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The Afternoon Narrative: Lineup Notes, Gaps & Chances and Chances

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

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

1. News from the Caps’ morning skate:

Meanwhile, the Pens also skated this morning. Well, not all of them did...

2. How do you explain what we’ve seen through two games? The obvious answer is “goaltending” (and, related and to an extent, defensive breakdowns and capitalizing on opportunities). Nevertheless, some folks have suggested that while the Caps have had a monstrous edge (score-effects-aided, at times) in shot differential, the discrepancy in shot quality is actually very close. That’s not really the case:

Yes, “high-danger” chances were close in the first two games (the Caps’ edges were six and four, respectively, in those games). But those are rare events - the raw numbers were 13-7 and 12-8 in the two games - so of course they’re going to be closer. The percentages, though, have been in line with the rest of the shot metrics:

But what of the low number of high-danger chances? Jesse Marshall at The Pensblog has thoughts:

The Penguins are really loading up the box in front of the net and taking away the Capitals chances from the high-danger areas of the ice. ...

via The Pensblog

Take a look at the Penguins defensive posture in the above video clip. They’re really flooding the bottom half of the ice in their overload structure. The Capitals defense never seems to pinch too far into the zone, but their forwards are committed to playing deep into the zone and behind the net. As a result, you end up with a huge gap between the defensemen at the top of the zone and the forwards down low. I believe this gap is where the Penguins are generating their odd man breaks.

via The Pensblog

As you can see in the above clip, the Penguins have clogged up the slot, prevented any outside shots from making it to the net, and they’re immediately off to the races with the Capitals forwards racing to catch up. Take a look at the huge gap in the middle of the ice here. The Penguins are exiting their own zone with the Capitals forwards in tow racing to catch up. It’s almost as if the Capitals have put the reigns on their defense, expecting the Penguins quick breakout to cause them trouble. This structure is actually helping the Penguins get started despite the amount of space the Capitals have at the top of the zone.

Click through to see Jesse’s full analysis (and so we feel less guilty about shamelessly embedding his GIFs), but here’s the point: the Caps are struggling to get pucks to the net from their cycle because the Pens’ defense is sagging back and the Caps’ “low-to-high” offense is leaving too large a gap, which is turning small miscues and blocked shots in the offensive-zone into jailbreaks the other way. The answer? Limit turnovers in that area, allow defensemen to pinch down a little for better shot opportunities (and hit the net with those shots), and generally stay the course and hope the bounces start going your way. Or maybe go to more of an umbrella set-up in the offensive-zone to change some angles and have another forward back(ish) to help on breakouts. Hey, I’m not the coach...

3. You want historical probabilities? Take it away, WhoWins:

After Game 2: The Pittsburgh Penguins visited and bested the Washington Capitals 6-goals-2 to take a best-of-7 MLB/NBA/NHL playoff series 1329 lead of 2-games-nil. When leading a best-of-7 MLB/NBA/NHL playoff series 2-games-nil, the Pittsburgh Penguins have a series record of 15-2 with an active nine-series winning streak and a Game 3 record of 12-5. When trailing a best-of-7 MLB/NBA/NHL playoff series 2-games-nil, the Washington Capitals have a series record of 1-5 and a Game 3 record of 1-5. Trailing a best-of-7 NHL playoff series 2-games-nil, the Washington Capitals have a 1-5 series record and a 1-5 Game 3 record. The sole Capitals victory in both Game 3 and the series occurred in series 1057, over the New York Rangers in the 2009 NHL Preliminary round.

One win in six series, one Game 3 win in six 0-2 holes, the Pens riding a nine-series win streak when up 2-0 (and undefeated in the Crosby Era) and a 15-2 record all-time?