that in mind, here’s how Caps players have performed in terms of Expected Goals in the Second half of the season.
The team as a whole improved during the second half of the season, as almost everybody showed improvement. The biggest changes were to the defense though, as the splitting of Dillon from Carlson spurred both players to reach levels of success they really hadn’t been able to achieve together.
On the other hand, Schultz, in the limited minutes he did get in the latter half of the season struggled heavily, which almost makes me wonder if he was ailing even before he started missing games, considering how strong his performance was in the first half of the season.
Of the 6 Players who’s xGF% got worse going from the first half of the season to the second, Kuzy and Schultz were the only two who fell far enough to drop below 50% (well, Vrana too but that’s a whole different matter).
The most consistent players were the two oldest guys, Chara and Ovechkin who showed very little change in xGF% over the course of the season, although each had a very minor improvement.
As far as how the lines should go, I’m very excited about the idea Ovi-Backstrom-Mantha as a top line. While we don’t have enough minutes of them together, to make a full judgement, both wingers play phenomenally with Backstrom. Ovi and Backstrom together is a goal scoring machine (this year they’ve outscored their expected goals by almost 250%). And well…. Backstrom and Mantha have done this:
If I were Laviolette, what I’d go with (at least until Kuzy returns- if he does) is as follows:
But alas, I am not Laviolette, so it is not my call to make.
To wrap up 5v5 skater talk, lets take a brief glimpse on the other side of the fence at who were the key drivers behind Boston’s second half resurgence.
Boston 5v5 Second half Performance
Holy crap Taylor Hall. That dude has spent his career bouncing around from lottery team to lottery team, and been “overrated” everywhere he went, and then he finally makes it onto a halfway decent team and look what happens. Also, you have no idea how livid it makes me to see Marchand that deep into the good corner. Fun fight trivia of the day, courtesy of hockeyfights.com, did you know that of his 10 Career fights, 2 have come against Washington. Once against Eller (during the Banner Raising game when we put up a 7 spot on them) and once against Mike Rebeiro?
I’m not entirely sure what Frederic is going to do for them aside from trying to annoy Wilson. If there’s going to be any fights this series, you can guarantee that it will be those two.
In any event the Caps are going to need to find a way to slow down Taylor Hall’s wild ride if they want to win this series.
The importance of winning the special teams battle cannot possibly be understated. In the Ovechkin era, the Caps have won exactly 2/3 of their games when scoring a powerplay goal. For reference, in the same time frame, if they fail to score a powerplay goal and still score at least one goal of any other kind, they’ve won just 38% of the time.
So who wins the special teams battle? Well that’s an interesting question. According to NHL.com, when the Caps get the man advantage, they will be pretty evenly matched. The Caps have the 3rd best PP unit in the league, operating at 24.8% efficiency, while the Bruins kill penalties about 86% of the time, which is 2nd best in the league.
The Caps penalty killers will have a slight advantage against the Bruins PP squad (though not by much), as they kill about 84% of penalties (5th best in NHL), while the Bruins PP capitalizes on just 22% of their chances (10th best).
Of course, the next logical question to ask is, since the two teams are so evenly matched, who is most likely to put themselves down a man? If you guessed, “well obviously it’s the Caps because they can never stop taking penalties” YOU WOULD BE WRONG. While the Caps take a slightly above average 3.63 penalties/60, the Bruins take even more, penalizing themselves 3.89 times per hour, which is 3rd worst in the league.
So as long as the boys don’t let Trent Frederic get under their skin (as they have before during this season).
Last but certainly not least, we come to arguably the most important position in the sport goalie. The Bruins Coach has confirmed for us that the starting goalie will be Tuuka Rask (who’s number the Caps have had over the last few years). The backup Swayman is certainly not going to be a pushover if he gets into the action. Rask has been a slightly below average goalie at 5v5 this year, allowing 39 goals on 35 expected goals, while Swayman has been dominant analytically, although presumably in much easier minutes.
The Caps have been much closer to the vest about who the starting goalie is.
To be frank, it feels mostly like a bit of gamesmanship, to me, as everything that has happened in the last 3 weeks points to Vanecek being the starter for game one. His .918 Save percentage at 5v5 this season is only a little below average, and he’s shown some flashes. He doesn’t quite have Samsonov’s game stealing ability which would come in handy during the playoffs, but he is a reliable goalie. I guess we will just have to see what happens
Again, this is going to be a very closely matched series analytically, particularly if you keep in mind more recent play. I think the Bruins have the advantage at 5v5, but the Caps have the advantage in terms of momentum and special teams. Regardless of who wins, I think it’s going to go at least 6 games.