Why the Capitals Suck After Scoring a Goal

Holtby - Patrick Smith

Photo: Patrick Smith

Fifteen times this season the Capitals have surrendered a goal within 2:30 of scoring. Nearly one-fifth of the total goals scored against the Caps have come in that 150-second window after a goal. That’s a startling number. Way back in October, Adam Vingan of WaPo Express spoke to the team about the pattern. “We have to find a way to stay on the gas pedal,” Steve Oleksy told Vingan when that number was only 8 goals-against.

The Capitals have not stayed on that metaphorical gas pedal. Instead, they’ve allowed another 7 goals within the two and a half minutes after scoring. The most recent was on Saturday, during the Capitals-Predators game, when Eric Nystrom responded to Nate Schmidt‘s goal by scoring one of his own just 23 seconds later. The Capitals had a good goal cushion by that point, but weak shifts like that after Caps goals have cost the team wins.

Nystrom’s goal was clean. The Capitals pushed the puck into the Nashville zone after the initial faceoff, but the Grabovski line couldn’t generate a shot attempt. Viktor Stalberg chipped the puck out of the zone and to Nystrom, who gained speed through neutral. Mike Green appeared to misread the play, expecting a pass to Roman Josi in the slot (whom Karl Alzner was rushing back to cover). By the time Green went for a stick-check, Nystrom was already dragging, ready to release.

It was a pretty goal, but utterly preventable. And, most importantly, it wasn’t unique.

Here’s how the Caps are giving up goals after scoring, broken down by intervals of 30 seconds.

Time Since Goal Goals Against
30s  5
60s  6
90s  11
120s  12
150s  15
180s  16

I want to find out what is causing the Capitals to surrender so many goals after scoring. Is it weak puck possession or crummy goaltending? If it turned out that goaltending were the main problem, we could expect the percentages to even out over time. If puck possession were the problem, the Caps would probably continue to struggle until they make changes.

Here’s what I learned.


Time Since Goal Possession % Opp. Shot Attempts
30s  36%  30
60s  38%  69
90s  40%  109
120s  43%  132
150s  43%  177
180s  42%  215

Note: I’m not filtering out special teams, so this isn’t the same as true Corsi. The possession % column shows the Capitals’ portion of all shot attempts, regardless of game situation or score.

Overall, the Capitals’ possession is 49%— just about even– but after scoring it is much lower. The Caps are in their own zone for more than 6 out of 10 shot attempts during the first shift or two following a goal, and I’m not sure why. Maybe this is because Adam Oates is deploying weaker players, or the team’s tactics change for the worse, or they just make more mistakes resulting in decreased possession. In the case of the Nystrom goal, Washington’s back-check in neutral was non-existent. Whatever the problem is, it’s dragging down the team’s overall possession and putting an undue burden on Caps goaltenders.

Speaking of whom…


Time Since Goal Save %
30s  .761
60s  .854
90s  .838
120s  .860
150s  .868
180s  .880

Yeesh. With the admission that the sample size here is small (just 21 shots within 30 seconds, 133 within 180 seconds), this is some gnarly goaltending. Average goaltending in the league is .912, but the Caps are faring far worse than that after scoring. If the Caps were seeing average goaltending (or, contrapositively, if their opponents were shooting at average), there would have been five fewer goals within those first 150 seconds. Still bad, not atrociously bad.

Unless there’s something systemically wrong with how the Caps limit shot quality (if such a thing is even possible) after a goal, we should expect this number to rebound as the sample gets larger. But, of course, we don’t really want that sample to grow too soon. There’s already way too much action near the Caps net after a goal.

So, as usual, the truth resists simplicity. Yes, goaltending after scoring is very weak, but so too is the team’s puck possession. They’re basically the Buffalo Sabres in the moments after they score. It’d be interesting to know if certain players are doing worse than others in these circumstances, or if the Caps are allowing a greater number of dangerous zone entries (like Nystrom’s) after a goal. However we diagnose the problem, these gimme goals are neutralizing the Caps’ hard work, and with so many one-goal games (13 so far), the standings are reflecting it.

Thanks to ExtraSkater for sharing these data in such an easy format. My spreadsheet is here.

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  • Eric

    you mean Green misread a play…shocker

  • yv

    Yesterday, I thought that It’d be good to know why Caps so quick in giving goals back. Your article covering the topic really well. My guess, maybe, Caps are so emotionally deprived team that any goals for (and, in that case, goals against when they usually start sulking) are too overwhelming for their weak psychic and they just losing concentration for a while). Same reasons maybe behind Caps propensity to give late goals.

  • maddyjl
  • …I’ll allow it.

  • Matt

    Holtby needs to cut down on his Holtbyisms and be more prepared after a goal.

  • Myan

    Brilliant piece. Awesome spreadsheet. Keep it up, Peter!

  • Will Dobud

    Peter, I have my research thesis due in March. Please review my stats?

  • ugh no thank you

    but you can review mine 😉

  • thanks!

  • Topher Gee

    I’m curious if there is a line strategy for Oates after a goal. Sometimes the grinders get a little aggressive on the forechecking that leads to a counter break-away.

  • Benjamin Scarbro

    ” It’d be interesting to know if certain players are doing worse than others in these circumstances” PLUS MINUS IS DA BEST. SCHULLLLLTTZZZZ (this comment is useless and I’m sorry)

  • Graham Dumas

    Yeah, this is one big reason why I read this blog daily. Way to go, Peter!

  • Graham Dumas

    One thing, though. On the Nystrom goal, above, it seemed to me that Green played it pretty reasonably, trying to use his butt to block the shot while also trying to cover up the passing lane with his stick. I’m not claiming you’re wrong in saying he messed up; but what should he have done differently?

    Personally, I thought Holts could have played that one differently, but perhaps he was hugging pipe after that softie last week?

  • Myan

    Seriously, RMNB satisfies both my inner math nerd and my desire for random/fun Capitals gossip.

  • johnnymorte

    I think Gartner once said: “Goals are like bananas, they come in bunches.” This is an outstanding analysis.