Sporting event broadcasts come filled with narratives. This isn’t narratives in the baseless and meaningless “hot take” sense, but narratives as actual storytelling, which sometimes just happen to be baseless and meaningless. During the playoffs, narratives are thrown into high gear. Everyone likes a good story in their sports, and more eyes are on the sport during playoff time, so it makes sense to try to reel in the casual viewer with a good story.
But these stories, a.k.a. narratives, shouldn’t be told at the expense of facts. Some fact-less narratives are easy to detect. When an announcer basically makes it sound as if the Caps were the laughingstock of the NHL and Alex Ovechkin was a player not playing to his potential before Barry Trotz came around, the false narrative alarm should ring. After all, the Caps have been a playoff team, and at times a serious Cup contender, for much of the Ovechkin era, and Ovechkin himself has led the league in goals five times and won three MVP awards.
On the other hand, there are some narratives that aren’t as easy to evaluate for truthiness. Below are a couple narratives that have continued to pop up this series, whether it be on TV or in conversations with friends about the games. Being that the eye test can often lie to me, I wanted to take a deeper look.
Narrative #1: The Caps are doing a better job than the Rangers at blocking shots.
Barry Trotz has apparently taught the Caps how to play playoff hockey. I’m not taking issue with, nor affirming, that narrative. But one chapter of that story is that the Caps are doing a better job of blocking shots and clogging lanes than in years past. This may be true. But this series the Caps seem to be getting a lot of credit as being better than the Rangers are blocking shot. But is this really true?
The Caps have not only had more of their shots blocked, but the Rangers have blocked a much higher percentage of the Caps’ shot attempts, by a margin of 35.7 percent to 22.6 percent. So, if a bald man between the glass tells you that the Caps are leading in the series because they’ve done a better job of blocking shots than the Rangers, you can tune it out as a narrative that lacks truthiness. The Rangers have actually been the better shot-blocking team– both in the raw number of shot attempts blocked, and the percentage of shot attempts blocked.
Narrative #2: The Caps are doing a better job than the Rangers at keeping opponent shots to the outside.
Really, this is probably created by Rangers’ fans who don’t want to accept the fact that Braden Holtby is firmly entrenched in their head. But let’s take a look anyways.
The raw number of total shots that have been high danger is dead even for the series. The percentage of shots that have been high danger gives a little support to this narrative, but a four-percent difference in high danger shots over a seven-game series isn’t meaningful enough to be a driving narrative, especially when the team with the lower high-danger shot percentage has such a larger number of overall shots.
Storytelling is a vital part of sports and narratives is not a dirty word. For example, Holtby, who has been getting praise far and wide, really has been unbelievable. But the problem with narratives is they can sometimes spread without any basis in fact, especially on television as commentators are expected to talk endlessly for hours, so they are bound to fill the airwaves with meaningless or false words at some point during a broadcast. Unfortunately for us in Caps land, we don’t have Joe B and Locker, two guys who know this team very well, as the announcers in the second round. So, we are left with national broadcasters who aren’t as familiar with the team and therefore are more likely to miss the mark with their narratives. But we do still have a lot of folks who tell great and accurate stories about the team, including one of my favorites, Chris Gordon, right here on RMNB.
But once you venture outside of local coverage of our favorite team? Be wary the empty narratives, Caps fans
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