Weird stuff happens in hockey. Even weirder stuff happens in playoff hockey.
During the regular season, the Washington Capitals succeeded despite poor predictive numbers. Over the first two games of their series with the Columbus Blue Jackets, the opposite has been true.
Washington is down 0-2 despite controlling the shot share and the scoring chances at 5v5 against the Blue Jackets. Both games in Washington went to overtime; both games ended with a puck in the back of the Capitals’ net. They don’t deserve to be two losses from elimination, but life isn’t fair.
How We Got Here
In Game 1, things were pretty tight. When all was said and done, in all situations Blue Jackets generated 2.46 expected goals (xG) and the Capitals produced 1.87. At 5v5, Columbus attempted 51 shots to Washington’s 46, but the Caps had a slight edge with 1.11 xG at 5v5 compared to Columbus’ 1.0. It was a tight game, but it’s unfair to say the Jackets got lucky.
Game 2 was a different story. The Capitals blitzed the Blue Jackets and dominated play. Washington created 4.59 total xGs while Columbus produced only 2.6. At 5v5, the Capitals won the xG battle 2.84 to 1.09, attempted 26 more shots (66-40), and produced 11 more scoring chances than the Blue Jackets. Unfortunately for the Capitals, Columbus goalie Sergei Bobrovsky stood on his head and spit wooden nickels out of his mouth. The Blue Jackets’ All-World netminder stole Game 2.
Odds and Ends
At the time of writing, the Caps are one of five teams (Maple Leafs, Devils, Avalanche and Ducks) currently down 0-2. Of those five teams, the Capitals have the shortest series odds (+400, 20% implied probability). However, they are only one of two teams — Anaheim being the other — that dropped both games at home. The Ducks’ series odds against the Sharks currently sit at +435 (18.7%).
The market is suggesting the Caps have the best chance to erase the two-game deficit and +400 is a juicy number, but that doesn’t mean it’s a good wager.
Let’s just assume for a minute that the Capitals’ Game 3 odds (+120) are correct and that they will remain the same for Game 4 as well. If that’s the case, the Caps have roughly a 20.5% chance of winning BOTH Games 3 and 4 in Columbus.
As expected, the betting public is having a tough time believing that the Capitals will fall into a 3-0 hole. As of 1 p.m. ET on Wednesday, 73% of the tickets are on the Capitals, causing the line to fall from +123 to +113. According to our John Ewing, underdogs getting at least 70% of ML bets have gone 3-12 SU in the NHL playoffs since 2006.
Abandon All Hope
Like with live betting, seeing a favorite go down early can provide an opportunity for a bettor. When the Warriors fall behind the Knicks by 15 points in the first half, the natural reaction would be to “hammer the Warriors at plus-money.” The same can be said with series prices. The casual bettor sees a juicy price next to Washington and thinks, “when will I ever get a chance like this again.”
Washington isn’t without a chance. The Capitals have some serious talent, and Braden Holtby has shown the ability to be a game-stealer in the past. If a couple bounces go the Caps’ way in Game 3 or Bobrovsky has an off night, it’s game on. The problem is, considering Columbus’ season-long peripheral numbers, it’s logical to expect the Blue Jackets to control the puck for the rest of the series. By losing Games 1 and 2, the Capitals have reduced themselves to relying on luck and goaltending (voodoo) because it’ll be hard for them to match their performance — especially without the injured Andre Burakovsky — from Game 2.
For the Capitals to get back into this series, they’re going to need to play at a higher level than they usually do. The problem is, they already did that and it didn’t work.
Photo: Washington Capitals goaltender Braden Holtby skates off the ice in Game 2 of the first round of the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs at Capital One Arena. The Blue Jackets won, 5-4, in overtime. Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports
Stats provided by MoneyPuck.com and Natural Stat Trick.