In advance of Thursday night’s second round opener, we are taking a deeper dive into the Caps’ familiar foe, the Pittsburgh Penguins.
For this piece, we will look at goaltending. Soon we will check out special teams and five-on-five play. Below we’ve got the full breakdown of how these two teams stack up in this crucial area.
The first (and most obvious) question in regards to the Pens is who exactly the Caps will see in net. Matt Murray injured himself in pregame warmups prior to the start of the first round, and since then it’s been old stalwart Marc-Andre Fleury holding things down.
There is no indication that will change. Not only has Murray not even skated yet, but one has to wonder whether they would even yank the veteran Fleury at this point. Fleury put up a stellar .931 five-on-five save percentage in the Pens’ 4-1 series victory over the Columbus Blue Jackets, including a 49-save performance to close out the series. He was a tick better in all situations, with a .933 save percentage but a mediocre 2.5 goals-against average. He may have earned himself a bit of a leash.
Sullivan said Matt Murray has not skated yet.
— Jason Mackey (@JMackeyPG) April 24, 2017
Assuming it will be Fleury for the duration of the series, the Caps are getting a goaltender who, while very fresh, is indeed a step down from Murray. Fleury started just 38 games this season and posted only a .909 save percentage (all situations) and a 3.02 goals-against average. For context, Holtby posted a .925 save percentage and a 2.07 goals-against average (second only to Vezina favorite Sergei Bobrovsky). On the surface then, this would appear to be an area of advantage for the Capitals.
But when you look at how their save percentages changed over time, we can see that Holtby fell off over the last 20 or so games of the regular season, while Fleury was steadily… below average.
It’s hard to make too much of that. Holtby’s lowest lows this season were about league average, while Fleury consistently struggled to reach that level. Here are both goalies’ five-on-five stats through the regular season.
|Goals saved above average||26.5||4.3|
|Average shot distance against||34.2||33.7|
Where Holtby really shines is in the Corsica metric of “goals saved above average,” a calculated value that takes shot quality into account and estimates how many goals were saved above an “average” replacement-level goalie. This huge gulf helps us understand that, relative to their team environments, Holtby has been a much more effective goaltender this season than Fleury.
— Emmanuel Perry (@MannyElk) April 9, 2017
When we consider just the playoffs, the team picture gets a bit muddier. The Caps allowed 31.5 shots on goal and 7.5 scoring chances per 60 minutes, as opposed to the Pens who allowed 36.8 shots on goal (most in the playoffs) and 9.3 scoring chances per 60 (third most). Pittsburgh also had an expected goals-against value of 3.2 per 60 minutes, while the Caps were at just 2.4 per 60.
All these stats suggests that Fleury had the better statistical playoff performance and the tougher situation (it also suggests that the Pens defense has indeed been porous, but that is a topic for another article). The only major defensive category that mitigates this is raw shot distance, where the Caps allowed shots from 33.4 feet out and the Pens allowed them from 36.8 feet, on average.
Overall, we can speculate that the Pens allowed a lot of perimeter shots as well as a lot of high-danger chances – and that Fleury was generally up for the task.
Goaltending is a huge factor in this series, and in the end, we just have to hope that we get the Caps defense and Holtby netminding from games five and six and that the Pens continue to put Fleury to work by allowing a plethora of high-danger opportunities. Fleury is known for his Jekyll and Hyde performances in the postseason, sometimes being a world-beater and other times imploding spectacularly. We can only hope that if the Caps put pressure on him they might bring out the latter.
Headline photo: Gregory Shamus/Getty Images
Stats courtesy of Corsica.Hockey
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