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Posted at 1:53 PM ET, 12/30/2010

Statistical analysis: Keys to a Winter Classic victory for Capitals

By Neil Greenberg
Statistical analysis

While most people outside the Beltway don't think Washington stands much of a chance against Sidney Crosby and company on such a big stage, here are three keys to the Capitals coming away the Winter Classic victors on New Year's Day:

Use Carlzner to Neutralize Crosby. When Sid the Kid is on the ice, the Penguins average 4.62 goals per 60 minutes of 5-on-5 ice time, and he accounts for nearly 90 percent of it. When Crosby is off the ice, the Penguins average 1.92 goals per 60, so it doesn't take a genius to know that if the Caps can shut him down, they should be able to walk away with the win. Matching up the defensive tandem of Karl Alzner and John Carlson versus Crosby's line would be the logical choice: They have played against the toughest competition Caps' opponents have to offer while allowing a stingy 1.74 goals against per 60 minutes of 5-on-5 ice time as a defensive pair.

Keep the Semin-Perreault-Laich line intact. If Matthieu Perreault is ready to go after suffering a broken nose during the win over Carolina, then Coach Bruce Boudreau should keep him on the second line with Alexander Semin and Brooks Laich. At even strength, this combination has been the Caps' best on all fronts: Three out of every four scoring chances go in Washington's favor with this trio on the ice and a third of those convert to goals -- with no goals against.

Name Neuvy the starter. Semyon Varlamov has won two straight, including a shutout versus Montreal, but Michal Neuvirth has been more consistent over three periods than Varlamov, who has seen a dramatic dropoff in scoring chance save percentage as the game wears on - and that includes throwing out Varly's clunker against the Rangers, when he gave up seven goals against.

Period Neuvirth Scoring chance save % Varlamov Scoring chance save % Varlamov Scoring chance save % w/o NYR game
1 0.815 0.961 0.977
2 0.867 0.817 0.857
3 0.822 0.800 0.824
OT 1.000 0.750 0.750
Overall 0.838 0.851 0.877

Plus, Pittsburgh is tied for the NHL lead in power-play opportunities, averaging more than four per game. Neuvy has both a better scoring chance save percentage and conventional save percentage when on the penalty kill than the young Russian netminder.

On Penalty Kill Neuvirth Varlamov Varlamov w/o NYR game
Scoring Chance Sv% 0.824 0.795 0.811
Conventional Sv% 0.905 0.846 0.857

So there you have it: Neutralize Crosby with Carlson/Alzner, let Perreault continue the magic with Semin and Laich and put Neuvy between the pipes.

My prediction: Caps win in regulation, 3-2; Brooks Laich with the game winner.

Happy New Year, everyone!

Neil Greenberg also writes for Russian Machine Never Breaks. You can follow him on Twitter.

By Neil Greenberg  | December 30, 2010; 1:53 PM ET
Categories:  Pittsburgh Penguins, Statistical analysis, Winter Classic  
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Next: Fond outdoor memories for Capitals' Jason Chimera


Varly Varly Varly!

Posted by: digster1013 | December 30, 2010 2:04 PM | Report abuse

Varly over Neuvirth

Posted by: JDP_ | December 30, 2010 2:11 PM | Report abuse

The best quote from last nights 24/7 was when one of the pens... Rupp, maybe, gave his daughter a pink scooter for Xmas and asked if it was the same scooter Mike Green was shown riding to practice in last week's episode, LOL!

Posted by: griz0615 | December 30, 2010 2:22 PM | Report abuse

I think that the Winter Classic should be played like a Playoff game, with sudden death and 20 minute overtime periods. The losing team would still get 1 point as it is a regular season game. A game this big should not be decided by the shootout.

