Golden Knights vs. Capitals: The Ultimate Stanley Cup Betting Preview
Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports. Pictured: Alex Ovechkin
Coming into the playoffs, both of these teams “overperformed” in the regular season, but in very different ways. Vegas overperformed in the sense that it’s a bloody expansion team playing for a championship. I mean, the Knights were listed at 200-1 to win the Stanley Cup before the season started. On the other hand, Washington overperformed in the sense that its peripheral numbers didn’t paint a picture of a Stanley Cup contender. The Capitals outran their underlying metrics, and, thus, everyone gave them a snowball’s chance in Vegas to make it to this point.
The playoffs have been a different story for the Caps. Not only has their starting goalie, Braden Holtby, found his game, but so has the rest of the team. After going a full season with poor possession numbers, the Capitals have turned a corner. They were trending upward over the last quarter of the season, but it is surprising to see them succeed this much in the playoffs, considering their competition.
The Caps went from being a below-average (50%) Corsi For (a metric that uses shot attempts at 5v5 as a barometer for possession) team to an above-average team. That increase in possession is paying dividends on the defensive side of the puck, where Washington has drastically improved its game.
The Golden Knights have also improved their analytics portfolio in the postseason, but their improvements aren’t as head-turning as the Capitals’.
The Knights also got severely outplayed by the Jets in the Western Conference Final, which is pretty crazy since they won in five games. Vegas’ game plan is pretty simple: pressure teams into mistakes and make them pay for said errors. Oh, and the Knights also have Marc-Andre Fleury.
not to alarm anyone, but Fleury’s performance has been worth about 2.4* to 3.3** wins to VGK
* conservatively, converting 14 goals prevented to wins using 2.87G/Pt
** calculating expected points based on goal support & xGA, comparing to actual points (OT is considered 1.5 pts) https://t.co/Z1EWbcIcm2
— Cole Anderson (@CrowdScoutSprts) May 17, 2018
Fleury has been the best goalie in the playoffs by a wide margin, but Holtby has also impressed since taking his job back in Game 3 of the first round. Even though the Caps’ netminder’s numbers are dwarved by Fleury’s, that doesn’t mean he hasn’t been a key cog in Washington’s run to the final.
This is also a good time to remind bettors that it isn’t a good idea to just blindly bet the Knights because Fleury has been exceptional to this point. Goaltending is incredibly hard to project, especially game to game, so keep that in mind as you are breaking down this series. — Michael Leboff
RIP The Enigmatic Russian Narrative, Part 1
Something that I have discussed throughout the playoffs is the demons that the Capitals are in the process of exorcising. The first two were wiped out at once with the beating of the Penguins and advancing to the conference final for the first time in the Ovechkin Era. The next one was ridding themselves of Game 7 woes, which they did in spectacular fashion by beating Tampa Bay on its home ice 4-0.
The Capitals have one more hurdle to clear, and that is winning the Stanley Cup. They are facing a Vegas team that has defied all odds thus far this season. The thing is, Washington is defying all the odds that have surrounded it over the last decade as well.
Over the course of the season, the Capitals found themselves more lucky than good. That has changed in these playoffs, where they have been fantastic. It all starts with the hero of the story, Alex Ovechkin. As illustrated in this tweet, he has not only generated a great deal of shots, the shots he has been generating are that of an amazingly high variety.
It’s the Ovechkin redemption tour. pic.twitter.com/B1WcM4IA3f
— Sean Tierney (@ChartingHockey) May 24, 2018
The progression Ovechkin has made over his entire career is fantastic. Ovechkin came into the league focused on one thing and one thing only: scoring goals. That was the case for quite a few years. In recent years, especially since Barry Trotz has taken over, you can watch games and see him make hustle plays and defensive plays that you would not have seen in years past. Is he the best defensive player in the league? Of course not. However, you can see the effort he has put in over the years to turn himself into a more complete hockey player, which in turn has propelled Washington to the heights it had not yet seen.
This series is the culmination of all of these efforts he has put in, giving him one more chance to defy the odds against the team that is defying all the odds itself. — Sean Newsham
RIP The Enigmatic Russian Narrative, Part 2
I’m the furthest thing from an Ovechkin fanboy, but win or lose, you have to respect the impact he’s had on the 2018 playoffs.
Of players with seven or more games played in the playoffs, Ovechkin’s 3.16 individual scoring chances for (iSCF) per game leads all skaters, and his 1.26 high-danger scoring chances for (iHDCF) is sixth-best.
On a team level, Washington has averaged 8.05 HDCF per game while Ovechkin has been on the ice. Of the two teams remaining — at the forward position — only Jonathan Marchessault (8.2) and Tom Wilson (8.13) top Ovechkin in that category. — Joe Holka
Did You Know?
Goin’ Streaking: The Golden Knights enter the Stanley Cup on a four-game winning streak. Since the 1998 regular season, 15 Stanley Cup games have been played where one team is on at least a four-game winning streak entering the contest. Those teams are 3-12, having lost six straight games dating back to the 2010 playoffs.
Clean Sheets: The Capitals enter Game 1 having shut out the Lightning in consecutive games. Since 1990, only three teams have played a Stanley Cup game where they are coming off consecutive shutouts, and none has done it since 2008. All three teams in the spot the Capitals are in lost their respective game after the consecutive shutouts (all by a 3-2 score), but each came back to win the series.
- 2008 Red Wings – Lost 3-2 in Pittsburgh in Game 3 after shutting out the Penguins in Game 1 and Game 2. Red Wings won the series in six games.
- 2003 Devils – Lost 3-2 in Anaheim in overtime in Game 3 after shutting out the Ducks in Game 1 and Game 2. Devils won the series in seven games.
- 2002 Red Wings – Lost 3-2 at home vs. Carolina in overtime in Game 1 after shutting out the Avalanche in Game 6 and Game 7 of the Western Conference Final. Red Wings ended up winning the series in five games. — Evan Abrams
Savor the Favored: Vegas opened as a -160 favorite to win the series. Since 2001, the series favorite has won 13 of 16 Stanley Cups. The last series favorite to not hoist the Cup was Vancouver in 2011. The Canucks were -222 vs. the Boston Bruins.
Well-Rested: After beating Winnipeg in five games, Vegas will have had eight days between games. Since 2006, playoff teams with a week or more of rest have gone 21-21 straight-up, but 14-8 SU if they are favored. — John Ewing
Our Series Bets
Leboff: To me, it comes down to which version of the Washington Capitals you believe in. If you think the Caps’ current run of form will continue in the Stanley Cup Final, I think it will be very tough for Vegas to skate with Washington. I am a believer in the Caps now. I am taking the Capitals for the series at +115 or above, and I like them in Game 1 at +115 or above.
Newsham: Capitals +118 to win the Cup, Ovechkin to win the Conn Smythe +348 (both on Pinnacle).
Stuckey: I played the Caps in Game 1. This team has thrived on the road all postseason. I think they let the pressure get to them in D.C. at times. The Knights also seem to embrace the postseason challenge away from home. I will look to back both teams as road underdogs throughout this series unless I see something unexpected in the first two games. I think we’re in for a long one.
Stats provided by Natural Stat Trick and Corsica.