The Washington Capitals offense gets a lot of attention, but the Toronto Maple Leafs may be their equal when it comes to scoring. The real story is the Capitals highly underrated defensive play; Washington goaltenders Braden Holtby and Philipp Grubauer won the William M. Jennings Trophy by allowing the fewest goals (170, plus seven empty-net goals) during the regular season.
According to the numbers, the Maple Leafs will have to rely on center Auston Matthews and their other rookies to jump to an early lead, because their chances of an upset will dwindle with every passing moment they trail an opponent that plays excellent shutdown defense.
Here are five interesting stats about this series:
Toronto went from 68 points in 2014-15 and 69 in 2015-16 to 95 this season; it was the most for the Maple Leafs since they had 103 in 2003-04. Youth and speed were the keys for the turnaround.
Matthews led all NHL rookies in scoring with 69 points (40 goals, 29 assists), and William Nylander (22 goals, 39 assists) and Mitchell Marner (19 goals, 42 assists) tied for third with 61 points. Forward Patrik Laine of the Winnipeg Jets (64) was the only other rookie to finish with 50 or more points.
Toronto got a total of 304 points (123 goals, 181 assists) from its rookies, the most in the NHL. In contrast, the Capitals got five goals, four assists, and nine points from their first-year players.
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Off season for Ovechkin
Toronto may have chosen the perfect season to face forward Alex Ovechkin, whose scoring touch wasn't as evident in 2016-17. Ovechkin, who had scored 50 or more goals in each of the past three seasons, tied for 13th in the NHL with 33; he shared the team lead in goals (with T.J. Oshie) for the first time in his career.
Ovechkin failed to lead the League in shots on goal for the second time in his 12 seasons in the NHL. He finished with 313 shots, second to defenseman Brent Burns of the San Jose Sharks, who had 320.
Ovechkin remained as dangerous as ever on the power play. His 17 power-play goals tied Brayden Schenn of the Philadelphia Flyers and Nikita Kucherov of the Tampa Bay Lightning for the League lead. But his 16 goals at even strength were the fewest of his career in an 82-game season. He tied for fourth on the Capitals and tied for 67th in the NHL.
Equality of scoring
Even with Ovechkin's numbers down, Washington finished third in the NHL with 261 goals and was fourth on the power play at 23.1 percent.
However, Toronto is one of the few teams that qualifies as Washington's equal offensively. The Maple Leafs ranked fifth with 250 goals and were second on the power play at 23.8 percent.
Statistically, the primary difference is Toronto achieved its scoring with high shot volumes, ranking fourth with 2,616 shots; Washington did it with a League-leading 10.5 shooting percentage on 2,494 shots.
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Washington's offense overshadows one of the League's most underrated defenses.
John Carlson, Matt Niskanen, Karl Alzner, Kevin Shattenkirk, Dmitry Orlov, and Brooks Orpik form one of most experienced and well-balanced two-way defense groups in the NHL. That's why the Capitals allowed the fewest goals (177), the fourth-fewest shots (2,282) and ranked seventh in penalty-killing (83.8 percent).
In contrast, the Maple Leafs allowed 2,673 shots, the third-highest total in the NHL, and 234 goals, ninth-most overall and the most among the 16 playoff teams. This is one area where experience trumps youth and speed.
First period is critical
The Maple Leafs and Capitals were the NHL's top two in first-period scoring this season, with 85 and 80 goals, respectively. However, Washington allowed 38 goals, the fewest in the NHL; Toronto allowed 70.
Should they fall behind, the Maple Leafs have more at stake than the Capitals. Washington ranked third with a .429 winning percentage when trailing after one period (6-7-1); Toronto's .130 winning percentage was last (3-17-3).
When leading after two periods, the Capitals defense kicked in; they were 41-1-1 and their .953 winning percentage ranked second to the Calgary Flames (.971; 33-0-1). Toronto was 31-1-9, and its .756 winning percentage in such situations ranked 25th, suggesting the Maple Leafs remain vulnerable until the final buzzer sounds.