1. Let’s talk about shot differential.
Actually I never want to hear about how many shots the Caps took ever again in my life https://t.co/wHFL2T8PjC— Dan Steinberg (@dcsportsbog) May 4, 2017
Sorry, Dan, we have to.
Per Natural Stat Trick, the Caps outshot (attempts) the Pens 56-28 at five-on-five, and had a 29-15 edge in shots on goal (and a 9-6 advantage in high-danger chances) in those situations. All-situations, those numbers go to 72-39, 38-19, and... 10-10.
Huh. That last number sorta stands out. Despite the Caps literally doubling-up the Pens in shots on goal, high-danger shots were even. Graphically, that looks like this, via HockeyStats.ca:
That’s a big cluster of Pens shots right in front of the Caps’ net. Comparable, in fact, to the same area in front of the cage at the other end. Here’s the same chart, scoring chances only:
Yes, that’s still a huge edge for the Caps (but with the Penguins’ defense packing it in, some of those shots from the tops of the circles probably weren’t really scoring chances). But overall shot totals don’t accurately tell the story of Game 4 (and, spoiler: they often don’t accurately tell the story of individual games).
Still, there’s this, on the series as a whole:
The Caps are murdering the Pens in five-on-five shot differential to an historic degree. But Corsica has the Caps with a narrow 27-25 edge in all-situation high-danger shots, a 49-36 advantage in medium-danger shots, and a 66-32 lead in low-danger shots (and a 22-14 lead in scoring chances); Natural Stat Trick has the Caps up 45-38 in high-danger chances, 54-97 in scoring chances (that’s quite a liberal definition of “scoring chances”) and 306-180 in shot attempts.
In other words, yes, the Caps have crushed it in quantity, but it’s been much closer in quality. And typically, the extent to which the Caps have dominated quantity is enough, especially for a team that still has an edge in quality and, ostensibly, is every bit as talented as the opposition. But there’s nothing typical about the Caps in the playoffs. It’s impossible to separate “great goaltending” from “lousy finishing” and “bad luck” (either as luck itself or as a proxy for the unquantifiable), so we’re not even going to bother to try. But the reality is that a Caps team that shot 9.2 percent at five-on-five and 10.5 percent overall is at 5.5 and 6.3 percent, respectively, in this series. Regression has hit hard, and the dominant possession numbers that were supposed to cushion the landing haven’t because more than just luck has changed.
No, there’s nothing typical about the Caps in the playoffs... no matter how typical these types of games and series have become.
2. Okay, so let’s talk discipline and officiating. First, discipline - see if you can see a common thread among the penalties the Caps took last night (note: Tom Wilson’s were coincidental minors):
In the most important game of the season, the Caps committed seven offensive-zone penalties, five of which resulted in Pittsburgh power plays, one of which (John Carlson’s) led to the eventual game-winning goal.
Did I say, “committed”? I meant “were called for.” Is there a difference? Maybe. Let’s look at some of the calls. First up, the captain:
Hahah just saw the roughing call on Carlson NBCSN never showed, via CSN pic.twitter.com/bD2ywdRYsF— Dan Steinberg (@dcsportsbog) May 4, 2017
On to Alex Ovechkin’s slashing minor (which came during a four-minute Caps power play), and a couple others, for good measure:
Ovechkin is covering the point, a puck comes bouncing toward him and he takes a whack at it; he misses the puck (or most of it, at least), and catches the hunched-over Bryan Rust on the arm with the follow-through. Here, for your information, is how the rulebook defines slashing:
Was that swing “at an opponent”? Was it not an attempt to play the puck? C’mon.
Ovechkin: "The ref sometimes calls those penalties, and you think, is it penalty or not?"— Isabelle Khurshudyan (@ikhurshudyan) May 4, 2017
Finally, the icing on the cake:
Brutal break for Capitals…Oshie called for high stick but never got Bonino pic.twitter.com/A5LehFukjs— Pete Blackburn (@PeteBlackburn) May 4, 2017
Oshie on his late high-sticking penalty: "Tough time to get a penalty. That’s kind of an amateur play by me there."— Isabelle Khurshudyan (@ikhurshudyan) May 4, 2017
The Caps had to know that last night’s game would be called tight in the wake of the mayhem that was Game 3. And, to be sure, there were questionable and missed calls both ways (most notably in the other direction a missed Andre Burakovsky high-stick on Jake Guentzel that the refs must have missed because it took place in the Caps’ defensive zone). But the bottom line here is two-fold: the Caps put themselves in positions where bad/wrong calls could be made and, more importantly, they put themselves in positions where bad/wrong calls could potentially impact their fortunes in the game. When that’s the case, sometimes you get what you get. Take care of business on your own, and these mistakes don’t have much impact at all.
3. Some good news out of Pittsburgh, where Sidney Crosby took a twirl or two this morning:
It is an off day for the Penguins but Crosby was on the ice with a few other players in full gear.— Shawn McKenzie (@ShawnMcKenzieSN) May 4, 2017
Sullivan: Crosby indeed skated this morning, is in the process of rehabbing and “we’ll just leave it at that.” Day-to-day.— Sean Gentille (@seangentille) May 4, 2017
Of course, that doesn’t mean that anything is close (and, really, why would the Pens push it at this point?):
Last time Crosby got concussion diagnosis, skated on his own next day. He kept skating and undergoing testing. Came back two weeks later.— Nick Cotsonika (@cotsonika) May 4, 2017
For those new to concussion recoveries, skating does not guarantee that medical clearance to resume playing is imminent. Or even close.— Dave Molinari (@MolinariPG) May 4, 2017
This is all a process. And for all intents and purposes, Crosby took the first step in that process today. Nothing but good news.— Jesse Marshall (@jmarshfof) May 4, 2017