Posted by: MReilly9 | December 30, 2010 11:40 AM

@MReilly9: Excllent idea! In fact, I go a step further: NHL currently schedules the Winter Classic between 2 US teams, and the Heritage CLassic between 2 Canadian teams. I would add a third outdoor game to the schedule--call it the CanAm Classic or the Noth America Classic--involving a Canadian team vs. a US team. This game would be played in a US city in even-numbered years, while odd-numbered years woudl be hosted in Canada (because, well, they spell like the Brits and pronounce (sort of) like us...they're odd.

To have the best chance of proper weather for an outdoor game, it would seem to make sense to schedule future Winter Classic (*and CanAm Classic, if it ever happens) games only in these cities:

Albany NY
Green Bay
Oklahoma City
*Quebec City
Salt Lake City
Las Vegas (maybe, b/c it's so dry there)

FTR, my selection criteria were: Places with an outdoor stadium--preferably a venue that customarily hosts NFL,CFL or college football games--where it can be reasonably expected to present fewer challenges for making/maintaining a playable ice surface (i.e., really f-ing cold and/or dry)

Posted by: Rhino40 | December 30, 2010 2:32 PM | Report abuse

"While most people outside the Beltway don't think Washington stands much of a chance against Sidney Crosby and company on such a big stage..."

Is this true? Seems rediculous.

Posted by: kkd76 | December 30, 2010 2:34 PM | Report abuse

Did you hear the Pens' coach say on the HBO 24/7 show last night say that Neuvy was not that good a goalie and that he "flinches?" Not sure whether or nor this would be a good reason to start Neuvy - to show our contempt?

Posted by: pirate1 | December 30, 2010 2:35 PM | Report abuse

Well the "flinches" comment reminds me a bit of the remark one of the Caps made in the early games of the Montreal series last year about how Halak's hand was shaking when he was drinking from his water bottle (or something to that effect). We see how that turned out...

Posted by: chombie13 | December 30, 2010 2:41 PM | Report abuse

I've always had the mentality that a goalie who posts a shut out starts the next game. Either way though we'll be good.

Posted by: Iceman10 | December 30, 2010 2:45 PM | Report abuse

Oh and I would assume Doc Emerrick is annoucing the game? The dude makes going to the bathroom seem like the most exciting thing. "And he gets from drinking his beer and heads to the BATHROOM..oh my God!"

Posted by: Iceman10 | December 30, 2010 2:49 PM | Report abuse

Oh and I would assume Doc Emerick is annoucing the game? The dude makes going to the bathroom seem like the most exciting thing. "And he gets from drinking his beer and heads to the BATHROOM..oh my God!"

Posted by: Iceman10 | December 30, 2010 2:49 PM | Report abuse

Varly is the better goalie when healthy. If Varly is able to play Saturday he is the best option.

I guess I'm just a lil .... "stunned", or "in disbelief" of the opening statements. "While most people outside the Beltway don't think Washington stands much of a chance against Sidney Crosby and company on such a big stage".

WTF? Where did that come from? Sure you might say that Pitt MIGHT have the edge but to go as far as to say "stand much of a chance" is a bit overboard. We don't stand a chance? Regardless of the outcome, there isn't a team in the NHL that we don't stand a chance against. I bet there were many more who didn't think NYI had much of a chance last night either.

Posted by: pokerface1208 | December 30, 2010 2:49 PM | Report abuse

Funny reading how people are shocked to learn that not many outside the beltway are giving the Caps much them, what do you think some of us have been complaining about here?

Too many here seem to live in a bubbleworld, thinking the NHL revolves around the Caps and BB's chosen ones. Pitts didn't have their "A" game last week; let's hope they don't again Saturday.

Posted by: vermontcaps | December 30, 2010 3:13 PM | Report abuse

so i guess i can say - the caps lost 8 in a row because they didn't have their "A" game

pens won 12 straight because their opponents didn't have their "A" game

we all know you don't like BB or the style he has his players play - but your just making up stuff with comments like pitt didn't have their 'a' game

Posted by: Capt_Kirk_in_AZ | December 30, 2010 3:21 PM | Report abuse


Right on. I haven't heard anything from anybody inside or outside the beltway that think this is anything but a close game.


