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Three Caps Numbers: Talkin’ ’bout Time on Ice

Ward_2

Photo by Amanda Bowen of RRBG Photography

13:49

Marcus Johansson’s ice time vs Tampa last night, the second straight game he’s been below the 14:00 mark and fifth time in the past six games his ice time has decreased. The third line has been great since the return of Brooks Laich, and Jason Chimera is rejuvenated and helping the fourth line. But Johansson has taken big strides forward this season and it would be a shame to see that stunted by limiting his ice time.

17:38

The average time on ice per game for Joel Ward, 4th among all Caps forwards behind Nick Backstrom, Alex Ovechkin, and Troy Brouwer. I like Joel Ward and think he’s an effective hockey player. But he’s a bottom-6 forward. Why is Joel Ward the 4th most used forward by Barry Trotz? He’s also 4th in terms of 5v5 ice time, so it’s not as if his penalty kill time is inflating his numbers. 

16:12

The average 5v5 ice time per game for Backstrom this season, which leads all NHL forwards. His linemate Ovechkin is second. Trotz looks like he’s going to ride his two horses as much as he can. It’s easy to like this strategy.

Thoughts on Caps-related thoughts

Elliotte Friedman’s “30 Thoughts” column is arguably the best hockey column to read on the internet. If you don’t reguarly read Friedman and his 30 thoughts, you’ve been officially notified to start. Friedman’s 30 thoughts from October 28th featured a lot of Caps content. You’ll find them below, as well as some brief thoughts on those thoughts.

Green_1a

Photo by Amanda Bowen, RRGB Photography

22. Before the season, a few Eastern teams thought the combination of Barry Trotz, Todd Reirden, Matt Niskanen and Brooks Orpik would have the biggest influence of any off-season moves in that conference. Can’t argue that so far. It took eight games before Washington allowed 30 shots, and it’s no coincidence the Capitals’ worst game was a 6-1 preseason loss in Buffalo. Niskanen and Orpik didn’t dress for that one.

Adding those two coaches as well the two defenders undoubtedly has had a big influence on the Caps. How could it not? I think the example of what happened in a preseason game without Niskanen and Orpik may be a bit exaggerated, but point taken.

Really, how could the Caps be worse by adding any 2 NHL caliber defenders, given the inexperienced and over-matched players they ran out there last season? On top of that, Mike Green has been healthy so far and Nate Schmidt is getting the playing time he deserves.

Oh, and Adam Oates isn’t the coach anymore, that’s a pretty big deal.

23. From one-to-five on the blueline, their minutes are very even, running from 23:14 (Niskanen) to 19:42 (Karl Alzner). Among returnees, Nate Schmidt (number six) is down 4:15 per game, John Carlson is down 1:21 and Alzner 0:50. Also down significantly: Mike Green (2:53). Green, who is unrestricted after this season, is being watched by other teams, as they wait to see how Brian MacLellan handles things.

It’s not a surprise that the ice time among Caps defenders is more even spread this season. The blue line is much deeper, therefore the Caps don’t need to rely on their top pair(s) as much. Schmidt is the team’s 6th defender, so his ice time decreasing isn’t much of a story. The fact that he’s in Washington and playing regularly is the much more important story.

Mike Green is still seeing 19:50 per game, so it’s not as if he’s getting buried on the depth chart. This is simply a case of the Caps having a much deeper blue line. Less ice time makes it more likely Green will be fresher and healthier come April, which is a good thing.

24. The early reviews are positive. One scout: “Green is trying. He (used to be) sloppy in coverage, bad stick, not finishing checks. Now, he’s staying on the right side of the puck.” MacLellan sees a difference, too. “When other teams played us, the plan was to hit him— finish your checks. It took its toll. Now, we have other options. It eases the pressure on him.”

This scout is obviously much more qualified than me to speak on Green’s coverage, positioning, checking, etc. than I am. That being said, it doesn’t necessarily mean the scout is right.

Regardless of Green’s gaffes, lapses and so on, since 2007 the Caps have seen 54.5% of all shot attempts while he’s on the ice, which is 21st best of the 366 defensemen who have played 500+ minutes since then. That’s superb. Mike Green is really good. Leave him alone.

25. The Capitals have yet to discuss an extension with Green. “We’ll leave that for later in the season,” the GM said. “Let’s see how this shakes out.”

