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the Underlying Numbers: Penguins vs. Capitals

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The Penguins traveled to Washington, DC to square off with the Capitals at Verizon Center on Wednesday night. It was *RIVALRY NIGHT* on NBC. The Penguins kept the wins rolling along with a 3-1 victory. It's always fun to beat the Capitals at Verizon Center.

Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

The Penguins are 5-4 and just beat the Nashville Predators and Washington Capitals in consecutive games, both on opposing ice. That is wonderful, and let's hope that the Penguins can keep it going. After starting out the season with three straight losses, the Penguins have now rattled off five wins in six games. The NBC crew noted how this could become a spring-board type win for the Penguins, sending them on a hot streak where they start stacking wins together.

Things are far from perfect for the Penguins right now, but the beginning of the season with a team full of players who haven't played very much together, your best case scenario is almost what's happening right now: win some games while you're figuring it out.

Early domination in the season for the Penguins hasn't led to significant postseason success in the last five years, and right now, in October, headed into November, style points don't mean a damn thing.

Lines and Pairings

Highlights

Positives

Milestone games. Kris Letang played his 500th NHL game. Beau Bennett played his 100th NHL game. Let's hope that the both of them can keep their poor health and ridiculous injuries behind them.

Depth forwards. Kevin Porter and Matt Cullen. Circling back to this again. These two guys just play so well together.

Goaltending. Marc-Andre Fleury was amazing yet again. Okay, now seriously, can we please talk about Marc-Andre Fleury? He has been ridiculous this season, has yet to cost the Penguins a game, and has bailed them out numerous times. The Mike Bales Effect on Marc-Andre Fleury has been amazing to see. After the 2012 playoffs against the Flyers (which we will never speak of again), and then the 2013 playoffs against the Islanders, it looked like Fleury's career was headed down an ugly road, with a contract situation nearing where many expected him not to be brought back. And then this happened:

He has become significantly more stable, and less volatile, which has always been the knock on Fleury. Makes great ten-bell saves when needed, but gives up blunders when he shouldn't.

Only 9 games into this season, he's been insane and is killing it in terms of his save percentage and how that stacks up to the rest of his career.

Ben Lovejoy against Alex Ovechkin. Third period rushes into the offensive zone from Ovechkin were terrifying, but Lovejoy did a good job to marginalize his efforts.

Nick Bonino and his precise empty net goal. It reminded me of watching a basketball player shoot a long-distance 3-point shot and knowing it was going in right away.

Negatives

Brooks Orpik's hit on Phil Kessel. Ugly hit, should have been a 5-miniute major. Just happy that Kessel came away from it without any injury.

Tom Wilson was jammed up too, per the usual. What a pissbaby.

The power play. WHY DO I KEEP REPEATING MYSELF? The 5-on-3 to start the game was utter garbage.

Stats

Capitals Penguins
Goals 1 (Kuznetsov) 3 (Bennett, Kessel, Bonino ENG)
Shots on Goal 35 24
Even Strength Corsi For Percentage 55.9% 44.1%

Insanely close, back-and-forth type game, until the Capitals went for it all in the 3rd and took control of the shots battle.

Analytics

Even Strength Shot Attempts

Nice to see the Kessel and Bennett goals come from the dangerous scoring areas. I'm hoping that the three goals tonight can be a springboard for the Penguins offensive game. But good lord, the Caps offensive assault in this game was terrifying. Tons of credit to Marc-Andre Fleury for this one.

Power Play Shot Attempts

LOOK AT ALL THOSE CAPITALS SHOTS. (CC: The Pittsburgh Penguins)

Shot attempt charts provided by War on Ice.

penscapsxg15

The Caps bombarded the front of the net, but Fleury stood tall.

Expected Goals map provided by Don't Tell Me About Heart.

A refresher of the key for these charts (except the diamonds are now circles)

More information and description/analysis of Expected Goals can be found here on Hockey Graphs.

In the previous post here using these charts for the first time, I mentioned how it factors in things like shot quality. A more detailed list of what factors into that shot quality is below:

The Malkin line had a hard time at EV against the Ovechkin line, but Olli Maatta and  Rob Scuderi kept their heads above water thanks to a nice line-matching getting them out against the Caps line of Jay Beagle, Jason Chimera, and noted pissbaby Tom Wilson.

A basic description on how to read these charts: Cross reference a player from each team, and that box shows how many shot attempts each team had while those two players shared ice time.

For a refresher on how to read these charts, a write-up with descriptions of what colors mean, which lines to read, and more: H2H Corsi Chart Primer

H2H Chart via Muneeb Alam from Japers' Rink

So, uh, yeah, Rob Scuderi. The Capitals were everywhere, in terms of shots and shot attempts. Marc-Andre Fleury was ridiculous and kept the Penguins in the game when they needed him to.

5v5 Individual Shot Charts provided by War on Ice

Disclaimer: if the bars may look worse on one graph than another (for example, here, with Ian Cole), they are centered around 50% to show relativity to the rest of the forwards/defensemen.

We're nine games into the season, and I am fairly certain that Matt Cullen, in his former life and perhaps in his future reincarnation will be the God of Corsi? I don't know how he does it, especially when sometimes his linemates for a game will be in the basement and he still trots out a 50%+ performance.

Rough outing for Kris Letang and Ian Cole, especially when you factor in that they had some matches against the Capitals 3rd and 4th lines.

Line-by-line Corsi data provided by Hockey Stats

Up next, the Buffalo Sabres and Dan Bylsma are coming to town. Hopefully, the Penguins can get to their game for tonight.