Washington’s Tom Wilson heads to the penalty box during Game 3 against Pittsburgh. (Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press)

After years of failure and early exits, Alex Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals finally punched their ticket to the third round of the Stanley Cup playoffs. That, in and of itself, is cause for celebration, but the ultimate goal, the first championship in franchise history, has yet to be earned.

“The goal isn’t to get past the second round,” center Jay Beagle said. “The goal is the Stanley Cup. That’s always been the goal since we’ve been here. It’s a great feeling. Obviously, we’ll enjoy it. But we’re halfway there. Now we have a big job ahead of us here with Tampa.”

Washington is not the favorite to win the Stanley Cup this year and is a big underdog this round against Tampa Bay. Our postseason probabilities, which take into account a team’s actual win-loss record; its expected win-loss record based on goals scored and allowed; and its expected win-loss record based on expected goals for and against, give them a 15 percent chance of raising the Cup, the lowest in the field pending the outcome of Game 7 between the Nashville Predators and Winnipeg Jets Thursday night.

The knock against Washington is easy to quantify: Their statistical picture just doesn’t look like that of past Stanley Cup winners. The Capitals are trending below average at even strength in key postseason metrics when compared to previous Cup winners since 2008 (the first year the data is available), such as the percentage of shot attempts in their favor, expected goal differential based on shot quality and the rate of penalties drawn.

Metrics Cup winners since 2008 2017-18 Washington Capitals
Shot attempt percentage 52.0% 49.7%
Expected goal percentage 53.1% 50.9%
Percentage of penalties in their favor 50.4% 44.6%
Rank of shot attempt percentage 7th 8th
Rank of expected goal percentage 5th 6th
Rank of percentage of penalties in their favor 8th 14th

You could argue that Washington’s shot quality makes up for the low rate of shot attempts in its favor, but the amount of penalties the Capitals take compared to the opposition is alarming, especially considering their third-round opponent, the Lightning, had the third most-efficient power play during the regular season (24 percent) and bettered on that mark through the first two rounds of the playoffs (10 for 38, 26 percent).

Plus, it is likely Ovechkin and his linemates see a lot of ice time against Tampa Bay’s shutdown line of Brayden Point, Ondrej Palat and Tyler Johnson, a trio that has not only outscored opponents, 9-5, at even strength in the playoffs, it has also drawn eight more penalties than the line has taken, the highest differential among 27 other lines skating at least 50 minutes together this postseason. Meanwhile, two of the skaters that make up the top line with Ovechkin, Evgeny Kuznetsov and Tom Wilson, lead the team in minor penalties taken this playoff run.


Over the past 10 years, there have been some championship teams that ended their title run with a lower share of even-strength shot attempts, or inferior shot quality (expressed as expected goals), but no eventual Stanley Cup winner in that span ended its title run with a penalty share of less than 45 percent. If the Capitals are to prevail, they will have to improve their discipline.

Stanley Cup champion Shot attempt percentage Expected goal percentage Percentage of penalties in their favor
2008 Red Wings 60.4% 58.2% 51.3%
2009 Penguins 48.3% 52.3% 56.4%
2010 Blackhawks 51.4% 52.1% 45.0%
2011 Bruins 50.2% 51.6% 45.1%
2012 Kings 51.8% 54.9% 56.1%
2013 Blackhawks 55.5% 56.7% 48.7%
2014 Kings 53.7% 52.1% 45.9%
2015 Blackhawks 51.1% 48.0% 51.3%
2016 Penguins 51.6% 56.7% 55.2%
2017 Penguins 46.2% 48.3% 49.2%
2018 Capitals 49.7 50.9% 44.6%

Read more on the Capitals:

The 13 excruciating playoff losses that had D.C. sports fans starving for one more Capitals win

Capitals’ win puts a dagger in the D.C. sports ‘curse’

Sudden end leaves Penguins in unfamiliar position

Washingtonians go bonkers after Caps’ overtime win

Evgeny Kuznetsov’s winner: Watch it, listen to it, never forget it

That Caps win was Washington’s biggest since …