Ovechpunch! Ovechpunch! (Photo credit: Jim McIsaac)

On Wednesday, the Washington Capitals will take on the New York Rangers in Game One of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals. The Caps haven’t faired well against New York this season, losing three out of four regular season games including 6-0 and 7-0 shutouts. In fact, the 7-0 shutout was so bad, Alex Ovechkin found it necessary to fight. However, that was then. This is now. Let’s take a look at the numbers to preview what should be an interesting matchup.

One of the benefits of sharing scoring chance data is that someone else will write the analysis for you, so if you haven’t checked out Blueshirt Banter’s Statistical Preview of the Caps/Rangers series I highly recommend it.

Based on the first practice before the playoffs, the line combos for the series should look like this:

Combo SC% Convert%
Ovechkin-Backstrom-Knuble 59.8% 8.9%
Sturm-Arnott-Semin 75.0% 9.5%
Laich-Johansson-Chimera 60.0% 33.3%
Hendricks-Gordon-Bradley 58.0% 10.3%

All have performed well during even strength, putting at worst almost six out of every ten chances (SC%) in Washington’s favor and converting a fairly decent amount of them into goals (Convert%). The gaudy numbers of the Laich-Johansson-Chimera line comes at the expense of a small sample size: only about ten even strength minutes played together.

The “Sasha Whisperer” Jason Arnott should be kept along Semin, but Sturm on the second line is a surprise — at least to me. Those second and third lines are going to be crucial in this seven game series.

As for Washington’s defense, the Caps’ shutdown pair is better than New York’s shutdown pair.

At even strength when the score is tied, John Carlson and Karl Alzner come out way ahead of Marc Staal and Dan Girardi:

D Pairing Chances for Chances against EV Tied SC%
Staal-Girardi 90 108 45.5%
Carlzner 118 113 51.1%

More than half of scoring chances (SC%) go in the Caps favor when Carlzner is on the ice, while the Rangers’ “best d-pair” doesn’t even break even.

It’s also not even close on the penalty kill:

Player PK TOI PK chances against PK SCA/60
Staal 202.8 132 39.1
Girardi 161.8 151 56.0
Carlson 187.3 72 23.1
Alzner 171.2 64 22.4

So as strong as the Ranger’s defense is, it looks like Alzner and Carlson are better.

New York’s goaltending gives me some cause for concern and it is not because Lundqvist had eleven shutouts. It’s because he seems to have effectively neutralized what has been the Caps strength when it comes to scoring.

Take a quick look at why crashing the net is so important to beating Lundqvist. What I have done here is turned the NYR goals against on the road into a heat map, then superimposed where the Caps have scored their goals when at home.

WSH GF vs NYR GA

There are A LOT of Washington goals scored in locations that King Henry has been adept at keeping out of the net. Pay particular attention to the red circles, which are goals by Ovechkin. After seeing that, you can understand why Washington’s secondary scorers will have to step up big time.

I put the chances of Washington winning at 57%, with the most likely scenario being a five or six game triumph.

Additional reporting by Chris Gordon.

  • 28ISGREAT

    Well done. So there’s a 43% chance I won’t be able to go home for Thanksgiving and Christmas. Good to know.

  • Billy

    The “Sasha Whisperer” Jason Arnott…classic.

  • BobbyG

    Spot on analysis Neil. I know I’ve said it before but I’ll say it again now. Your numbers crunching and explanation have made me a more knowledgable hockey fan and my Caps game watching even more enjoyable. Thanks for the lessons.

  • Brad

    Does anyone know what channel the game will be on? According to Comcast CSN will be showing the Wizards game and I think VS is going to show Tampa Bay-Pittsburgh. So does this mean The Caps will be on CSN+?

  • Barry

    Very nicely done… One quick question: there are lots of Caps goals off the heat map (so to speak), but there is some heat map where there are no goals… Oh yeah, a question: how many goals were allowed by NYR outside of the cluster between the circles and below the dots vs how many Caps goals were scored outside that region (or outside the scoring chance area for both if that’s easier)?

    I’ll assume from your previous post about Lundqvist allowing fewer than average goals outside the SC area that the Caps have scored more than NYR allowed, but I’m curious about how close it is…

  • Mary K

    I don’t understand most of this stuff, but I agree with Billy… Sasha Wisperer is a classic!