Photo: Patrick Smith
Thanks to the NHL’s obsession with attempting to create divisional rivalries, the two best teams in the Eastern conference will meet in the second round of the NHL playoffs. The Caps and Pens are all set to square off and the winner will be heavily favored to advance to the Stanley Cup.
The Caps went 2-3-0 against the Pens this season, with two of those losses coming during the final three weeks of the season, and one of them being a 6-2 thrashing.
We’re going to look at how both of these teams perform at 5-on-5 and what that may be able to tell us about the upcoming series.
In the five meetings, the Caps owned just 46.2 percent of the 5-on-5, score-adjusted shot attempts. Raw numbers wise, the shot attempts favored the Pens, 224-192.
Here’s a look at the season-long, score-adjusted shot attempt numbers from each team:
|Team||SA% (NHL rank)|
Over the course of the season, the Pens have the edge in 5-on-5 possession. But, for a fuller picture, here’s a look at the rolling, 20-game average for each team, courtesy of Corsica:
The Caps’ two swoons in possession are something we covered when sizing up the Flyers for the Caps first round series. What sticks out here from the Pens perspective is just how good the team was after Mike Sullivan took over as head coach. That dip at the end where it appears maybe Pittsburgh came back down to earth a bit? It’s still right around 55 percent, still a dominant puck possession number.
While there were reasons the Flyers had a shot at upsetting the Caps, the Penguins are a threat to win straight up, not as an upset but as a better team. These two are clearly the class of their conference and the showdown should be fantastic.
Puck possession is made up of two components, shot attempts for and against. Here’s how each team fared in those departments this season:
|Team||Shot Attempts For/60||Shot Attempts Against/60|
|Caps||54.8 (8th)||50.7 (11th)|
The difference between the two teams is that the Penguins generate more shot attempts. Defensively both teams are good, but not great, at limiting shot attempts from their opponent.
The Pens’ late dip in possession was due to them allowing more shot attempts against down the stretch, as this chart below of rolling, 20-game shot attempt against per 60 minutes shows:
Another major component of 5-on-5 play is PDO, which is a meaningless acronym that is a team’s combined save percentage and shooting percentage. In short, it can be a quick and dirty measure of puck luck. Here’s a luck at how each team has been running in that department:
No big stories here, although it is interesting that the teams experienced the ebbs and flows of the season at almost the complete opposite time as the other.
This should be a great series. The two best teams in the conference, each with a generational superstar surrounded by a great supporting cast, will do battle, head-to-head, in the playoffs for the first time since 2009.
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