Now, as they get set to face each other in four-to-seven particularly important games, we’re going to break down the match-up to try to figure out who’s got the edge in the series and where using a simple “tale-of-the-tape” (sorry, no Captangibles):
A couple of quick notes: these categories are not meant to be taken as being evenly weighted, and the degree to which one team has the edge isn’t going to be noted on the chart (though we’ll talk about it). Oh, and all stats are through Monday’s games, i.e. the last one the Bruins seemed to care about. That said, let’s get started...
Entering Tuesday night’s season finale, the Caps had a very slim League-lead in five-on-five goals-for rate, scoring 2.90 goals/60 (ahead of the Golden Knights, Avalanche and Maple Leafs at 2.89), despite being in the middle-of-the-pack in terms of expected goals-for (shooting 10 percent at fives sure does help... and isn’t pure luck). In fact, the Bruins actually had a higher expected goals-for rate and a higher rate of scoring chances... but the fourth-lowest shooting percentage in the League (7.3 percent, ahead of only Detroit, Columbus and Buffalo). Advantage Caps? Not so fast. Since the trade deadline (i.e. when Taylor Hall got there), the Bruins are third in the League in five-on-five goal rate (Caps are 16th) and second in expected goal rate (Caps are 6th).
Granted, the Caps played a lot of the last month without some key offensive contributors, but Boston is an offensive juggernaut right now. Still, the slightest edge here goes to Washington, if healthy, due to scoring depth (including Caps defensemen besting Bruin blueliners 25-15 in goals and 86-63 in assists at even strength). Even then, it could go either way.
These are two very good defensive teams. Over the course of the season, the Bruins have the third lowest 5v5 xGA rate, while the Caps are eighth; since the trade deadline, Boston is second in expected five-on-five goals-against rate and the Caps are sixth. The two clubs give up shots and scoring chances at similar rates. Across the board, the Caps are a well above-average team, defensively; the Bruins are just better. Edge to Boston.
The Caps have the third-best power play conversion rate in hockey, clocking in at a cool 25 percent (Boston is ninth at 22 percent). Boston is dangerous with a man advantage, of course, but the Caps have an Ovechkin and, well, that’s going to give them the edge over just about anyone. What makes this factor close is that the Caps yielded a League-high eight shorthanded goals this season, while the B’s scored a League-high nine shorties (potentially huge “we told you to watch for this” alert). But Boston was 3-for-23 (13 percent) on the power play against the Caps this year, while the Caps went 9-for-29 (31 percent) against the B’s, so they get the check mark.
The Bruins had the second-best penalty-kill efficiency in the League (85.9 percent) and then scored those nine shorties, leaving them with a minus-16 goal differential while shorthanded, a pretty astounding number, given that they were shorthanded the third-most times in the League. The Caps’ kill was very good - fifth in the League at 83.9 percent, and they added a couple of shorthanded goals of their own - but this category goes to Boston.
If healthy (there we go again with that caveat), the Caps have a very good top-six. The Bruins have a better one:
You can slice and dice the Caps combinations, maybe even swap out a guy if you like, but the Bruins have more talent in their top-six right now, especially in terms of five-on-five play. It’s tough to top “Perfection,” and the arrival of Taylor Hall at the deadline and Craig Smith in the offseason has made the B’s second line nearly as tough to stop. This actually may be Boston’s greatest area of advantage other than... no spoilers, we’ll get there!
There’s no question who the Caps’ fourth line is - only two lines in the League have played more minutes together this year than Garnet Hathaway, Nic Dowd and Carl Hagelin (Guentzel, Crosby and Rust in Pittsburgh and Marchessault, Karlsson and Smith in Vegas), but there might be a question as to which wing plays with Lars Eller and Conor Sheary on the Caps’ third line (we have our preference).
It’s unclear who, exactly, will be in the Bruins’ bottom-six, but aside from Nick Ritchie (15 goals, 11 assists), there isn’t a whole lot of offense there of which to speak. The Caps, on the other hand, have at least three double-digit goal-scorers they could use in their bottom-six (Sheary, Daniel Sprong and Dowd), and both lines play a 200-foot game. Advantage: Washington.
The Caps have a reigning Norris Trophy finalist in John Carlson, who may actually have had a better year this year than last. The Bruins have Charlie McAvoy, who could be a finalist for the award this year. On down the line, it’s pretty close:
The Bruins would appear to have an edge in the top-two pairs and the Caps in the third, but when you look at how these pairs have worked together...
Um, yeah. The Bruin duos have been terrific (albeit in limited minutes together for the bottom-four), while the Caps couplets have also been good, especially in the top-four. Justin Schultz is a wild card here for the Caps, as re-inserting him into the lineup might meet with poor results. Until then, though, we’re going to call this one even, and chalk the differences up to the impact of their respective forwards.
Oof. Do we really need to talk about this one (again)? Tuukka Rask is good. The Capitals’ goalies are... not.
Does that mean that Vitek Vanecek (or Ilya Samsonov or Craig Anderson or Zach Fucale...) can’t play well enough for the Caps to win the series? Of course not. But first, the Caps will need to get to a level of consistent, replacement-level goaltending and, frankly, they haven’t gotten that this year, much less The Big Saves.
This is Boston’s biggest area of advantage in the series.
Peter Laviolette and Bruce Cassidy are both good coaches with impressive resumes (Laviolette’s printed on heavy-stock cotton paper, Cassidy’s scribbled on a napkin). It says here that Cassidy is the better coach at the moment. We’re not so sure. Let’s leave this one as to be determined... because we should have a pretty good answer in four-to-seven games.
So there you have it. Weight these factors however you see fit. Add in others, if you like (faceoffs, physicality, experience, boyish good looks, etc.). Come to your own conclusions. But laid out like this, one thing is clear: the Capitals have their work cut out for them against the Bruins.