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Silver Linings Versus the Black and Gold

It wasn’t all bad last night...

Pittsburgh Penguins v Washington Capitals Photo by Patrick McDermott/NHLI via Getty Images

If you’re not one for process over results, you may want to skip this post. That’s fine - we’ve got plenty of other great content that might be more your speed. But if you are able to appreciate some lovely trees in an otherwise unattractive forest, let’s talk about last night’s game.

Yes, it always sucks to lose to the Penguins. Always, always, always. Always. (And especially after blowing two leads during the game.)

And getting an unlikely point thanks to a six-on-five goal (after Kris Letang rang the iron on the empty cage at the other end of the ice) to clinch a playoff spot was obviously better than nothing.

But dig a little deeper and there are a lot of things to like about the game. The Caps had the better of the 5-on-5 scoring chances (23-15) and high-danger chances (11-5) and, unsurprisingly, expected goals (1.86 to 1.69). All-situation numbers were similar. Vitek Vanecek stopped 29 of the 30 low- and medium-danger shots he faced. Sidney Crosby’s line had an expected goals-for percentage of 40, while being out chanced 12-4 (6-1 in high-danger), thanks in large part to Lars Eller and friends.

Put another way, the Caps “deserved” to win that game (and, at one point, were 74.9% likely to do so):

via MoneyPuck

Of course, deserve’s got nothin’ to do with it, and the Caps did not, in fact win. But this wasn’t a “how the hell are we ever going to beat this team?” loss that keeps coaches up at night trying to devise new schemes and/or find new deities to try to appease. If it was a “wake-up call” of any sort, it was the same one they get every four or five games, a reminder that they need to maintain a high-level of focus and manage the puck better if they’re going to be successful.

Oh, you mean like this, Coach?

You certainly don’t expect that pass from that player (or any player that showed up to the first day of practice when they were six years old).

Or this one?

There were misplays, missed assignments and at least one missed save on the Pens’ other three goals, too, but you get the point. And so does Dmitry Orlov.

Alan May talked about it on Japers’ Rink Radio earlier in the week - in Peter Laviolette’s man-to-man system, when the Caps are flat-footed and trying to defend, they’re dead in the water. And when they’re handing out free candy in the defensive zone (and not getting stand-on-your-head goaltending), well, that’s not a recipe for success.

But these are problems with execution, not systems. And that’s good news: this system works. Iron out the wrinkles (as they have on so many nights this year, including in the near-flawless three-game set they just played against the Isles) and the results should be commensurate (as they have on so many nights this year, including in the near-flawless three-game set they just played against the Isles). (It also wouldn’t hurt to have the reigning Rocket Richard Trophy-winner and Norris Trophy runner-up in the lineup.)

So the Caps (and their fans) will be rightly disappointed with the loss, but should by no means be despondent. These two teams will go at it again on Saturday night and you’d expect a similar game in terms of process... hopefully with a more favorable result.