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The Narrative: Quality and Quantity, Pick-Up Sticks and D Swap(s)

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Three things we’re talking about today when we’re talking about the Caps

NHL: Stanley Cup Playoffs-Toronto Maple Leafs at Washington Capitals Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

1. Here’s something you might not have realized - through two games, the Caps have the highest five-on-five shot attempt rate (CF60) in the playoffs, are second in unblocked shot attempt rate (FF60), second in shots-on-goal rate (SF60) and fifth in scoring-chance rate (SCF60), per Corsica.hockey. Take a look:

“Sure,” you say, “But all of these shots are coming from the outside.” Well, actually...

In fact, the Caps’ 21 five-on-five scoring chances is the most (tied with Calgary) of any of the teams that have yet to play a third game. Alex Ovechkin and Kevin Shattenkirk (four individual scoring chances each at fives) and Nicklas Backstrom (three) have combined for more scoring chances than the Blackhawks and Senators (10 each), and as many as the Bruins (11). You get the point - eventually, more pucks will start going in for Washington if they keep this up. To wit, while the Caps have scored just three times at five-on-five so far, their expected goals at that manpower is more than twice as much (6.33) and their expected goals-for rate of 2.89 per sixty is up from their regular-season rate of 2.51. So... patience.

2. Speaking of five-on-five scoring, the Leafs lit the lamp three times at fives on Saturday night, but a couple of those goals might have been more accurately characterized as five-on-four-and-a-half, as Matt Niskanen and John Carlson had lost their respective sticks prior to two Toronto tallies, rendering them largely ineffective in that all-important task of defending. Take a look:

Loose sticks sink ships, fellas - hold on to those twigs.

3. Already missing Nikita Zaitsev, the Leafs were dealt another blueline blow when Roman Polak fell awkwardly after being on the receiving end of a big Brooks Orpik hit and is done for the series (and season). Here’s the hit, and a word of warning - it’s not for the squeamish.

age

Of course, the Caps failed to really take advantage of the Leafs’ loss (in fact, Toronto scored mere moments later and outscored the Caps 3-1 after the injury, despite playing nearly a game’s worth of hockey with five defensemen, one of whom, Connor Carrick, only skated 13:11 the rest of the way). That’s a big missed opportunity for Washington (reminiscent in some ways of the Caps’ inability to beat a Kris Letang-less Pens squad in Game 4 of last year’s second round series), especially with Zaitsev - who’s a sizable upgrade over Polak - apparently ready to go for Game 3...

At the other end of the rink (and yes, we’ve buried the lede)...

A potential Nate Schmidt-for-Karl Alzner swap would upgrade the Caps’ weakest pair, though it will be interesting to see how Barry Trotz would deploy the duo (as well as the rest of the defense), as his trust in Schmidt to play tough minutes hasn’t always been particularly solid. Stay tuned.