Thursday night was another edition of More Than Meets the Eye, where Today’s Slapshot readers picked a game for me to break down using advanced stats. Last night’s contest saw the New York Islanders fall to the league-leading Washington Capitals in overtime, final score of 3-2.
However, don’t be fooled by the score – this game was never close. As usual, there was more than meets the eye.
Sometimes, it’s better to be lucky than good, and that seemed to be the Islanders’ motto last night. Though the first period started off with a couple good chances for the home team, once Kuznetsov turned on the jets with his opening volley, it seemed as if the Capitals never really lost the puck. The second period saw a lot special teams action for both teams, with only 11 minutes of 5-on-5 play.
The Capitals’ deadly power play took advantage of all the time on the man advantage, but it wasn’t like the Islanders didn’t try – all said and done, New York actually outchanced Washington on the power play, eight to five.
Still, while special teams are important, they’re only 20 percent of the game on average, and the Islanders clearly ceded ground at even strength. Even without looking at the numbers, you could tell it was a bad game for the boys in blue; the Barclay’s Center crowd was silent for most of the game.
Starting with a look at the Capitals, it’s pretty easy to see why Ovechkin and Williams were the goal scorers last night. Both of them were leading Washington’s offense, along with the aforementioned Kuznetsov, who recorded a point on Ovechkin’s first goal. They also got some great performances defensively from their fourth line of Laich, Latta, and Richards, and the pair of Schmidt and Carlson were quite formidable.
The Islanders, on the other hand, had little going for them offensively, outside of Kulemin, Nielsen and Okposo. And unfortunately the top line of Tavares, Grabovski, and Strome were completely shut down, dragging the team down in both zones. Still, “the best fourth line in hockey”, as the Capitals announcers called them, did show up on defense – Martin, Clutterbuck, and Cizikas were basically impenetrable.
The thing to remember about these charts is that these densities are done by percentage, not rate. So while Holtby did see far fewer total shot attempts, percentage-wise, his defense was almost as porous as the Islanders’.
Ideally, you want the low danger area to be dark red, getting lighter as it gets closer to the net. However, both teams let in a lot of medium danger chances last night. This probably speaks to the talent level of each team’s offense more than anything.
After all, it’s nigh impossible to stop a guy like John Tavares when he wants to score a goal like the one that opened the game.
Certainly, both goalies turned in great performances last night, with the game winning shot from the blue line being the worst goal of the night for Greiss.
Sometimes, yes, it’s better to be lucky. That’s not to say that Nielsen’s game-tying goal wasn’t skilled, because it was quite lovely, as was the passing that led to it, but you can’t count on one good break to win a game. There’s a reason that players are taught to fire pucks on net whenever they can, and that’s because waiting for the pretty goal is a waste of time.
In the end, the right team won, because sustained offensive pressure is the tried and true method of winning games. Good special teams are necessary (the Capitals did score on one of the seven power play opportunities they had), but 5-on-5 is the bread and butter of a hockey team.
There were 44 minutes of the game last night that the Islanders lost; it was no surprise they didn’t win the 5 extra minutes of overtime.