The Story: OT Goal, No Violation? and give and receive

1. The OT lens

Let’s talk about the winner of Game 4 in overtime, shall we? It’s here:

First of all, who was there? For goal it was Lars Eller, Connor McMichael and Conor Sheary up front, Nick Jensen and Dmitry Orlov at the back:

through ShiftChart

But that’s not who it was at the start of the clip above. Early in the clip, as Florida begins to move up the ice, we see Garnet Hathaway cross the ice for a line change (in a period with the long change), ending a 59-second shift. Teammates Nic Dowd and Johan Larsson had switched earlier, but Hathaway got caught and had barely made it to the bench when Florida scored (Sheary isn’t even in the frame at any point). It’s a tough line change, a tough downside for Sheary, and the icing on the cake on a really difficult evening for Hathaway.

But it didn’t have to be that way.

Ever since you’ve been a hockey fan, you’ve heard coaches and players tell you that they “put the puck deep.” You might not even really know what they meant by that…until you watched Connor McMichael on that shift. Rather than chip the puck into Florida’s end along the boards (allowing, at a minimum, a clean line change and positional reset at the cost of possession), the Caps rookie tries to cross the zone neutral then coughs it. in the middle of the ice. It doesn’t take long for a defenseman like Aaron Ekblad to turn that mistake into a run the other way, where McMichael gets caught staring at the puck watching Carter Verhaeghe’s initial shot (rather than standing with him), and allows a clean attempt on the rebound. Game over (and possibly series over for McMike).

Before Game 4, Panthers bench boss Andrew Brunette lamented his team’s ability to pounce on scraps around the Caps cage:

Well, they got to that one.

To put it generously, this change will be a learning experience for McMichael. (One might reasonably wonder why the Eller line was in place before Nicklas Backstrom’s line twice in overtime, but that can be a little finicky, especially with the nominal second line having a pretty awful game). It’s games like that that limit his playing time in key games and moments, but without playing time in key games and moments, sometimes it’s hard to learn not to make plays like that. Alas.

As for the rebound itself, the initial hit was deceptively hard. Samsonov collects the puck through a bit of screen from Sam Bennett, who redirects the puck enough to earn the main assist on goal, and fights the shot hard and low, pushing it past the Eller-Jonathan Huberdeau duo who were planting the net. You’d probably like to see this rebound played just about anywhere else, but you’d like really I would like to see someone defend Verhaeghe there. The follow up is a nice shot, wide back and top corner and it would have been a nice save, but it wasn’t to be.

The play was reviewed for goalie interference, and if the puck had gone shortside, the Caps might have been on the safe side of that review. But they weren’t. And we are related.

Everyone wants to be the hero in overtime. But try too hard, and you might end up the goat.

2. No violation?

It’s a good thing the Caps’ power play is on fire, as their five-on-five offense has dried up a bit. Yes, they scored all three goals in Game 3. But that’s also the number they scored in the other three games combined, and that includes a pair in Game 1. Visually, it looks like this (and it’s not hard to see a trend):

via NatStatTrick

To their credit, the Caps have been creating high-risk chances at a fairly steady rate as their shot and goal chance generation have plummeted, but that drop has been precipitous and concerning. From Game 1 to Game 4, the Caps are pretty much down 13 in shot attempts (CF) and score changes (SCF), and more than 50% in actual shots on goal.

These are small samples, of course, and it’s just as easy to ignore the trend and dismiss Game 4 as the anomaly in an otherwise fairly consistent set of three games. But while we’re talking small samples, let’s take a look at how individual skater rates compare to their regular season rates:

via NatStatTrick

So what stands out? Our eyes always go to Alex Ovechkin first, so let’s start there. His shooting and scoring chances are down overall, but that’s been mitigated by an increase in high danger chances and his expected individual goals rate is exactly where it was on the season (0.87). He’s still looking for his first five-on-five goal of the series.

Garnet Hathaway creates opportunities and seizes them. TJ Oshie, Nick Backstrom and Evgeny Kuznetsov are all in place. But that’s about it for the positives, and the Caps are getting particularly little from the blue line – during the regular season, the half-dozen D the Caps have played in the playoffs so far combined to try 55.9 shots per 60 and 3.2 individual high danger chances for 60 at five-on-five; in the playoffs, those numbers fell to 33.3 and 1.9, respectively. Those are huge drops, and it’s no surprise they only have Trevor van Riemsdyk’s goal in Game 3 and an assist from Dmitry Orlov to show their efforts on the five-man scoresheet. Here’s a look at how the playoffs compare to the regular season in terms of five-on-five shot attempt percentage, by position:

data via NatStatTrick

Best guess? The Caps are taking a more conservative approach to D jumping into play in the offensive zone given their high-octane opponent who is ready to go early to create edge opportunities. Because typically, active defenders are a hallmark of this team’s offensive approach, as we see in these two examples from Jack Han’s terrific book. Hockey Tactics 2022: The Game Manualthat you really should buy:

Jack Han, Hockey Tactics 2022: The Game Manual

Jack Han, Hockey Tactics 2022: The Game Manual

But let’s listen to the author himself:

Regardless, even with this drop in defense, the Caps have, overall, been surprisingly similar to what they were for the regular season in a number of five-on-five offensive metrics:

via NatStatTrick

Less quantity, one little more quality, same expectations (with a little less luck). (As a side note, it’s interesting how a 14% drop in shot attempts, a 16% drop in shots on goal, and even a 6% drop in scoring chances are all but offset by a 3.3% increase % chance of high danger.)

Anyway, all things considered, here are the attackers, sorted by expected goals (with actual goals a column above):

by MoneyPuck

Nothing too crazy. It’s not a great defensive team or a great guard the Caps are up against, and offensively, Washington is doing more or less what it’s been doing all season, overall. Whether you consider Game 4 the most recent data point in a downtrend or an anomaly from the 85 games that preceded it, it’s all in the framing.

3. Giving and receiving

Along with Hits, Giveaways and Takeaways are probably the most dodgy stats the NHL tracks, ill-defined and subjective (I like to think you dropping your wallet on the floor is a giveaway; me reaching into your pocket and grabbing your wallet is a takeaway). But at the end of the day, these are turnovers. So to the extent that these stats are useful, that usefulness may come from their combination: one team’s gifts plus the opponent’s takeout should equal the first team’s turnovers, is it not? Yeah.

In four games, the team that won the turnover battle therefore won the game, with Florida’s two victories presenting absolutely massive advantages in puck management:

via NHL.com

What’s really striking is how many giveaways the Caps made in their two losses (in two different buildings, with two different scorers), as well as their relative inability to turn Florida around, either by forcing them to give gifts, or by stealing pucks themselves. The culprits are the guys you’d expect (guys with the puck on their sticks the most), guys like John Carlson (eight freebies), TJ Oshie, Evgeny Kuznetsov (six each) and so on. (Connor McMichael, interestingly, wasn’t charged with a giveaway for the play discussed above, nor was Aaron Ekblad credited with a takeout; questionable, as noted). It may not be entirely a coincidence that the Caps were around or above 50% in expected goal percentage (xGF) and five-on-five scoring chance (SCF) when they won. the turnover battle, and at or below 40%. when they were killed there:

via NatStatTrick

But that’s less about raw numbers and more about puck management big picture (those disparities from Games 3 and 4 match your eyesight test, right? And the Caps having a slight advantage in their victories are credible). The Caps need to make better decisions and execute better with the puck, and they need to force Florida to make mistakes when they have the cookie. Otherwise, we’re going to see more games with 32-16 shooting disparities… with scores likely proportionate.

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