After a regular season in which Alex Ovechkin was held without a goal in four games against the New York Rangers the perception was that the top D pairing of Marc Staal and Dan Girardi was doing an outstanding job at containing one of the league's top offensive threats. And even as this postseason has progressed, Girardi has earned some pub for his colossal cajones, blocking shots with little regard for his personal well being. But some scoring chance data collected by Neil Greenberg, a contributor to the Washington Post and hockey blog Russian Machine Never Breaks, implies that the Blueshirts' top tandem may have just been lucky against Ovechkin during the regular season.
According to the ESPN Insider article, Staal and Girardi have yielded a disproportionate amount of scoring chances to Ovechkin's line, with scoring chances defined as "a clear play directed toward the opposing net from a dangerous scoring area -- loosely defined as the top of the circle in and inside the faceoff dots." The data shows that the Caps have earned 61.5 percent of the scoring chances when Ovechkin's line matched up against Girardi-Staal at even strength during the regular season. That marks the highest percentage of any "shutdown" defensive pairing in the Eastern Conference playoffs against Ovechkin. In fact, Ovechkin's line performed about four percent better against the Girardi-Staal tandem than "non-shutdown" pairings it faced this season.
The suggestion is that the Rangers were living dangerously during their four contests against the Caps and that bad luck -- or Henrik Lundqvist -- was the only thing keeping the Caps off the scoreboard. And the two goals Ovechkin has registered at even strength during the postseason series may indicate a regression to the mean, as most NHL teams convert somewhere between 14-20 percent of their scoring chances, according to Greenberg.
So, it's something to keep your eye on Saturday night. Who's getting the better of the matchup? The Caps' top gun? Or the Blueshirts best blueliners.