Monday, April 25, 2016

Capitals vs. Flyers: Takeaways and Throwaways from Game 6

The first four wins are now in the bank for the Washington Capitals.  The Caps survived the Eastern Conference quarterfinal series against the Philadelphia Flyers, scratching out a 1-0 win in Game 6 to win the series, four games to two. For a game with so little scoring, there was considerable drama and momentum shifts toward one or the other team.  In such a contest, there might be some takeaways and some throwaways at the end of it.


  • If one had to point to a single factor that influenced the results in Game 5 and the series, it would be penalty killing.  The Caps faced a full two minutes of 3-on-5 shorthanded ice time in the second period of Game 6 with the contest still scoreless.  The Flyers managed three shots, scoring on none of them.  For the series, the Flyers had 3:07 in 5-on-3 power play ice time and had only those three shots on goal in Game 6.  All in all, the Flyers had 37:09 in power play ice time for the series (fourth highest through Sunday’s games), and all they had to show for it was one goal on 30 shots.  The Caps were both efficient (0.81 shots per minute allowed) and effective (95.8 percent penalty kill).
  • Nicklas Backstrom had, if not things to prove, then perhaps some responsibilities to fulfill in terms of his offensive production.  Backstrom had the game-winning, series-clinching goal for the Caps in Game 6,  With that, the Caps won each game in which Backstrom recorded at least one point (2-5-7 overall). It is early in the playoff season, but at the moment Backstrom is averaging more than a point per game for the first time since he had nine points in seven games (5-4-9) in the Cap’s first round loss to the Montreal Canadiens in 2010.
  • Alex Ovechkin had six shots on goal and 13 shot attempts in Game 6.  He did not record a goal, but it was not for lack of effort (or at least repetition).  Ovechkin finished the series leading the league in shots on goal overall (29 to Marian Hossa’s 28) and his 71 total shot attempts is far and away tops in the league (Jonathan Huberdeau has 52).  Ovechkin has not gone into a shell on offense.
  • Braden Holtby is quietly building a reputation as a postseason monster in goal.  In his last 17 games through Geme 6 on Sunday, he is 10-7, 1.32, .954, with three shutouts.  In 11 of those 17 games he allowed one or no goals.
  • Washington won the possession battle with the Flyers in Game 6 (50.6 percent Corsi-for at 5-on-5) and dominated as the series wore on.  Over Games 4-6, the Caps had a 5-on-5 Corsi-for of 62.6 percent).

  • The nominal second line of Andre Burakovsky, Evgeny Kuznetsov, and Justin Williams went without a point in Game 6, had just four shots on goal, and were in fact split up with Marcus Johansson moving up a line and Burakovsky moving down one.  For the series, the Burakvosky-Kuznetsov-Williams trip combined to go 1-2-3, minus-6, with 40 shots on goal.  None of them had a point after Game 3 of the series.  If that production does not improve, it will spell trouble for the Caps in Round 2.
  • The power play that went 8-for-17 in Games 1-3 went 0-for-10 in Games 4-6, including 0-for-5 in Game 6.  It was not as if the Caps didn’t get looks on the power play in Game 6; they got five of their nine shots on goal from Ovechkin, two from Williams, and one each from Johansson and John Carlson.  The nine shots on goal on the power play in Game 6 was more than the total power play shots on goal they had in Games 4 and 5 combined (six).  Nevertheless, are the Caps that 8-for-17 power play that opened the series, or the one that went 0-for-15 to end the regular season and 0-for-10 in the last three games of this series.
  • In the prognosto for this series, we said…
“Faceoffs are generally considered one of those mundane tasks that do not have much of an effect on games…until you lose a critical one.  Like the one the Caps lost that led directly to the game-winning, series-clinching overtime goal in last year’s playoff series against the New York Rangers.  [Jay] Beagle and Mike Richards led Caps forwards still with the team in shorthanded ice time.  Beagle taking draws in his own end on the Flyer power play is a responsibility that should not be held as insignificant in this series.”
In Game 6, the Caps took only five shorthanded faceoffs, all of them in the defensive zone, and lost three of them.  Although it was a one-draw margin, it was the third time in the series they finished under 50 percent in faceoffs taken while shorthanded.  They won all three games (Games 1, 2, and 6).
  • PDO-my…  The Caps were 1-for-15 shooting at 5-on-5 in Game 6 (6.7 percent), and Braden Holtby stopped all nine shots he faced at 5-on-5 (100.0 percent), for a PDO of 106.7 (sum of shooting and save percentages).  It was the fourth time in the series that the Caps had a PDO over 100.0, all of them wins.  They lost both games in which their PDO was under 100.0 at 5-on-5 (numbers from  Duh.
  • When the Caps went to the Stanley Cup final in 1998, two of their three winning series were settled in six games, both on the road (in Boston and in Buffalo), both by one goal, both in overtime.  This one was settled in six games, on the road, and in regulation time.  Think of it as progress.  Or just an historical quirk.

In the end…

What was remarkable about Game 6 was the utterly pedestrian nature of it in one sense.  It resembled so many games the Caps played in the first two thirds of the season. Stifle a team, get a lead, suffocate the life out of them, Holtby.  Don’t forget, the Caps won 27 of 41 one-goal games in the regular season, the best winning percentage in the league (.659).  And low scoring games have not been all that unkind to the Caps. Including Game 6, the Caps are 14-15 in games in which they score only one or two goals this season (shootout decisions not included), a respectable record.

Overall, the 4-2 final margin in games does not paint an accurate picture of how this series unfolded.  They had a 53.6 percent Corsi-for at 5-on-5 (fifth in the league through Sunday), 54.3 percent in score-adjusted Corsi-for (third of 16 teams). The Caps held the Flyers to six goals overall, only three of them at 5-on-5 (one power play, one empty net, one 4-on-4).  Braden Holtby had the third-best 5-on-5 save percentage of any goalie in the league (.974; minimum: 50 5-on-5 minutes).

The other side of that is the resilience of the Flyers to have the ice tilted in their direction for so much of the series, for having to contend with that "hot goalie" that so often haunted the Caps, and still make a series of it.  Remember, this is a team that was breaking in a new head coach in Dave Hakstol and one that was not generally thought of as quite playoff-ready when the season began.  One could sense the fans in Philadelphia recognized this as the game ended, as Wells Fargo Center erupted in cheers for their team that battled so hard in this series.

That the Caps were extended to six games is almost entirely a product of the fine play of Michal Neuvirth in goal for the Flyers.  But this time, the Caps did not lose to a hot goalie, they won in spite of facing one.  In that sense, this team really does look different than its predecessors.

Photo by Len Redkoles/NHLI via Getty Images