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The Afternoon Narrative: Quantity vs. Quality, O-Zone Discipline and a Crosby Update

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

Photo by Joe Sargent/NHLI via Getty Images

1. Let’s talk about shot differential.

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

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:

I guess?


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.

Finally, the icing on the cake:

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:

Of course, that doesn’t mean that anything is close (and, really, why would the Pens push it at this point?):