Tom Wilson draws (and takes) a lot of penalties. (Photo: Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
Throughout the season, the Washington Capitals have generated a lot of offense during four-on-four play. With Tom Wilson, who leads the Caps in penalties taken and drawn per 60 minutes of ice time, expected to return to the line-up, it’s not farfetched to think we may see some coincidental penalties doled in the first round series against the Islanders.
While four-on-four play only accounted for 178.5 of the 5002 minutes of the time Caps spent on the ice during the regular season, the Caps scored 13 goals (good for second in the league and among playoff teams) in those situations, meaning they scored at a rate roughly 57 percent higher than in all situations and almost twice as high as during the five-on-five play.
The Caps dominated teams not only in goals, but in possession as well. As a team, the registered 54.8-percent possession (compared to 51.4 percent during five-on-five). Interestingly, that dominance was mostly due to Washington’s efforts suppressing the opposition’s shots; they were fifth best in the league in shots against per 60 minutes.
All players who spent 30 or more minutes on the ice during four-on-four except for one (Marcus Johansson) found themselves on the right side of the Corsi chart. They also clearly had puck luck in those situations, evidenced by a PDO above 100 and a goal percentage higher than Corsi percentage, but they’re also very talented offensively.
Very small sample sizes for Fehr, Johansson, Kuznetsov, and Alzner.
Barry Trotz and his coaching staff achieved such an impressive showing from his players by using Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom a lot– and why not? The numbers indicate that the Caps’ dynamic duo tilts the ice towards the opposition net in a big way (Ovi is in the top-10 in the league in 4v4 possession for players with more than 50 minutes of ice time). The results of their work aren’t just luck: in fact, Ovi and Nick have two of the lowest PDO numbers amongst the team’s four-on-four mainstays. Also notice that the Caps regularly used just two pairs of defensemen: Karl Alzner and whoever was the team’s sixth defenseman during the season didn’t see much ice time four-on-four.
But the Caps’ four games in the regular season against the Islanders tell a different story. No goals were scored by either team in 11:25 of four-on-four ice time (The Caps actually dropped two overtime decisions to the Isles; both times New York struck on the overtime power play). The Caps didn’t get into a firewagon type of game like they usually do which might be wise considering the skill and speed that the Islanders have, but it also tied up their own weapons. The sample size in head-to-head games is far too small to draw big conclusions, but one thing is for certain: when the Caps faced the Islanders this season, four-on-four was a tie, despite the fact that the opposition is consistently in the middle of the pack in all metrics in four-on-four: 15th in shot-attempt percentage (13th in generation and 20th in suppression), and 14th in goals-for percentage, and the Caps, as shown above, are among the league’s best.
Here are a few of the teams’ four-on-four highlights:
Which Caps team shows up during this series– the one that scored more than 80 percent of goals during four-on-four this season or the one that couldn’t convert in those situations against the Isles– may be one of the factors deciding the Caps’ success this series.