Tonight the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Washington Capitals face off in D.C. for a date with the Ottawa Senators in the Eastern Conference Finals. The series has taken some thrilling turns as the series underdog, the Penguins, took a commanding 3-1 lead but has quickly seen that disappear with the Capitals roaring back taking the last two games. I’m here to give you my thoughts on how tonight will go and what each team needs to do to move on to the Eastern Conference Finals. Before that, though, I will say that I am a Penguins fan and I will attempt to take any bias out of this post as I can but no guarantees.
First, let’s start with an overall glance at how the series has played out so far. In Game 1, the Penguins scored twice in the opening minutes of the 2nd period. Up to that point, the game seemed to be pretty even when looking at “expected Goals” or “xG” from Moneypuck.com (graph displayed below).
However, the Pens seemed content with their two goal lead and this led to the Capitals to come back in the expected goals department and thus, coming back to tie the score at 2-2 near the midway point in the 3rd (this trend will seem to continue throughout the series). Nick Bonino played hero with a goal late in the 3rd period and the Penguins never looked back. Looking at the graph, you can see that the Caps fired a ton of shots at the net near the end and but came away with nothing. The Caps won the xG battle 2.74-1.73 according to Moneypuck. According to Corisca, the Caps won the xG 2.18-1.25. They came away with the xG wins but couldn’t come up with the actual win that mattered.
Now you may hear that the game isn’t played on a spreadsheet or the goals that go in the net are the only ones that matter and while the latter may be true, this data can give us a look at how future games play out.
While I’m not going to sit here and breakdown every single game like I did above, I will display the xG, from both sites, for all six games so far, as long with the Corsi For for each game. That is displayed below.
As you can see, from a Pens fan perspective, this isn’t good. At all. The Penguins have had two games of a xGF% greater than 50% according to Moneypuck and only one game over 40% xGF% on Corisca. Looking at the series on a game by game average, the Caps were expected to score 3.21 goals per game while the Penguins were to score 2.10. The actual numbers are on the right side of the table, with both teams at 3 goals per game. This tells us that the Caps have been a little bit unlucky, while the Penguins have been very fortunate to score the goals that they have through six games in this series.
But even as a Penguins fan, you can’t look at the first four games and see much of a difference from the last two. Other than Game 2***, their xGF% have actually looked worse than the past two and that is only if you are looking at Moneypuck’s xG data. Granted, some of that contributes to them holding a lead late and sitting back. Or maybe as a fan you say that Sidney Crosby was out for basically two games in this series. I beg to differ. Yes, Crosby helps, but he has played in four games this series and they haven’t been any better.
This data ties into what I said earlier in the article. The data can give us a look into how future games might play out. Now, as we saw in the Blues-Wild series earlier in the playoffs, a seven game sample size can still not tell us the real story. The first four games were very similar to that Blues-Wild series in a sense that the team that is playing worse has been winning the games. Unfortunately for the Wild, they couldn’t beat the luck and were knocked out of the playoffs. It looked like the same fortune for the Capitals after Game 4 but we have seen the tables turn in the last two. The better team is finally winning games.
Going into tonight, though, the Penguins will need to be on top of their game and the Capitals will just need to keep doing what they have been doing all series. They, honestly, don’t need to change a thing. They have been dominant and I expect them to continue that dominance this evening. In Game 6, the zone exits for the Penguins were very sloppy with a lot of bad passes that ended up in the skates of the forwards. Maybe if they can fix this tonight, they will be able to generate more offense and put more pressure on the Capitals. But even still, the first first six games don’t give me much hope tonight even if they convert on those zone exits. They aren’t healthy and they’re just not the better team. But again, this is hockey and it is one game. Anything can happen in one game. Anything. The pucks can start bouncing the Penguins way and they walk away with a victory, who knows.
As for a prediction, I think the Caps win 3-1 and advance to face Ottawa in the Conference Finals. The Caps are the far more superior team on the ice tonight and they probably are the far more superior team with a healthy Crosby (who knows if he is actually concussed or not), Letang, and Murray. Just look at the data that I have presented here today, you can see that the Penguins are getting out played by the Capitals. If Marc-Andre Fleury doesn’t stand on his head in the first four games, maybe the Capitals walk away with a sweep and we don’t have to hear about how Alex Ovechkin can’t get it done in the playoffs. Unfortunately for Alex, we might be hearing that again if the Capitals don’t find away to skate away with a win tonight.
Thanks for reading. Give me a follow on Twitter at @amock419 for more insights on my analytical perspective of sports.
*** Game 2 is skewed on Moneypuck.com due to an empty net goal that gave the Penguins an 80% of scoring on the shot
**Special thanks to Moneypuck and Corsica for providing this data to me for this article and providing great data for all hockey fans.