As we continue our round 1 previews, it’s time to jump into a Rangers/Caps stats preview, which plays into the line matching preview from yesterday. We know that Peter Laviolette likes to get his players out in favorable situations, and while traditional logic means shutting down Alex Ovechkin, he may not even be the biggest threat at even strength.

This is where the stats are really necessary. It helps identify which lines are actually good, and which ones are cosplaying as good. That doesn’t mean Ovechkin is cosplaying as good, it means the full contributions of his line may be less than the sum of its parts, if that makes sense.

Overall team rankings

First things first, the overall team rankings in the major possession stats matter, even if it’s just to get an overview. There are two critical pieces to this: The first is the season long stats, the second is since the trade deadline, more accurately reflecting recent events following roster moves.

Numbers from Evolving-Hockey and Natural Stat Trick. Note that NST’s HDCF/60 & HDCA/60 numbers were not available. NST does not have a filter by date function either.

These are pretty straight forward, and the Rangers are clearly the better team in terms of the numbers. Both season long and since the trade deadline, the Rangers have far better possession and quality attempts. But that’s only half the story.

The Rangers were buyers at the deadline, improving their team and becoming much better overall, both in driving offense and defense and in both quality/quantity of attempts. Meanwhile the Caps were sellers and made the playoffs mostly because the Devils and Penguins were atrocious. They got arguably worse after the deadline, and were saved by Charlie Lindgren’s heroics.

At the team level, the Rangers/Caps stats preview shows what we all know. The Rangers are the better team. But they need to execute and not play down to their opponent.

Which lines are doing the heavy lifting?

Thankfully, Luker does the heavy lifting when it comes to compiling line stats. Starting with Washington, they have one line that produces over 50% high danger chances, and that’s the Protas-Strom-Wilson line. They’ve also been finishing quite well lately, and likely represent the biggest challenge at 5v5.

However you can’t ignore Alex Ovechkin. While his line isn’t producing stellar numbers, they have an unusually high ratio of xG to HDCF, which means that when they get good chances, they are both high danger chances and they are finishing. But, that line cedes puck control and gets pinned in the defensive zone a lot.

The other line to watch is Washington’s shutdown line (presumed) with Nic Dowd at center. They don’t generate much offense, but their defensive play has put them in a net-positive position.

We know how this plays out for the Rangers. Assuming the Alex Wennberg line gets Ovechkin, then Mika Zibanejad will likely get the Strome line. It’s expected that Peter Laviolette will try to get the Artemi Panarin line away from Nic Dowd, but it may not be much of a priority if the Wennberg and Zibanejad lines do their jobs.

Filip Chytil is a massive wildcard here, especially if he’s the 3C.

Caps special teams aren’t that special

The Caps aren’t just middling at 5v5, they are also pretty meh on special teams as well. Their 20.8% powerplay rate is 20th in the NHL, even with Ovechkin, and their penalty kill is 18th with a 79% success rate. That’s over the course of a full season, mind you.

Recently, their special teams have been better. Again, leaning on Luker’s superb charts, we see the Caps are generally ok at limiting chances against on the penalty kill, but are prone to major lapses. The story to close out the season was Charlie Lindgren, who was superb. Your goalie is your best penalty killer, after all.

The Rangers have a top tier powerplay, and it’s expected they will be able to find opportunities and get a few goals with the man advantage. Their 3rd ranked powerplay (26.4%) has elite shooting talent and is no longer a one-shot pony with Mika Zibanejad. Artemi Panarin’s new willingness to shoot has given the Blueshirts two lethal shots with the best net front presence in the NHL (Chris Kreider) in front.

What the Caps do have going for them is they are a top-five team in penalties taken, with just 504 PIM against at 5v5. The Rangers drew a 13th-best 593 PIMs at 5v5, making getting to a Rangers powerplay a strength vs. strength.

On the powerplay, the Caps are again middle of the road with a tremendous spike right before the trade deadline. They also significantly outperformed their process around the middle-end of March. This is a powerplay that has great options–Ovechkin and TJ Oshie are great shooters–but is inconsistent at best.

We know how the Washington powerplay is going to run. They will try to get Ovechkin as many looks as possible, and deferring down to Oshie at the bumper if Ovechkin can’t get the looks.

The Rangers penalty kill is a massive strength, killing penalties at an 84.5% rate (3rd in the NHL). They are 15th in 5v5 PIMs, taking 593 minutes of penalties at 5v5 this season. Washington doesn’t draw diddly at 5v5, with a 3rd-worst 508 PIMs drawn at 5v5.

Rangers/Caps stats preview summary

The Rangers are very clearly the better team. There’s no amount of dissecting of the numbers and the lines that really shows this other than a lopsided matchup. But lopsided matchups don’t always result in lopsided results. Just ask the Boston Bruins.

The Rangers need to show up. They need to avoid playing down to their opponent. And most importantly, they need to finish them off quickly. There’s enough playoff experience and skill, combined with Charlie Lindgren’s potential heroics, that can beat the Rangers if they get complacent.

This is where coaching matters. Laviolette has shown a solid ability to get this team going again after a loss. Assuming he has the same success in the playoffs, this should be a short series.


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