In 5-on-5 Corsi percentage, the metric which counts how many shot attempts a team has vs. how many it allows, the Capitals ranked 24th at 48 percent.
Even more stunning, when you factor in the Capitals’ high-danger Corsi percentage (their shot attempts from the area around the net), the Capitals ranked last at 45 percent.
But there they were celebrating, marching (and drinking) around Washington D.C. on Tuesday to celebrate the franchise’s first Stanley Cup.
Did the Capitals just eschew analytics altogether, and is their triumph a repudiation of the advanced hockey statistics that exist? Not exactly. The Capitals just took a more refined approach to shot making.
The traditional thinking with Corsi statistics says the more shot attempts you have, the longer you have the puck and the more likely you are to score.
The Capitals didn’t buy that logic and instead their focus on offense was not about getting a volume of shot attempts but instead trying to work to get higher-quality attempts. To do that, the Capitals wanted to get the goalie moving.
“Any goalie will tell you, if a goalie has to move two feet, then his save percentage is going to be pretty good. If he has to move four, it’s going to go down,” Capitals coach Barry Trotz told the Washington Post.
“If he has to move eight, it’s really going to go down. And so, teams are looking at breaking down goalies and looking for different ways of creating offense, saying yeah, we get shots, but really, they’re not great scoring chances.
“We need to create great scoring chances, rather than just shots.”
The Capitals adjusted their way of thinking after two consecutive losses to the Penguins, who went on to win the two previous Stanley Cups. The Penguins had a knack for getting opposing goaltenders off their game and the Capitals took note.
So the Capitals focused on moving the puck laterally across the ice and making goaltenders slide in the crease so they couldn’t zero in on shots.
According to Capitals goaltender Braden Holtby, it’s easier for a goalie to stop a lot of easy shots than a smaller number of more difficult shots.
“There’s some that you can’t do anything about, no one can, and that’s what we’re trying to create,” Holtby said, according to the Post.
All that work paid off in the playoffs, when the Capitals made some of the league’s top goaltenders, such as Tampa’s Andrei Vasilevskiy and Vegas’ Marc-Andre Fleury look mortal.
Vasilveskiy had a goals-against average of 2.62 during the regular season. It was 3.19 against the Capitals in the Eastern Conference finals. Fleury’s was 2.24 during the regular season, 4.09 against the Capitals.
All sports leagues are copycat leagues, and with the Capitals’ success you can expect teams to favor quality over quantity in the future.