Another Capitals playoff home game, another loss. What else is new for a city that has been in a 25-year title drought that nobody ever talks about? Welp, how about the fact that I should tell you that the Capitals are doing fine. For now.
With last night’s 4-3 loss, the series Washington has with Toronto is obviously tied up at one and the aggregate scoreline is 6-6 as a result. If you go onto corsica.hockey, however, you will see that the combined series expected scoreline is in favor of the Capitals 7.39-7.12. But that doesn’t mean Barry Trotz’s men can be excused for anything. Since the Second edition of Rob Vollman’s second Hockey Abstract, it has been critical to take into account score-effects because evidence has truly shown that trailing teams shoot more on offense to try to eliminate all deficits. With that said, that leads to the Capitals trailing in score-adjusted expected goals 7.7-6.9.
Even when taking over the shot count as they did in the beginning of Game two, Washington’s struggles of getting the first goal have been paramount. The best teams in the NHL do find a way to snap out of such bad starts on the scoreboard, but there is no denying how the chances of winning skyrocket when scoring first.
Along with that, the fact that both teams are scoring over three goals per game (not adjusted by time on ice) means that defense has been optional for both teams. This has not been new news for the Maple Leafs who have been one of the worst defensive teams in the NHL. This is much more of a shock to a Capitals team that (a) plays at a much more conservative pace under Barry Trotz than they ever did under Bruce Boudreau and (b) are the eighth best team in adjusted expected goal prevention in all situations in the NHL. Along with that, Washington gave up the third least adjusted shot attempts rate in all situations in the NHL with 52.7 per hour.
In this series, the Capitals has given up the highest adjusted shot attempt rate in all situations at 76.1 per hour. That is almost 15 shot attempts per hour more than what the Colorado Avalanche usually gave up in their historically miserable season! It doesn’t matter if Braden Holtby is out there trying to save their bacon every night. If you can’t have your skaters time-and-again put an end to all opposing puck possession, clean entries, and shots towards the net, what’s the point in thinking this series is easy?
Via the eye test, I always worried all season how a Brooks Orpik and a Karl Alzner sans offseason groin surgery were going to handle the fastest teams in the league: like a Toronto, like a New York Islanders, like a New York Rangers, like a Pittsburgh. Now you’re seeing it for two straight games and it is getting uglier by the period. It is almost becoming shameful and a fireable offense if Nate Schmidt doesn’t get top four minutes, let alone any game time in this series if Alzner’s game doesn’t improve. Any defensemen that can go toe-to-toe with any fast team in the NHL via his skating ability and mobility with the puck on his stick has no business ever being a healthy scratch. It’s like Trotz never realized how last year’s Penguins or any of the most recent Blackhawks teams won the Stanley Cup.
This series is officially eventful and definitely fearful as well. But that doesn’t mean the Capitals can’t strike fear into Maple Leafs fans at the Air Canada Center as well. Remember that that fanbase has never experienced any glory since 1967 and also have wounds that are beyond susceptible to opening anytime a lead gets vanished or a deficit gets bigger. There’s no fanbase that does a better job in the NHL at turning on their own players than Maple Leafs fans. If Washington changes this series by finally dictating the tempo to their game for all 60 minutes, especially on the road, the Capitals can retake control of this series. Until then, expect another seven-gamer, as is always the case for such a cursed city.