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The Narrative: Game of Inches, O Shi*... and Trending

Three things we’re talking about today when we’re talking about the Caps

NHL: MAY 09 Playoffs Round 1 Game 4 - Panthers at Capitals Photo by Randy Litzinger/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

1. Game of Inches

Monday night’s Game 4 was one of those games that the Caps were lucky to even have a chance to win... and unlucky to lose.

Make no mistake, the Caps did not “deserve” Game 4:

via MoneyPuck

And yet there they were, up 2-1 with under four minutes left in the third period and a likelihood of winning at north of 90 percent, per MoneyPuck (that percentage got as high as 95.6 before Florida tied it). With Florida’s goalie pulled, two shots probably made it very difficult for Garnet Hathaway to sleep last night:

First, Hathaway’s 129-foot potshot at the empty net, a shot that MoneyPuck gives a 64 percent chance of going in (Evolving-Hockey says 65%) and, well, didn’t.

What, two inches to the right and the Caps are (likely) up 3-1 in the series? Heck, one inch to the right and the puck probably hits the post square enough to not glance off and go for icing, and even that would’ve helped matters. Because Nicklas Backstrom lost the ensuing faceoff (Backstrom actually has the worst face-off win percentage of any player in the playoffs who has taken ten or more draws, going 9-for-39, a woeful 23.1%, including 3-for-15 in the defensive zone and 8-for-26 at even strength), and the next time the puck left the Caps’ zone was for a face off at center ice. That, of course, came as the result of our second memorable shot:

Hathaway gets a chunk of Jonathan Huberdeau’s aerial pass, but unfortunately deflects it right to Sam Reinhart, who is able to settle the puck (enough) for a shot that beats Ilya Samsonov inside the post a split second before the goalie’s skate seals that portion of the net.

The unluckiest minute of Garnet Hathaway’s life (we hope) instantly became a microcosm of the series in some ways, as what could’ve been a commanding 3-1 lead quickly turned into a 2-2 tie. That’s some cruel irony.

2. O Shi*...

For the second-straight game, T.J. Oshie got the Caps on the board with a power-play goal on a deflection:

Oshie, who also tallied the game-winner in Game 1, was noticeable all-night... and may be noticed again today for his hit on Sam Bennett that immediately preceded Evgeny Kuznetsov’s go-ahead goal:

And there’s today’s Rorschach test. Have at it, friends. One thing is indisputable, though - on night when the referees put themselves front and center with their game management calls, letting this one slide was... surprising. Then again, it was the third period of an NHL playoff game, so perhaps it shouldn’t be.

Back to Oshie, through four games, he now leads the team’s forwards in Game Score, and looks rejuvenated (as he probably should, having played only half a regular season):

via Hockey Stat Cards

As for the hit, the Caps certainly can’t afford to lose Oshie, so no news out of the Department of Player Safety was good news this morning:

3. Trending

Lost in the, well, loss were a few data points that have now become trends... in a good way:

  • Ilya Samsonov was once again very good overall (there’s that “aggregate” again), stopping 29 of the 32 shots he faced and only allowing three high-danger (per NatStatTrick) shots to beat him. Samsonov is second in the playoffs (among guys who’ve played a full game) in goals saved above average rate, preventing more than one goal above expected per sixty minutes. He’s 16-for-16 on medium-danger shots and 33-of-34 on low-danger chances. Nobody saw this coming.
  • That Oshie goal was the Caps’ fifth power-play goal of the series, and they’ve scored at least one in each of the four games so far, marking the first time they’ve tallied with the extra man in four-straight playoff games since the middle of the Penguins series in 2018.
  • Meanwhile, the penalty kill was 4-for-4 on the night, and is now 13-for-13 in the series, including multiple back-to-back successful kills. The Caps have been shorthanded for 25:57 so far, and have only faced 15 shots on goal in that time, with only two of those shots considered high-danger, and another four medium-danger. Really impressive work. (The Caps, by contrast, have six high-danger power-play shots in 26:43, scoring on three of them.)