On Saturday night, the Caps finally lost their first game of the season in regulation. They lost, in part, because their penalty kill allowed a goal for the fourth time in five games and fell to 27th in the NHL in PK percentage.
After the game, Lars Eller said that, while there’s always room for improvement, he felt like the difference so far for the PK unit has been that they haven’t been getting the bounces. Here’s the thing: Eller’s right. So far, the Caps penalty kill hasn’t been allowing shots or scoring chances at an alarming rate, it’s just that pucks have been going in on a more regular basis, something that can happen in five game samples.
In looking at numbers from the Caps first fives games, it’s important to remember that the sample size isn’t big enough yet to be predictive. For example, we can’t say that the PK is going to be as good this season. But, the numbers can be descriptive, meaning we can say that through five games the Caps PK has played as well or better as the PK in previous seasons.
There are a few different numbers we can look at to try to get a picture of how the PK has performed. They are unblocked shot attempts, scoring chances, and expected goals. To get a feel for how the PK has performed, we’ll compare these three measures so far this season to previous seasons under Trotz. The numbers are courtesy of Corsica.
|Season||Unblocked shot attempts against/60||Scoring chances against/60||xGoals against/60|
So then, what gives? The unit is keeping fewer pucks from getting through, there’s no spike in scoring chances, and fewer goals should be getting scored, yet the unit is near the bottom of the league in PK percentage.
What’s happening is what can happen so easily in samples as small as five games. The Caps save percentage on the kill is unsustainably low at 76.5 percent. For perspective, the Caps save percentage when short-handed the last two seasons has been 88.7 percent and 89.0 percent. The huge dip so far this season helps to explain why the Caps expected goals against per 60 on the PK is 5.0 but their actual goals against per 60 is 10.1. We all know Braden Holtby will come around and that this has just been a fluky five games for the PK unit.
Don’t panic about the Caps PK. The process has been fine so far and there’s no reason at this time to think the process won’t continue to be fine. Holtby’s play at 4v5 will bounce back and, over the course of the season, it’s highly unlikely that the Caps PK will remain near the bottom of the league.
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