ATLANTA - OCTOBER 08: Alex Ovechkin #8 of the Washington Capitals reacts after a shot attempt was saved by goaltender Chris Mason #50 of the Atlanta Thrashers at Philips Arena on October 8, 2010 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
Last week we looked at the Caps goaltending and determined that, as a whole, the team’s netminding was performing well, preserving over 15 goals beyond expected performance on the season. That was the good news. Now the bad news. If we flip the Expected Goals analysis and look at all the shots the Capitals have taken this year we find a different story, namely a Caps team that has left an alarming 30 goals on the ice in 61 games played. Let’s look at the stats:
AG - Actual Goals For; EG - Expected Goals For; Note: Empty Net Goals not included
As you can see a disproportionate majority of the missing goals comes on the power play, where the Caps have left 0.28 goals on the ice per game when compared with average NHL shooting percentages by distance. That equates to roughly 17 goals the Caps have missed out on, all coming in under six minutes of power play time per game. Considering that the team has played nine times more minutes at even strength than on the power play, those 17 extra-man goals they're losing out on is an unusually large number when compared to the 12 goals the team has left on the ice in 49 minutes of even strength time per game. Capitals owner Ted Leonsis is absolutely right when he says the power play is holding the team back from winning more games.
What is the impact of this team-wide scoring outage? If the Caps were to merely shoot "average" this season they’d see an extra 30 goals. If one assumes that a 5-goal improvement in goal differential is worth a win, it can be argued that the Caps have lost 12 standings points due to their inability to finish. Adding 12 points to the Caps current 74-point total would put the team in first place in the Eastern Conference and have them playing at a 116-point pace.
Let’s look at it another way. If the Caps were to shoot at average levels and merely receive average goaltending they would gain the 30 goals they've left on the ice but lose out on the 15 that they have preserved (through last night's Pittsburgh game) due to high-quality goaltending. The net result is roughly a 15-goal differential. That would be worth three wins, enough to get them to first place in the Southeast and near the top of the Eastern Conference standings.
Ultimately, the Caps are a better team than their record shows. They are outworking opponents in terms of generating shots and scoring chances. They simply have not been able to convert their chances into goals at a level commensurate with league shooting averages, and that’s dragging their record down. Whether this is a luck-driven issue or not, the message to the Caps is clear: it’s time to start finishing, fellas.