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The Morning Narrative: Familiar Refrains on Shots, Refs and Holtby

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Three things we’re talking about this morning when we’re talking about the Caps

Pittsburgh Penguins v Washington Capitals - Game One Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images

1. Santa Claus. The Easter Bunny. The Tooth Fairy. Moral victories in the Stanley Cup playoffs.

None of these things exist. (Sorry for not providing a spoiler warning at the top of the post.)

That said, the Caps fairly dominated the Game 1 shot counter, and continued dominance like that (however likely or unlikely it may be) would certainly bode well for their chances going forward. To the charts:

via Natural Stat Trick

Of course the game-winner came off the stick of a guy who had just about the worst game, shot-wise, of any skater for either team. And before you dismiss what the Caps did with a wave of the hand and a “yeah, but score effects,” recall that, in the past, score effects generally shift our expectations of a 50/50 split in unblocked shot attempts to 54/46 when down one and 56/44 when down two; the Caps, per Natural Stat Trick had a 35-16 edge in unblocked shots over the last two periods (a 68.6 Fenwick-For percentage) and Corsica Hockey has the Caps with a 60.3 score- and venue-adjusted FF% for the game overall. In other words, the Caps greatly out-performed what we’d expect from just score effects. And, not for nothing, but the Caps were credited with 41 hits to Pittsburgh’s 17 - not the type of discrepancy you usually see associated with that kind of shot-dominant effort.

That’s a good way to sum it up. But the captain, as he is wont to do, put it best:

Indeed it does (recall Game 3 of this series last year, or, better yet, don’t). And it seems to happen to the Caps more often than it reasonably should. But that doesn’t change the fact that but for a brief lapse at the start of the second period and a blown coverage in the third, the Caps generally had the better of play. By a lot. And that was without even getting a chance to weaponize the most dangerous piece of equipment in their arsenal: Alex Ovechkin on the power play.

2. Oh, hey, speaking of officiating...

The last time the Caps went without a power play in a playoff game was Game 7 of their first-round series against the Islanders in 2015. Before that, it was Game 7 of their first-round series against the Rangers in 2013. Before that, it was Game 7 of their second-round series against the Penguins in 2009. You get the point - it happens, however infrequently (though the last time those damn dirty Caps went a post-season game without being shorthanded was... well, it’s actually never happened, in 245 games).

Last night, however, referees Dan O’Halloran and Kevin Pollock had no real interest in calling penalties all night (one relatively early super-soft call on Ovechkin notwithstanding)... until they did.

To call that at all, much less than with less than eight minutes left (and nine seconds after Nick Bonino scored the go-ahead goal) was... curious, especially considering the way that game was called for 52-plus minutes.

Well, yeah. And, more generally...

For what it’s worth, per Corsica, there were only three times during this past regular season in which a team has had more five-on-five shot attempts than the Caps had last night without drawing a penalty: Carolina on December 28 and then again on January 14, and Columbus on November 21. And knowing what we know about penalties and score effects, last night’s goose egg was perhaps more surprising. Alas.

By the way, it’s worth noting that as inactive as O’Halloran and Pollock were, the linesmen may have literally been asleep for a good portion of the game, as they let numerous... uh... sloppy line changes go, none more egregious than this one:

Players and coaches alike will tell you that it’s not all that important whether games are called loose or tight, but rather that they’re called consistently - players need to know what is and isn’t going to be a penalty. Last night’s penalty total was indicative of a “let ‘em play” type game, but the calls that were made were not. That’s what’s so frustrating.

3. Braden Holtby made some huge saves last night, including an early denial of Patric Hornqvist and a stop on a Phil Kessel breakaway. But he’d like back two of the Pens’ three goals:

That’s an interesting, if harsh, self-assessment regarding a mid-range one-timer from the Rocket Richard Winner and a clean breakaway (not necessarily his forte to begin with). Let’s take a look at the two:

Nice effort, 44.

What’s perhaps more interesting is that his sloppy-rebound-and-scramble on the second goal is, arguably, more on him than either of the others:

So we’re back to “Holtby getting outplayed again” and related concerns for a guy about whom there really should be no concerns, fair and otherwise. We’ll give the last word on this one to the coach: