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2017 NHL Playoff matchup: Maple Leafs vs Capitals

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What can we learn from a few collected statistics including each player’s playoff experience.

NHL: Washington Capitals at Toronto Maple Leafs John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

The Toronto Maple Leafs and the Washington Capitals have never played each other in the playoffs. And, to be honest here amongst ourselves, the Leafs haven’t played many teams at all in the playoffs in the last little while.

To make a start at understanding these two teams and how they compare to each other, we can look at a few regular season numbers.

I chose the following statistics for the skaters, who we will look at first:

  • Position, which I tried to get correct for the Capitals.
  • Games Played and Time on Ice per Game Played, so you can see who is a regular and who is fringe.
  • Shooting Percentage, because it’s all well and good looking at points, but without shooting percentage as context, you don’t know if you’re looking at a good or a bad performance for that player.
  • Primary Points per 60 minutes, so you can see how their points are without having to take time on ice into account or the noise of secondary assists.
  • iCorsi per 60 minutes, so you can see how much the player shoots the puck.
  • Playoff Games Played, so we can see all the zeros on the Leafs’ chart.

All numbers are for five-on-five only, with the exception of some goalie stats explained below, and are from Puckalytics.com with some additions from Hockey Reference, Natural Stat Trick and Corsica. For players who played on more than one team, their entire season is included. All players with a decent chance to play in the playoffs are included, but not every fringe player is on the list. I left off Ben Smith because I just don’t want to hear about it.

Toronto Maple Leafs Regular Season 2016-2017

Name Pos GP TOI/GP Sh% CF% Pri.Pts per60 iCorsi per60 Playoff Games Played
Name Pos GP TOI/GP Sh% CF% Pri.Pts per60 iCorsi per60 Playoff Games Played
JOSH LEIVO RW/LW 13 10.37 9.41 55.3 2.67 16.0 0
CONNOR CARRICK D 67 14.98 9.02 53.1 0.30 11.5 0
BRIAN BOYLE C 75 10.54 7.48 52.7 1.21 14.3 100
WILLIAM NYLANDER RW 81 12.98 6.57 52.4 1.14 14.1 0
KASPERI KAPANEN RW 8 9.23 3.33 52.1 0.81 13.8 0
JAKE GARDINER D 82 17.68 9.04 51.9 0.58 9.9 6
JAMES VAN RIEMSDYK LW 82 12.91 9.86 51.6 1.81 16.6 46
ZACH HYMAN LW 82 13.22 7.35 51.5 1.00 10.9 0
AUSTON MATTHEWS C 82 14.15 7.57 51.4 1.91 18.2 0
TYLER BOZAK C 78 13.30 10.07 51.2 1.68 9.2 5
NAZEM KADRI C 82 13.55 8.60 51.2 1.57 17.8 7
MARTIN MARINCIN D 25 14.92 10.44 50.7 0.32 10.3 0
MORGAN RIELLY D 76 17.56 7.07 50.3 0.58 12.0 0
MITCH MARNER RW 77 13.56 10.13 50.2 1.61 13.4 0
CONNOR BROWN RW 82 12.48 8.64 50.1 1.23 12.3 0
MATT HUNWICK D 72 14.91 8.35 49.5 0.56 9.3 20
LEO KOMAROV LW 82 12.29 9.71 49.3 0.83 8.3 7
NIKITA ZAITSEV D 82 17.38 7.97 49.3 0.46 9.7 0
MATT MARTIN LW 82 8.53 6.62 48.0 0.60 9.3 24
ROMAN POLAK D 75 14.79 7.64 47.8 0.32 8.5 49
NIKITA SOSHNIKOV RW 56 8.99 7.14 47.5 0.83 13.6 0
ALEXEY MARCHENKO D 41 14.88 8.14 47.3 0.20 7.7 6

Washington Capitals 2016-2017 Regular Season

Name Pos GP TOI/GP Sh% CF% Pri.Pts per60 iCorsi per60 Playoff Games Played
Name Pos GP TOI/GP Sh% CF% Pri.Pts per60 iCorsi per60 Playoff Games Played
ANDRE BURAKOVSKY LW 64 11.52 8.70 55.3 1.46 15.8 23
LARS ELLER C 81 11.15 8.01 54.6 0.80 13.0 37
JAKUB VRANA LW 21 9.16 5.26 54.5 0.31 11.2 0
MATT NISKANEN D 78 16.72 8.81 54.3 0.74 12.6 81
DMITRY ORLOV D 82 17.47 9.72 54.2 0.80 9.0 11
JUSTIN WILLIAMS RW 80 12.72 9.22 53.8 1.53 13.6 127
BRETT CONNOLLY RW 66 10.11 9.48 53.8 1.89 10.8 0
NATE SCHMIDT D 60 14.31 9.93 53.5 0.42 9.4 10
MARCUS JOHANSSON LW 82 13.42 10.31 53.2 1.47 9.2 56
KEVIN SHATTENKIRK D 80 15.53 7.69 53.0 0.77 10.2 47
BROOKS ORPIK D 79 14.99 8.75 52.5 0.30 8.9 112
EVGENY KUZNETSOV C 82 13.95 10.12 51.9 1.57 13.1 26
TJ OSHIE RW 68 13.18 11.06 51.6 2.08 10.6 42
NICKLAS BACKSTROM C 82 13.50 9.52 51.2 1.57 11.1 83
TOM WILSON RW 82 10.60 7.96 50.4 0.69 10.2 28
DANIEL WINNIK LW 72 10.14 8.31 50.3 1.40 9.0 45
ALEX OVECHKIN LW 82 13.86 9.75 50.2 1.53 19.6 84
JOHN CARLSON D 72 16.06 8.98 49.6 0.83 12.5 63
ZACHARY SANFORD LW 20 9.57 4.71 47.8 0.00 10.7 0
KARL ALZNER D 82 15.99 9.66 47.3 0.32 6.9 57
JAY BEAGLE C 81 10.28 9.35 47.2 1.37 9.3 49
TAYLOR CHORNEY D 18 13.40 11.01 45.4 0.50 8.5 12

