In four of the last seven games, the Washington Capitals have let a two-goal lead evaporate in front of their eyes, but it isn’t time to panic quite yet. In three of the four games, the Caps were able to right the ship and still win. Protecting leads is important in the NHL, and the Caps could get into trouble expecting to be able to squeak by in these types of games often.
In the past, the Caps have been good at protecting leads under Head Coach Barry Trotz. Last season, the Capitals were 21-0-1 when leading after the first and 37-0-1 when leading after the second. They ended the season at 34-2-2 when scoring first as well, which the Capitals have done in nine of the ten games so far this year. And while allowing multi-goal comebacks in four of seven games is not ideal, this kind of adversity in October and November can build the necessary character needed in May when, not if, this scenario were to arise again.
Alex Ovechkin and T.J. Oshie agreed.
“Good lessons and bad lessons,” Ovechkin said to the CSN Mid-Atlantic after last night’s game. “It was the same in Winnipeg. We got a 2-0 lead and you know, they almost had a point, and we’re lucky we scored. We just can’t stop playing. I think we stopped playing, we were too casual, so almost cost us a game.”
Oshie spoke specifically on the adversity aspect.
“We’ve always had since I’ve been here really good response against adversity I think,” Oshie said. “Giving up a three-goal lead, momentums’ on their side, you’ve got a little bit of adversity against you. I think we did a great job from the puck drop on the overtime and drawing that penalty and [Ovechkin] getting a big goal for us… so we’ll take this as a learning experience and move on and hopefully we can be better from it.”
So, why have the Caps been giving up multi-goal leads more often than not recently? And, how can they seemingly get out of the jam so easily? The answer lies in everyone’s favorite Entourage character: Turtle.
Photo via HBO
Turtling is basically when a team plays prevent defense as a game nears its end. Under Trotz, the Capitals have tended to turtle a lot late in games, but this season the Caps are executing better.
More turtling means fewer shot attempts for and more shot attempts against, as teams look to play it safe and extend more of a defensive posture. The key thing to look at here is the difference between shot attempts for and against in the Leading column.
It is natural for teams to allow more shots against than they attempt themselves when leading, but the gap has narrowed for the Caps. Last year the difference between shot attempts for and against was seven. This year the difference is only three.
And while their own attempts are down, the Caps shot attempts against are way down. The Capitals have been playing relatively even when leading. They are slowing the game down instead of only concentrating on the defensive posture.
Playing a little more even when leading can lead to some goals given up as opposing teams press, but it also makes it a little easier to flip the switch if the lead does evaporate. Furthermore, the Caps are downright dominating when tied where they are collecting 57 percent of shot attempts, 58 percent of shots, and 79 percent of goals.
One last thing to look at on that table is the shot attempt against stats for each score state. The Caps are six percent better this year when leading, three when trailing, and five percent better when tied. Their defenders are suppressing more shots, even while producing offensively.
That is great news.
Stats via Corsica
Featured image: Patrick Smith
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