When the Pens went on their 12 game winning streak only 9 of the games they played were against teams that are currently in the playoffs. So what does that say about their streak? There's 2 sides to every story and the funny thing is, we'll use whatever side we want to support our point but you can't deny the other facts.

Posted by: pokerface1208 | December 30, 2010 3:41 PM | Report abuse


You saw the game, I'm assuming you've seen other Pitt games this year as well....are you suggesting that the Pens had their "A" game the first two periods? Nowhere even close.....

Funny how myself and others critical of BB and the team are in the minority on this site....but when hockey fans across the continent weigh-in on the matter, our views are suddenly validated.

Posted by: vermontcaps | December 30, 2010 3:44 PM | Report abuse


Please don't get mad at me because my views are aligned with those "outside the Beltway who don't think Washington stands much of a chance against Sidney Crosby and company on such a big stage."

Why would people think that way? Let's see....the Pens are better offensively, defensively, special teams, goaltending, and toughness (these being objective mesures, league stats bear this out). Bylsma is a better coach than BB, but I guess that's subjective and I can't substantiate that.

Posted by: vermontcaps | December 30, 2010 3:52 PM | Report abuse


I'd say the Penguins didn't have their A game against the Caps. However, I think the biggest issue was the Pens didn't bring their disciplined game. They took stupid penalties all game long. You give a team like the Caps enough chances they're eventually going to bury them.

Posted by: rderr27 | December 30, 2010 3:53 PM | Report abuse

your view is interesting - pens didn't bring their 'a' game as they didn't look very good in the first two periods.
you give the caps no credit whatsoever for the pens poor play. i'll say it again - you just don't care for BB and his style of play.
you're entitled to your opinion - but just because it differs from what others see - doesn't mean everyone else is wrong

Posted by: Capt_Kirk_in_AZ | December 30, 2010 3:56 PM | Report abuse


I've never said anyone else is wrong, I just choose not to agree...I didn't give the Caps credit because we were getting the Pens a) the day after they played a tough game and traveled the night before, b) it was the Pens 3rd game in 4 nights, c) if not for an improbable shorthanded goal we would've lost, and d) I've seen about 6 Pens games this year and they were as listless as I've seen them against us.

Posted by: vermontcaps | December 30, 2010 4:05 PM | Report abuse

The Pens didn't have their " A " game last night...hopefully it will carry over to Saturday.
Thank God Crosby's scoring streak is over so we don't have to hear about that non-stop on Saturday.

Posted by: jotay131 | December 30, 2010 4:29 PM | Report abuse

for a & b - i've never seen you excuse/give a pass to the caps when they have to do this
for c - if the caps had been ahead and given up a shortie - you would have been all over them.
so in your opinion the caps had very little to do with the pens 'listlessnesss' then?

Posted by: Capt_Kirk_in_AZ | December 30, 2010 4:31 PM | Report abuse


You're right, had the Caps given up the shortie I would've been all over them for their rotten power play. Actually, I'm surprised we haven't given up more shorties given the abundance of 2-1's we seem to give up (though at least that's gotten better).

I give the Caps lots of credit, and I'd invite you to search the archives if you've any doubt.

And to your last question, I really don't think that the Caps had much to do w/the Pens being flat. It happens to all teams, and the Pens displayed a perfect example of "grinding" out a win on the road without their best game.

(Maybe if DJK were in the lineup and duked-it-out w/Godard after the Malkin incident, that would've fired-up the Pens and broke them from their's good that we don't awaken sleeping bears by trying to intimidate teams in our own building, right?)

Posted by: vermontcaps | December 30, 2010 4:58 PM | Report abuse

Why would people think that way? Let's see....the Pens are better offensively, defensively, special teams, goaltending, and toughness (these being objective mesures, league stats bear this out).

