I have a bad habit of nitpicking the public statements of NHL general managers. I have a ton of respect for their talents, and I think their jobs are very difficult, but they’re also kind of terrible at articulating themselves– or maybe they’re just bad at saying things that are supported by facts.
Case in point: Capitals GM Brian MacLellan touting the playoff performance of Tim Gleason.
Sporting event broadcasts come filled with narratives. This isn’t narratives in the baseless and meaningless “hot take” sense, but narratives as actual storytelling, which sometimes just happen to be baseless and meaningless. During the playoffs, narratives are thrown into high gear. Everyone likes a good story in their sports, and more eyes are on the sport during playoff time, so it makes sense to try to reel in the casual viewer with a good story.
But these stories, a.k.a. narratives, shouldn’t be told at the expense of facts. Some fact-less narratives are easy to detect. When an announcer basically makes it sound as if the Caps were the laughingstock of the NHL and Alex Ovechkin was a player not playing to his potential before Barry Trotz came around, the false narrative alarm should ring. After all, the Caps have been a playoff team, and at times a serious Cup contender, for much of the Ovechkin era, and Ovechkin himself has led the league in goals five times and won three MVP awards.
On the other hand, there are some narratives that aren’t as easy to evaluate for truthiness. Below are a couple narratives that have continued to pop up this series, whether it be on TV or in conversations with friends about the games. Being that the eye test can often lie to me, I wanted to take a deeper look.
Despite what the national media might tell you, Braden Holtby has been a very good goalie since entering the NHL, and not just since Mitch Korn became his goalie coach. Given the opportunity this season, and freed from the curse of Adam Oates, and yes, under the master tutelage of Korn, Holtby has firmly planted himself among the best goalies in the league. And now, in the 2015 playoffs, Holtby is having himself a spring for the ages so far. (No, I don’t believe in jinxes.)
People don’t seem to be grasping exactly how good Holtby has been. This is exactly how good Holtby has been.
The Caps enter game four trailing the Islanders 2-1. Given that the Caps season doesn’t end if they lose game four, this game is not a must win. If someone tells you this game is a “must win”, please tell them they are factually incorrect. A loss would reduce their chances of winning the series though.
But, before the puck drops for game four, here’s a look back at the first three games, courtesy of usage charts from War on Ice.
Earlier, we looked at how the Caps stack up against the Isles in terms of possession, as well as how they can best stop John Tavares. Next up is goaltending and special teams. Let’s get right into it.
Braden Holtby is a better goalie than Jaroslav Halak. What this means is that there’s no possible way Halak could steal this series for the Isles. But, Caps fans know all too well that any goalie, such as Halak, can get red hot in a seven-game series and carry his team to victory. Nonetheless, going into the series, the Caps have the edge in goal.
Peter was willing to let me bore all you with a ton of plots again, so buckle up for the season-sized comparison. I’m going to look at a lot of the same plots/data I ran last time RMNB had me on, but this time I’ll include the Isles’ data with the Caps’. I’ll try to keep things consistent, where the Caps’ data will be the navy blue and red traces, while the Isles will be royal blue and orange.
As Pat wrote earlier, how the Washington Capitals line up against the New York Islanders will factor largely in which team escapes the first round. Generating a little more offense and shutting down John Tavares during 5v5 are key.
With that in mind, I thought we’d revisit a fun visualization of how the Caps are most and least effective. I promise it’s pretty.
John Tavares is one of the best hockey players on the planet. If the New York Islanders hope to take down Alex Ovechkin, the best hockey player on the planet, and the Washington Capitals, Tavares will have to play a leading role. So, quite obviously, one of the Caps primary concerns when game planning is shutting down the Isles superstar center.
The Isles are a really good 5v5 team. Their possession numbers on the season are strong. They have one of the best players in the league in John Tavares. This is going to be a tough series for the guys in red.
This is a look at how the possession numbers shake out. Included along with the season-long numbers for each team are the numbers over the last 25 games of the season, as possession metrics over the span have been shown to tell us a lot about how a team might fare in the playoffs.
Only two teams improved their shot-attempt differential from last season more than the Capitals: The Nashville Predators (boo) and the New York Islanders (hiss). With a 4.5 swing in score-adjusted possession, the trend has finally ended, and the Capitals are good again. Exactly how good– by the reckoning of the playoffs– remains to be seen, but looking back, I’m over the moon about this season.
But, in this week’s snapshot, the last of its kind, we ask, is the cake a lie?