Let me interrupt your Friday afternoon with a downer. The conversation of the day goes like this: the Capitals are enjoying results that they don’t deserve, those lucky bastards.
Sean Tierney of Today’s Slapshot prompted it with the graph below.
In exciting news, we have a new leader in GF% exceeding xGF%. Please welcome WSH to the top of the chart.
CAR continues its hold. pic.twitter.com/YWq86TmK3I
— Sean Tierney (@ChartingHockey) January 6, 2017
Sean’s graph shows the gap between expected goal percentage and actual goal percentage. Expected goals is a statistic delivered by Emmanuel Perry of Corsica. The stat combines shot volume and shot quality (location and type) to predict what goal percentage we should expect based on a team’s output and suppression.
The Caps do not excel at expected goals. That they lead the league in the distance between actual and expected goals might raise some eyebrows. In recent years we’ve seen the Avalanche, Leafs, and Wild seemingly dominate in a similar way. But they were paper tigers — with fearsome shooting percentages and little else.
That’s not the case with the Caps, who are in the top six of most offense-to-defense percentage stats.
|Shot attempt %||4th||53.5|
|Unblocked shot attempt %||6th||52.4|
|Shot on goal %||6th||52.5|
|Scoring chance %||14th||50.8|
|Expected goal %||11th||51.5|
Numbers from Corsica, adjusted by score and venue
Still, it’s clear that Washington is not dominating scoring chances. Micah McCurdy’s heatmap of Caps unblocked shots helps illustrate that the team isn’t crashing the net. Blue means below league average.
They’re great from higher in the slot, but not from the “home plate” scoring-chance zone. (They’re also not great at clearing their own crease.)
Add that to a possible overperformance in shooting and saving, and that’s how you get a mediocre expected goals number.
But the Capitals are shooting 8.9 percent, 5th best in the league, and they’re saving 93.9 percent, 4th best in the league. What we have to ask ourselves is a) are those numbers higher than the talent of this team?, and b) by how much?
I think the answers are a) sure, but b) not by much.
On the shooting side, Winnik and Oshie, both north of 20-percent during 5-on-5, are definitely scoring above their heads. As are Beagle and Johansson. But the team’s most prolific shooter, Alex Ovechkin, is shooting 11.8 percent, just a tick above last year’s 11.7. And the defense until very recently had been ice cold.
On defense, the Caps are icing last year’s Vezina winner for best goalie, and he shows no signs of backsliding this year. Braden Holtby has been superb at 5-on-5, flirting with 94 percent of shots on goal saved, and back-up Philipp Grubauer is no slouch either.
I agree with JP. We’ll probably see shooting and saving drop. But as long as the Capitals keep their fundamentals strong — disrupting the attack, getting through neutral, and generating offense — they’ll remain one of the league’s elite teams. Because even when luck fades, they’re still a damn good team.
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