In the 2009 postseason, Pittsburgh goalie Marc-Andre Fleury allowed 63 goals on 686 shots for a .908 save percentage. He won the Stanley Cup anyway. In the 2016-17 playoffs, Washington goalie Braden Holtby has a .909 save percentage. It’s by far the worst postseason performance of his career.
But the Penguins 2009 Cup run illustrated that, even without superb goaltending, a team can still win if they have explosive scoring. The Capitals, who had both in the regular season, now have neither.
To their credit, Pittsburgh’s defensive commitment has been lauded. Penguin skaters have blocked 82 shots during 5-on-5 alone, and they’ve got the bruises to prove it. Indeed, the share of total Caps shot attempts that have been blocked has gone up 8 percentage points from the regular season.
But all those extra blocks have not cost the Caps shots on net, because their overall volume has skyrocketed.
It’s a 21 percent increase in the rate of shots on net, a 45 percent increased in attempts that miss, and a whopping 84 percent increase in shots that get blocked.
So Pittsburgh is definitely blocking more — both overall and proportionally — though the Caps are still getting more shots through in total. That’s good news, except those shots aren’t as dangerous as they should be.
There has been a 12.9 percent downtick in 5-on-5 scoring chances in the Pittsburgh series compared to the regular season. And with Marc-Andre Fleury saving every single one of the 56 low-danger shots he’s faced, the Caps’ failure to challenge him up close has been costly.
(On the other hand, the Caps have held the Penguins to just 14 scoring chances during 5-on-5. That’s half the rate of the Caps’ opponents during the regular season, an accomplishment completely undone by the extra 12 chances the Pens have had during special teams.)
The overall pattern of the Capitals’ work this series has been excellent, which makes their failure to score and failure to prevent the Pens from scoring all the more frustrating. Even without the league’s best finishing skill, the Caps could reasonably expect an extra goal in every game just based on the volume of low- or medium-danger shots. But Fleury, a career .912 goalie (all situation), is saving like he’s the world’s greatest at the same time that regression has come for the Caps’ shooting percentage. It’s the worst possible time.
Fleury can’t keep this up forever, but he doesn’t have to. He needs just one more win and then the Caps are eliminated. Before they run out of time, the Caps must bury him in shots and help him remember that he’s just okay. I think they can do it, and I’ll tell you how tomorrow.
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