If, as the saying goes, two data points is a trend and three data points is a story, what’s four data points? Whatever it is, the Caps’ four losses in four overtimes is, at a minimum, concerning.
But just how concerned should we be? After all, three-on-three overtime is hardly “real hockey”... though those standings points lost are most assuredly “real” points. Your mileage may vary as to how concerning this early-season trend is, but let’s take a look at some of the factors that have led to this ignominious oh-fer.
1. Long Shifts
When the Panthers scored to win Thursday night’s game, Tom Wilson had been on the ice for 1:55, i.e. all of overtime. In the Wings loss, Evgeny Kuznetsov skated 1:37 at three-on-three, i.e. all of overtime. Against the Flames, Kuznetsov and Dmitry Orlov were on the ice for the game’s final 1:03, a short shift by comparison.
As Tyler Dellow once wrote, “[B]eing on the ice after a minute is sort of like being in a bar after 1:00 a.m. - there’s no guarantee that something bad will happen, it’s possible that something good will happen but the odds are slanted heavily in favour of something bad.” It stands to reason that this is particularly true in three-on-three overtime, and Peter Laviolette acknowledged as much last night:
Laviolette re OT: "It's unfortunate the way the last one went in, with Tom, he was a guy that couldn't get off the ice and he tried to take his man to the back post, he was in position and it goes off his stick and in the net and that is where we are at with overtime right now."— Samantha Pell (@SamanthaJPell) November 5, 2021
2. Lack of Possession
Why couldn’t Wilson get off the ice? Because the Caps couldn’t get the puck. They lost the opening draw of OT and Florida basically played keep away for a couple of minutes before ending the game. In the Tampa, Detroit and Florida losses, there was no intervening Caps possession (at least in terms of one that shows up in the play-by-play accounts via a shot or takeaway or the like) between a faceoff loss and the eventual game-ending tally.
It goes without saying that it’s awfully hard to score goals when you don’t have the puck.
3. Evgeny Kuznetsov
And that brings us to our next point. Here’s the play-by-play account for each of the Caps’ four overtime losses, with the goal and the most recent Caps event on the sheet - see if you notice any commonalities:
Evgeny Kuznetsov isn’t the reason the Caps are 0-4 in overtime so far this season. But losing faceoffs in overtime (Kuznetsov is 2-for-5 so far this year) can be a killer - see point #2 above, which leads to point #1 above. Miss you, Nick Backstrom!
4. The Goalies
Gotta be better than three saves on seven shots. Next bullet.
5. Dumb Luck
The least satisfying factor of all is probably the biggest one: sheer luck.
Kuznetsov’s woeful 40 percent overtime faceoff win rate is a terrific 60 percent if one of those draws goes the other way.
The Caps have actually taken more shots than their opponents in OT so far (12-8), and before you say, “Ah, yes, but some of those have been terrible” (about which you’d be right), they’re dead even in shots on goal, scoring chances and high-danger scoring chances. In fact, the Caps’ expected goals-for percentage in OT (per Natural Stat Trick) so far this year is 65.7 percent.
Flip a coin four times. It may come up heads twice and tails twice. It may come up three times for one side and once for the other. Or it could end up with a clean sweep, however unlikely. That last outcome is where the Caps are right now, even if you don’t believe you’re flipping a fair coin.
So what can be done?
Laviolette could pull the old Jay Beagle move and start Nic Dowd in OT, swap him out if he wins the draw and have ostensibly his best defensive pivot on the ice if he doesn’t. And they could try scoring on the overtime power-plays when they’re gifted to them (looking at you, Tampa game).
But more than anything, the Caps need to just keep at it. Get possession and make those possessions count - the trend and the story will almost certainly turn around soon.
Oh, and one last thing: maybe make sure that the greatest goal-scorer (and greatest overtime goal-scorer) in NHL history gets on the ice.