Rangers/Capitals Series - A Statistical Preview

WASHINGTON DC - FEBRUARY 25: Jason Chimera #25 of the Washington Capitals and Michael Sauer #38 of the New York Rangers fight during the first period at the Verizon Center on February 25 2011 in Washington DC. (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)

As you'll likely read everywhere, the New York Rangers finished the season series with the Washington Capitals with a 3-1-0 record, with a 17-6 goal differential.  On the surface, this looks like a team that the Rangers should have no problem handling, but looking at the underlying numbers, you'll start to see why this series will not be that easy.

The first thing to look at is Fenwick and Corsi.  As you may or may not know, Fenwick is simply the total number of shots a team shoots and allows.  This includes shots on goal and missed nets.  Corsi also includes blocked shots in to the total.  These apply to even strength situations only.  Corsi especially is the best stat available for approximating time of possession.  Here's a look at each of the four games thus far (thanks to Vic Ferrari for the awesome script):

Game No. GF GA SF SA Shots +/- MF MA Fenwick BF BA Corsi
20204 2 3 16 15 0 8 6 2 7 17 -8
20438 5 0 10 24 -9 12 17 -14 5 7 -16
20728 1 1 24 21 3 6 7 2 9 16 -5
20915 4 0 17 27 -6 5 13 -14 5 15 -24
Total 12 4 67 87 -12 31 43 -24 26 55 -53

G = Goals, S=Saves, M=Misses, B=Blocks

As you see, despite beating the Caps 12-4 at even strength, the Rangers were outshot in every game, badly so in each of the blowouts. That is a great, small sample example of score effects.  A better way to look at these numbers is when the score is tied.  This paints a much prettier picture for the Rangers:

Game No. GF GA SF SA Shots +/- MF MA Fenwick BF BA Corsi
20204 2 1 9 6 4 4 1 7 3 8 2
20438 1 0 5 6 0 6 3 3 2 1 4
20728 0 1 7 15 -9 1 2 -10 5 9 -14
20915 1 0 6 3 4 2 1 5 1 1 5
Total 4 2 27 30 -1 13 7 5 11 19 -3

Now we see that the Rangers had the better of the play in 3 of the 4 games, excluding the 2-1 shootout win where the Caps dominated, but Martin Biron carried the weight.  We see a similar story painted when we look at the 5v5 scoring chances for each game:

Game No. SCF SCA SC +/- SCF Tied SCA Tied SC Tied +/-
20204 11 16 -5 2 4 -2
20438 13 15 -2 5 3 2
20728 8 10 -2 3 7 -4
20915 11 8 3 3 1 2
Total 43 49 -6 13 15 -2

 

While it's valuable to see what the teams have done head to head, it's also worth looking at the teams' performance over the course of the season.  Thanks to Neil Greenberg over at the Russian Machine Never Breaks, we have the scoring chance data for the Capitals this season, so let's see how it compares the Rangers:

Nyrwshsc_medium

The data here is a rolling 10 game average of the percentage of chances for each team.  It excludes 3 games for the Capitals where data was not available (game 9 vs Carolina, games 81 and 82 vs Florida).  It excludes 2 games for the Rangers (games 76 and 80 against Boston).  For the season, the Rangers average is 52.9%, the Capitals 52.2%.  As you see, the Caps have been more volatile over the course of the year, with bigger upswings and bigger downswings than our team, but the end result is the same.  We can also look at the score tied chances:

Nyrwshsctied_medium

For this chart, I've used a rolling 20 game average because of the smaller data sample.  Washington's average for the season is 51.5%, while the Rangers is 52.7%.  The difference here is that Washington has been steadily improving all season (currently at 56.8%), while the Rangers have continued to be their roller coaster selves.

You have two teams that have been mostly even against each other with shots (score adjusted), mostly even in scoring chances head to head (score adjusted), and are similar in their scoring chances for the year.  So how does one team end up with a 17-6 goals advantage?   It really is as simple as it seems, it's goaltending.

EV GA EV Chances EV SV% PP GA  PP Chances PP SV% SH GA SH Chances SH SV% Total GA Total Chances Total SV%
Lundqvist 4 44 90.91% 1 9 88.89% 0 1 100.00% 5 54 90.74%
Biron 1 15 93.33% 0 1 100.00% 0 0 #DIV/0! 1 16 93.75%
NYR Total 5 59 91.53% 1 10 90.00% 0 1 100.00% 6 70 91.43%
Holtby 0 8 100.00% 0 1 100.00% 0 0 #DIV/0! 0 9 100.00%
Varlamov 6 14 57.14% 0 2 100.00% 1 1 0.00% 7 17 58.82%
Neuvirth 5 23 78.26% 3 12 75.00% 0 1 100.00% 8 36 77.78%
WSH Total 11 45 75.56% 3 15 80.00% 1 2 50.00% 15 62 75.81%

The narrative going into this series will be that the Rangers have Henrik Lundqvist, the Capitals do not, and that will end up being the difference.  The underbelly says that just might be true.  Yes, the Rangers have converted 24.2% of their scoring chances against Washington, near the equivalent of getting only breakaways all game.  Meanwhile, Lundqvist and Biron both stopped an above percentage of the Caps' chances.  Of course, this is a 4 game sample, quite small in the grand scheme of things.  Here's the details for the season:

EV GA EV Chances EV SV% PP GA  PP Chances PP SV% SH GA SH Chances SH SV% Total GA Total Chances Total SV%
Lundqvist 90 777 88.42% 37 213 82.63% 2 34 94.12% 129 1024 87.40%
Biron 24 173 86.13% 4 39 89.74% 2 7 71.43% 30 219 86.30%
NYR Total 114 950 88.00% 41 252 83.73% 4 41 90.24% 159 1243 87.21%
Holtby 18 131 86.26% 3 37 91.89% 0 6 100.00% 21 174 87.93%
Varlamov 79 536 85.26% 19 101 81.19% 5 23 78.26% 103 660 84.39%
Neuvirth 39 302 87.09% 14 70 80.00% 1 16 93.75% 54 388 86.08%
WSH Total 136 969 85.96% 36 208 82.69% 6 45 86.67% 178 1222 85.43%

The Rangers certainly still have an edge in goal over the presumed tandem of Michal Neuvirth and Semyon Varlamov.  Lundqvist has stopped nearly 89% of his EV chances faced, clearly better than anyone Washington has boasted this year, but not nearly as great a difference as what it has seemed to be when the teams play head to head.

Wrapping this up, it is clear that while presumably favorable to other opponents, this Capitals series will not be an easy test.  The Caps are playing good hockey right now, finishing the season at 15-4-1, while the Rangers are still lacking consistency 82 games later.  We can likely expect a long series, potentially ending deadlocked going into the best thing in all of sports, a hockey Game 7.

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