The Capitals’ Depth Is Winning Out Against the Golden Knights
Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports. Pictured: Evgeny Kuznetsov
The Washington Capitals put together the best performance of the Stanley Cup Final on Saturday night and were rewarded with a 3-1 victory. They now lead the series 2-1 and are -230 favorites to win the Cup. That number implies they have ~69.7% chance of hoisting Lord Stanley.
Often in sports — especially one as volatile as hockey — the better team loses, but so far the series scoreline is a pretty fair reflection of how things have shaken out.
Game 4 Odds In Context
After closing at +137 (Pinnacle) in Game 1, the Capitals opened at that same number for Game 2. Money then came in on the visitors, and they closed at +125, while Vegas came off the board at -138.
For Game 3, the line opened Washington -134/+121 but closed at -123/+111. It should be noted that nobody knew what to expect out of Washington’s first-line center, Evgeny Kuznetsov, for Game 3. The 26-year-old left Game 2 with an injury, and even though he was announced as a go before the game, it was assumed he’d be at less than 100%.
Game 4 opened at -124/+112 in favor of Washington but quickly moved to -130/+118, which shouldn’t be that surprising considering how well Washington has played over the last six periods. Even so, when you consider where Vegas closed for Games 1 (-152) and 2 (-138), compared to Washington’s prices in D.C., it is clear that the market still fancies the Golden Knights as the better team in this series, which is a notion I disagree with.
Under the Hood
Even though the Knights have had a little bit more of the shot share at 5v5, the Capitals have generated more scoring chances and high-danger scoring chances in the series. In terms of expected goals (xG), things were basically a coin flip in the first two games, so a split is a fair result, but Game 3 saw Washington get credit for a great game.
A lot has been made of Vegas’ depth throughout the season, but Washington’s middle-roster players have played huge roles this series.
The Capitals’ third line especially deserves our attention, as Lars Eller, Brett Connolly and Andre Burakovsky have driven play at an impressive clip through the first three games of the Final.
With that line rolling, the Capitals are going to be hard to beat. Their top line of Alex Ovechkin, Kuznetsov and Tom Wilson is always going to get chances, and their second line, which consists of T.J. Oshie, Nicklas Backstrom and Jakub Vrana, is basically another No. 1 unit.
Meanwhile, the Knights’ middle-six forwards have struggled mightily, and that means their only way out is to rely on their stars. Jonathan Marchessault, Reilly Smith and William Karlsson will need to carry the Knights — and they’re capable of doing that — but it’s a tall order.
Coming into the playoffs, the narrative surrounding these teams was that Washington’s star players would need to carry the Capitals through each game, while Vegas’ depth would lead to its success. So far, the opposite has been true, and the Caps’ ability to roll three talented lines has made the difference. That is a luxury that Vegas just doesn’t have.
Looking Beyond Game 4
Just like in Game 3, I don’t see much value in the moneyline on either side right now. I make this game just about 55/45 in favor of Washington, so the odds are appropriate. Barring a Washington blowout in Game 4, I think there will be value on the Capitals in Game 5 on the road given their prices in the first two games of the series. Even if Vegas loses Game 4, I foresee the “must-win” narrative coming into play and inflating the price on the Golden Knights in Sin City. Just something to keep in mind for when the Game 5 market opens.
by Joe Holka
Through three games, Marchessault (24) is the only player with more individual Corsi For (shot attempts) than Carlson (16) in the series, and half of his shot attempts have come on the power play. No player — not even Ovechkin — has more power play shot attempts than Carlson (eight), and Vegas has little reason to change its defensive scheme after allowing just one power-play goal (on seven opportunities) for the Capitals through three games. The Golden Knights seem content taking away Ovechkin’s one-timer, which opens up lanes for Carlson to get shots through from the top of the umbrella. His six shots on goal in Game 3 could easily be less of an outlier and more of a sign of things to come; if that continues, the current line of 2.5 could look pretty egregious early in Game 4.
Game 4 Facts and Figures
by Evan Abrams
The Golden Knights have dropped two games in a row for the first time this postseason. The Knights did actually lose their final two games of the regular season, but Marc-Andre Fleury didn’t start both of those games. In fact, the last time “Flower” dropped two in a row was March 14 and 16 against the Devils and Wild, respectively. Fleury started 25 games between then and Game 3. The good news for the Knights is that Fleury is 4-0 coming off two losses in a row with Vegas.
Another trend that points to the Knights is that teams that have lost at least two games in a row in the Stanley Cup Final are 18-4 (+9.7 units) in their next game. However, road teams in this spot are just 2-2, while home teams are 16-2 and 8.8 units in the black.
Data courtesy of Natural Stat Trick, Moneypuck.com and Corsica.Hockey.