Super Bowl Sunday in the Nation’s Capital saw its hockey team squander a two-goal lead, spoil a highlight reel performance from Alexander Ovechkin, and gift two more points to a competitor in a season where we know points are at a premium. And yet this wasn’t exactly a shocking development, was it? After all, we’re only a week removed from watching the Caps relinquish back-to-back three goal leads to the Boston Bruins. Earlier in the month, they led by two goals in Pittsburgh, only to drop the game in overtime. That’s four games blowing a multi-goal lead in the past ten, which is a devastatingly high rate for this sort of thing and is even more alarming when you consider that it’s happened to the Caps in a full third of the games they’ve suited up for so far, acknowledging that that’s still a relatively low number.
But that’s just multi-goal leads. If you account for single-goal leads, they’ve lost leads in ten of their twelve games. One of the two games in which they did not lose a lead was on February 4th against the New York Rangers, when they never held a lead, and they’ve been outscored 25-13 while ahead overall.
As you might expect, the underlying numbers when the Caps are leading are miserable: a 36 GF% and a 39 xGF% at five-on-five, which would at least imply that if the Caps have deserved better than what they’ve gotten, it’s not by any material margin.
Let’s reframe this again for a moment, this time using win probability data from the fine folk over at MoneyPuck. In eventual losses to Pittsburgh (twice), Buffalo, Boston, and Philadelphia, the in-game highwater probability of a Caps win was, respectively, 69%, 90%, 74%, 94%, and 70%. To put that in perspective, the probability of the Caps losing all of those games is around one tenth of a percent, which is approximately the same likelihood of a fair coin landing on heads thirteen times in a row.
All of this is to say that despite the volatility of the small sample sizes from which we have to make our observations and attempt to draw conclusions, this isn’t just a spate of bad luck with the Caps on the receiving end. It’s a function of something more tangible, and it’s up to Peter Laviolette to sniff it out. Here’s a quick look at some of the biggest discrepancies in how ice time is allotted to Caps skaters in varying game states. What the table below is telling you is that when the Caps are leading, Dmitry Orlov receives the most ice time, but receives the 14th most time on ice when the game is tied.
And here’s how the blueliners and forwards have performed with that ice time allocation (ordered by TOI/GP):
Perhaps this is a good spot for the new bench boss to begin his investigation... and perhaps his “shutdown” guys aren’t who he thinks they are. To wit, when they’re on the ice together protecting a lead at five-on-five, John Carlson and Nic Dowd have a woeful 25 CF% and 24 xGF% in 30 minutes. Add Brenden Dillon to the mix and those numbers drop to laughable 12 CF% and 9 xGF% in an admittedly tiny 11-minute sample. You get the point. Hopefully the Caps do too. Get and keep the points, that is.