The Washington Capitals rank 18th in the league in even-strength scoring chances produced per 60 minutes and 21st in high-danger chances per 60 minutes. (Gerry Broome/Associated Press)

The Washington Capitals won again Tuesday, a 5-4 victory at the Carolina Hurricanes that included two goals — one in overtime — from superstar winger Alex Ovechkin.

It was Washington’s first win in the new year but also its 11th in 15 games. The Capitals have sole possession of first place in the Metropolitan Division with 53 points, a surprise considering all the turnover they had in the offseason.

“We have a great core here and a lot of great players,” forward Jay Beagle said Tuesday during an interview with The Sports Junkies on 106.7 The Fan. “So, every year, we should be contenders to win the Presidents’ Trophy and then go in the playoffs and be contenders to win the Stanley Cup. That’s the way we look at it. That’s our mind-set.”

The Capitals might look like contenders on paper, but the underlying metrics suggest another postseason flame-out is more likely than a breakthrough.

For the first time since Barry Trotz took over as coach, the Capitals are giving up more even-strength shot attempts than they produce, even adjusting for score effects. The team will agree that it doesn’t take many shots but contends it’s quality, not quantity, that matters.

“We’re trying to get our shooting percentage in areas where we can be a little better,” Trotz told The Post’s Isabelle Khurshudyan. “But, yeah, we’re not a shoot-first mentality on our team, and that shows up in some of the analytics.”

Here’s what else shows up in the analytics: Washington is also in the red for even-strength scoring chances, including those from the high-danger areas such as the slot and the crease, and that’s a problem.

Capitals under Barry Trotz Shot attempts Scoring chances
2014-15 52% 52%
2015-16 52% 52%
2016-17 53% 52%
2017-18 49% 47%

According to NHL statistical site Natural Stat Trick, the Capitals rank 18th in the league in even-strength scoring chances produced per 60 minutes and 21st in high-danger chances per 60 minutes, giving them a significant gap between the goal differential they have compared to the one we would expect, taking into account shot type, angle, distance and whether it was a rebound.


(hockeyviz.com)

For example, Washington has an actual even-strength goal differential of plus-12, good for ninth in the league. Its expected goal differential, however, is minus-14. Only the Buffalo Sabres (10-20-9, 29 points) and Arizona Coyotes (9-27-5, 23 points), the league’s worst teams in the standings, are worse.

Team Actual even-strength
goal differential
Expected even-strength
goal differential
Coyotes (9-27-5, last in Pacific) -42 -17
Sabres (10-20-9, last in Atlantic) -25 -14
Capitals (25-13-3, first in Metropolitan) +12 -14
Ducks (19-14-8, fourth in Pacific) 12 -14
Senators (12-17-8, seventh in Atlantic) -24 -11

And this has been an issue for Washington even during its sparkling run from December through the win against Carolina on Tuesday: The Capitals have an actual goal differential of plus-10 when it should have been minus-7 after accounting for shot quality, a difference of three wins in a month.

J.P. from Japers’ Rink correctly points out this disparity between the team’s actual goal differential and expected goal differential is not new, but it is magnified in light of the team also giving up the shot attempt advantage. In fact, since 2014-15, 20 teams have been outshot at even strength while also having an actual goal differential higher than their expected goal differential. Eleven of those teams (55 percent) failed to qualify for the postseason, while the other seven could not make it any farther than the second round of the playoffs.

You don’t need me to tell you the franchise’s history when it comes to playoff disappointment, but if things keep going the way they are, there will likely be one more heartbreak to add to the pile.

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