Posted by: vermontcaps | December 30, 2010 3:52 PM


Goals, assists, GAA, save percentage, PP/PK effectiveness, etc.--even hits--are all things that can be quantified (counted) to yield statistical data.

I'm curious, however, to learn exactly what units of measure you use to quantify "toughness", because I can't find a "rank by toughness" sort parameter on

I'll tell you: You can't.

Why? Because "toughness" is a qualitative--not quantitative--characteristic. You can't put a number on such things.

I agree the Caps might still have room for improvement in this area, but have nonetheless improved significantly over last year--both in terms of what the team possesses and in terms of how it is valued by the organization. If this were not so, methinks your man-crush would have been traded long ago, not signed to a 2-year/$3M contract extension.

Yes, I like "Big John"'s style too--I'm just pushing your buttons. But (to paraphrase tominsocal1) you can't win a war with only tanks & battleships.

To me, there's a lot more to "toughness" than just hitting everything in sight or dropping the gloves every time someone looks at you funny. Toughness can also be expressed by perseverence: continuing to stay focused on doing your job regardless of the obstacles.

For example, a key part of the Penguins' strategy last Thursday was to "run" Mike Green all game long. Even so, he stayed strong, stayed focused, and didn't take any stupid retaliatory penalties. He soldiered on and did his job in spite of everything Rupp et al. were throwing at him. That was not only tough, it was smart, too.

And I'll take tough and smart over just tough, every time.

Posted by: Rhino40 | December 30, 2010 5:04 PM | Report abuse

This is still one regular season game despite all the hype, Greenberg really must be looking for something to do.

This is almost an exhibition game as far as I'm concerned, why waste time trying to analyze what will happen as if he has any idea anyhow???

Posted by: joek443 | December 30, 2010 5:32 PM | Report abuse

Here's one important thing Greenberg neglects to memtion which is the Pens have been in WC before.

That's more of an advantage than any analysis he came up with.

Posted by: joek443 | December 30, 2010 5:34 PM | Report abuse

memtion = mention

Posted by: joek443 | December 30, 2010 5:36 PM | Report abuse


Can't argue that toughness takes many forms, so to simplify (and thus quantify) that dynamic we'll use the old standard...fights. Since the Pens lead the league in fights, they're ahead in the "toughness" dept., too.

The Pens, like every team in the NHL, are capable of being mentally tough, disciplined, and focused; we certainly don't have an advantage there. But unlike us, the Pens can choose when to turn the other cheek and when to administer a thorough beat-down. That's swagger; that's attitude.

Truth is, Rhino, that the Pens have constructed a team that plays hockey the way I like it, and it bothers me to no end that it's them (and not us) who can choose whether to beat teams with their skill, their fists, or both. We better beat teams with our skill, because we're sure not going to intimidate anyone with our fists.

Posted by: vermontcaps | December 30, 2010 5:59 PM | Report abuse


Posted by: duckyjimpond | December 30, 2010 6:35 PM | Report abuse

Rhino: Not to be picky :) but you paraphrased me backwards.

What I have said time and time again is you can't only win a war only with snipers, one tank and some light artillery (which is what the Caps are, OK, with Ovi and Ersk maybe that counts for two tanks).

What I said many times, especially before Flash was traded, was we had too much finesse. Even our D are mostly poke-checkers. Bradley and Hendricks hit but count as light artillery (Brads being the "Bradley Fighting Vehicle" as I have dubbed him even though that is a tank).

Posted by: tominsocal1 | December 30, 2010 7:10 PM | Report abuse


I lost confidence in BB 2/3 of the way into last season. I wanted Ted Nolan, but have since learned he pretty much sunk his own ship w/the team in his interview.

Since we love Flyer retreads, I would have John Stevens on a short-list of people I'd interview.

Posted by: vermontcaps | December 30, 2010 7:49 PM | Report abuse

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