After the Capitals grabbed a 2-0 lead in their Eastern Conference Quarterfinal series against the Rangers with a pair of victories on home ice, the hockey world wondered how John Tortorella and his band of Blueshirts would respond as the series shifted to Manhattan.
They responded with a win, of course. But despite the flip side of that same coin - the Caps' loss (and let's not minimize it - 3-0 and 2-1 are barely comparable situations to be in) - Adam Oates's troops should be heartened by much of what transpired during the sixty-minute slugfest. The Caps dominated the game at even-strength (well, other than on that pesky box that hangs over center ice with all the numbers on it), out-shooting their hosts by a 30-18 margin. On most nights, the Caps can be expected to have the better of the special teams play (that was certainly the case for the first two games), so adding even-strength superiority to that advantage is a recipe for good things.
But it's the "how" that matters as much as the "what" here, because despite Tortorella having the inherent advantages that home-ice carries with it, Oates's Caps had the better of play across the board. Below is a (sortable) table detailing the Caps' Game 3 possession advantage, broken out by lines, thanks to the awesome work done over at Hockey Analysis (it should be noted that it appears as if the first Ranger goal, scored right as Joel Ward's penalty expired, was missed in this data and counted as a power-play goal... which, in reality, it essentially was).
By now you're pretty familiar with all of the column headers, but in case you're not, here's Hockey Analysis's glossary.
What jumps off the screen is that last column, in which exactly one Cap, John Erskine, was in the *ahem* red in terms of Corsi percentage; one Cap saw more shot attempts aimed at his own net when he was on the ice at five-on-five than were thrown at Henrik Lundqvist's cage. If you prefer Fenwick to measure possession, you can add Erskine's partner, John Carlson, to join him on the wrong side of 50 percent. Note also that this was a game that was within one goal from start to finish, with the Rangers netting their game-winning tally with six minutes left.
Despite having the last line change and being able to match Dan Girardi and Ryan McDonagh against Alex Ovechkin all night, Ovechkin managed a Fenwick percentages of 59% and 52%, respectively, against the two in over 12 minutes of head-to-head, even-strength ice time. (Though surely Ovechkin would trade that advantage for a mulligan on his defense of McDonagh at the blueline on the game-winner.) As we wrote after Game 2:
Despite Oates' having last change, the tandem of McDonagh and Girardi are almost always on the ice with the big guns. Adam Oates hasn't made the same effort as John Tortorella to get his superstar different looks. And why should he? The first line is dominating.
Yep, that continued in Game 3, despite many onlookers lamenting off-nights for at least one or two of the three.
Speaking of dominating, how about that third line? They saw a lot of Michael Del Zotto and John Moore, and relished every moment of it - in just roughly five minutes of that head-to-head, Eric Fehr, Mathieu Perreault and Jason Chimera out-Corsi'd the Rangers by more than 11-to-1.
Even the second line - which has struggled possession-wise so far, had a good night, feasting on Marc Staal and Anton Stralman to the tune of Corsi and Fenwick percentages right around 60% or better in more than ten minutes of shared ice.
And what about "the daunting task of stopping Rick Nash"? Tortorella got him out against the Ovechkin line and Carlson and Erskine and... he actually did pretty well (despite having little success in other match-ups). Something to keep an eye on, for sure.
Reality check: these percentages meant little when the final buzzer sounded on Monday night. But they mean a little more going forward, in some ways more than that Game 3 result. If the Caps can continue to own the puck at five-aside, they should be in good shape in this series.
Because why not, here's a version of the table above that includes all three games and details a Washington even-strength possession advantage that has to come as a surprise to most, given the 48 games that preceded these three: