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Behind The Numbers

Capitals have edge in Cup Final with power play, Holtby's hot hand

Underlying numbers suggest high shot volume, experience may tip scales against Golden Knights

by Rob Vollman / Correspondent

For the Washington Capitals to win the first Stanley Cup championship in their 43-season history, they will rely on the power play, Braden Holtby's goaltending, high shot volumes from forward Alex Ovechkin and center Evgeny Kuznetsov, and defenseman Brooks Orpik's experience in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Let's examine the underlying numbers behind each of these requirements. Game 1 of the best-of-7 Stanley Cup Final against the Vegas Golden Knights is at T-Mobile Arena on Monday (8 p.m. ET; NBC, CBC, SN, TVAS).


[RELATED: Complete Golden Knights vs. Capitals series coverage]


The man-advantage

In what could be a physical series, the Capitals can gain an advantage on the power play. In the Stanley Cup Playoffs, they have scored on 28.8 percent of their power-play opportunities (17-for-59), second in the NHL behind the Boston Bruins (36.4 percent). The Golden Knights rank 10th (17.6 percent; 9-for-51).

The Capitals have had one of the best power plays in the NHL for six seasons. From 2012-13 to 2014-15, they were ranked first (24.9 percent), and from 2015-16 through this season, they were tied for first with the Pittsburgh Penguins (22.5 percent).

Video: Comparing the power plays of the Caps and Vegas

Washington relies heavily on its top power-play unit, which includes Ovechkin and defenseman John Carlson on the point, and Kuznetsov, center Nicklas Backstrom and forward T.J. Oshie up front. Each averaged at least 3:22 power-play minutes per game during the regular season and has averaged at least 3:23 in the playoffs. Forward Brett Connolly was sixth in power-play time on ice during the regular season (1:26), and center Lars Eller is sixth in the playoffs (1:28).

Each of the top five has at least nine power-play points in the postseason. Carlson led the Capitals with 32 power-play points (four goals, 28 assists) in the regular season and leads them with 10 (three goals, seven assists) in the playoffs.


Goaltending duel

Based on each goaltender's save percentage this postseason, Marc-Andre Fleury of the Golden Knights has the edge in the Cup Final over Holtby, .947 to .923. 

There are several factors working in Holtby's favor though. With an active shutout streak of 159:47, Holtby may have the hotter hand. He also has superior NHL career numbers in the regular season and playoffs.

Among the 36 active NHL goalies to play at least 10 career playoff games, Holtby's .930 save percentage in 77 games ranks third, and Fleury's save percentage of .913 is tied for 26th. In the regular season, Holtby's .919 save percentage is tied for 11th among the 90 active NHL goalies to play at least 10 games, and Fleury's .913 save percentage is tied for 40th.

Video: WSH@TBL, Gm7: Holtby stops 29 shots for shutout

In case of injury, Washington has the added advantage of a proven backup. Among the same group of 90 goalies, Philipp Grubauer has a career save percentage of .923. Vegas' three options to back up Fleury -- Malcolm Subban, Maxime Lagace and Dylan Ferguson -- have a combined 41 games of NHL experience, none in the playoffs, and an .892 save percentage. Subban is day to day with an undisclosed injury.


High shot volumes

If the Golden Knights win the goaltending duel, then the Capitals must get more shots on goal in order to win. In that regard, they can rely on Ovechkin and Kuznetsov, who rank first and second in the playoffs with 80 and 78 shots, a combined total of 158 shots in 19 games (8.3 per game).

The playoff record for combined shots by two teammates is reachable; 195 in 22 games, set by forwards Henrik Zetterberg (116) and Mikael Samuelsson (79) for the Detroit Red Wings in 2008.


Experience factor

Going into the postseason, the Capitals roster had 902 games of combined playoff experience, 70.8 percent more than the Golden Knights (528). Vegas had two players with more than 50 games of playoff experience: Fleury (115) and forward James Neal (80). The Capitals had nine: Orpik (125), Ovechkin (97), Backstrom (96), defenseman Matt Niskanen (94), Carlson (76), center Jay Beagle (62), Holtby (59), Oshie (55) and Eller (50).

Video: Discussing the Capitals' journey to the Cup Final

Of that group, Orpik is the only one to compete in the Stanley Cup Final, with the Penguins in 2007-08 and 2008-09. The Penguins won the Stanley Cup in 2009.

As was the case a decade ago, Orpik's steadying influence and defensive play may prove essential. At even strength, the Capitals have allowed four goals in 262:51 minutes with Orpik on the ice this postseason, 0.91 goals per 60 minutes.


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