There is not a lot of difference in CF% across these two teams. Toronto is just a tick lower all down the lineup, but it’s Washington putting their worst Corsi defender, Karl Alzner, on the ice a lot of minutes. Both teams have a fourth line that does not drop off too much, but the Leafs are playing their worst forwards the least minutes, while Washington is letting Jay Beagle and Taylor Chorney play a little more time.

In terms of shooting percentage, the Capitals have a clutch of players with higher than average numbers and the Leafs do not. Judging if those Leafs players are just having some bad luck is mostly impossible because they are largely rookies, but the Capitals, obviously, are full of high-end talent and not inflated luck.

The primary points numbers are pretty similar too, with the Capitals having a bit better second tier, their five through ten players by points rate are just a touch higher than the Leafs. Remember this is five-on-five, and the Capitals only scored nine more goals than the Leafs in their five-on-five minutes this season.

Once you get past Alex Ovechkin, who just edges Auston Matthews, the Leafs do better at individual shooting at the top end. Overall, they are very similar.

The playoff games played is just a delightful contrast, and all you can do is laugh about it, but other than that, there is not a lot of light between these teams shown in these numbers.

Now let’s look at the goalies. For Curtis McElhinney, his first four stats do not include his seven Columbus games, the other two do, as the originating site does not separate them.

For the goalies I used the following old fashioned all-situations numbers:

  • Total minutes as well as Games Played and Games Started.
  • Shots Against, so you can see how busy they were.
  • Save percentage
  • Goals Against Average, because it’s a good indication of team play and shows you different team play with different goalies sometimes.

And I added two more modern statistics:

  • Five-on-five Save percentage, which is more reflective of goalie performance than all situations.
  • FSV%-xFSV%: this is Corsica’s “Adjusted Fenwick Save Percetage”, and it is the difference between the actual and expected save percentage taken on all unblocked shot attempts at five-on-five. The higher the positive number the better the goalie did at saving above the expected result given the shot quality.

Toronto Maple Leafs Regular Season Goalies 2016-2017

Player GP MIN GS SA SV% GAA 5x5 SV% FSV%-xFSV% Playoff Minutes
Player GP MIN GS SA SV% GAA 5x5 SV% FSV%-xFSV% Playoff Minutes
Frederik Andersen 66 3799 66 2052 0.918 2.67 0.927 0.74 1715
Curtis McElhinney 14 759 10 418 0.914 2.85 0.927 0.82 34

Washington Capitals Regular Season Goalies 2016-2017

Player GP MIN Starts SA SV% GAA 5x5 SV% FSV%-xFSV% Playoff Minutes
Player GP MIN Starts SA SV% GAA 5x5 SV% FSV%-xFSV% Playoff Minutes
Braden Holtby 63 3680 63 1690 0.925 2.07 0.937 1.72 2893
Philipp Grubauer 23 1258 19 585 0.926 2.05 0.94 1.53 60

Both of the teams’ backups have played in one playoff game ever. And the Jennings Trophy winner, Braden Holtby, is obviously the goalie who has enjoyed the best team goal suppression in the league. Frederik Andersen ... is not. He won that trophy last year, in case you need more evidence it’s a team thing.

Andersen is a good goaltender with a decent actual Fenwick save percentage over expected. Holtby and Philipp Grubauer are a class above this year.

Conclusion

So, about that GAA. That’s the difference in these teams. The Leafs have allowed 48 more goals against at five-on-five than the Capitals. That’s a huge number.

On the penalty kill, they have identical goals allowed, and both are mediocre at it.

Their power play scoring has the identical Goals For per 60 minutes.

The difference in the teams is a bit of extra even strength goal scoring from the Capitals along with the Leafs and their goals against.

I knew going into this quick analysis that we’d end up at that goals against issue, and there is a big difference in Corsi Against that creates that major difference between the teams. What I was not expecting was how similar the rest of the numbers are.

The Capitals offence is almost as supercharged as the Leafs. Their scoring is very good, and I think we all know Alex Ovechkin has not had a career year. A slightly down year for him still makes him the best player on most NHL teams.

The difference in goals against is partly goaltending. Holtby is having an excellent season and Grubauer is exactly the sort of backup you have as a contender. Andersen has been up and down, and everyone is holding their breath that he’s healthy and up for the first playoff game on Thursday and every other one after.

But in addition, the Capitals don’t spend too long in their own zone, and when they are there the whole team, including the defence, knows how to find their way out without a map. The Leafs, on the other hand, are leaning very heavily on William Nylander for their zone entries and don’t really have anyone who has shown the magic touch at zone exits.

Regular season averages don’t really tell you for sure how the two teams will measure up to each other in a playoff series. The head-to-head data is worse than useless, as there’s too little of it. But the indications are that the Leafs really need to buck the usual playoff trend of reduced scoring and pile up the goals. Trying to beat the Capitals 1-0 is not going to work.