Does the Caps depth make Green expendable? Well, I think he’s their best defender, so I hope not. But it is hard to see the Caps investing as much, or more, in their defense next season as this one.

26. Another Eastern Conference coach on the Nicklas Backstrom/Eric Fehr/Alexander Ovechkin line: “They still cheat, but not as much. I suspect that’s by design they’re allowed to…you still want opponents to be scared of them. The (Jason) Chimera/(Joel) Ward line, for example, plays differently.”

To me, this basically says that Trotz expect his first line to be responsible, but he’s still going to let Ovi be Ovi. And Nicky be Nicky. These guys should be allowed to “cheat” more than other lines. They are supremely talented offensive players and should be encouraged to put themselves on positions to use those talents.

27. Finally on Washington: MacLellan said new goalie boss Mitch Korn worked with Braden Holtby “to get his arms and legs more aligned with his body.” Sounds important for everyday life, not just hockey.

Mitch Korn is the goalie whisperer. Braden Holtby is an underrated goalie who got way too much flack last season for the Caps struggles. As I’ve said before, I expect Holtby to be considered an elite goalie by the end of this season.


 

Like I said above, if you don’t read “30 Thoughts” regularly, start doing so. While there’s not always this much Caps-related content, it’s always a great read.

 

 

Brooks Laich and Troy Brouwer: Only one can fit in the Caps top-6

Barry Trotz has said not to read too much into his lines for the first 3 preseason games. He has also dropped a few hints as to what the regular season lines may look like. He has said Nick Backstrom and Alex Ovechkin will play together, as will Jason Chimera and Joel Ward. He has also said that the 2nd line center battle is between Maruc Johansson and Evgeny Kuznetsov, with the loser likely being shifted to the wing. This is music to my ears. What this hopefully means is that the loser will shift to wing and not the 3C slot because Brooks Laich will be the 3C. This would eliminate an issue that Trotz has that revolves around the fact that there is not room for Laich and Troy Brouwer in the top-6 because, as I’ll spell out below, it will result in non-optimal line combinations.

I’ve already written about the fact that I think Eric Fehr should be the winger to play with Backstrom and Ovechkin. But for my purpose here, I’ll back up and explain why Laich and Brouwer can’t both fit in the Caps top-6.

First, here’s a look at Brooks Laich’s CF% with and without Backstrom and Ovechkin.

laich with and without

Laich’s possession game suffers when playing with Ovechkin. His possession game improves slightly when with Backstrom. Now, let’s look at how Ovechkin and Backstrom do with and without Laich.

backstrom and ovechkin with laich

This chart is about all I need to see that Laich shouldn’t be in the running for playing alongside Ovechkin and Backstrom.  He’s dead weight to them. He drags their possession numbers down drastically. Yes, Laich’s possession numbers see a slight improvement when playing with Backstrom, but this is more than offset by the much larger dip in possession Backstrom sees with Laich relative to without him.

So what about Troy Brouwer? Maybe he can play alongside the Caps dynamic duo.

brouwer with and without

Brouwer’s possession play suffers when playing with the Caps two best players. This doesn’t bode well for him being a viable option as the RW to play alongside them come opening night. But, for the sake of thoroughness, let’s see what playing with Brouwer does to Backstrom’s and Ovechkin’s possession.

backstrom ovechkin brouwer

I think these two charts show that playing Brouwer with Ovechkin and Backstrom is a possession disaster, which would make it pretty tough for this line to be successful.

So, if neither Laich nor Brouwer are a fit to play RW on the Caps top line, one possibility is that they will play on the 2nd line together. As has been well-documented by many of those around the Caps Blogosphere, these two together are a DISASTER. In case you’re not convinced, here’s another fancy chart.

brouwerlaich

Laich and Brouwer are not a good combination on a line together. Neither fits on the top line. That leaves room for one of them in the top-6 on the second line. Laich’s versatility and the Caps lack of depth at Center make him the clear candidate to be used as the 3C instead of in the top-6. This puts Brouwer playing wing on the 2nd line.

To reiterate, putting only one of these two in the top-6 makes sense on multiple levels:

-It keeps either player from dragging down the Ovechkin/Backstrom duo.

-It keeps the two from playing together, which is a disaster.

-Placing Laich at 3C helps shore up the Caps lack of depth down the middle.

All stats from Hockey Analysis 

Caps advanced stats All-Stars of the Ovechkin Era

As part of their 40th anniversary season, the Caps are asking fans to help them vote on the 40 greatest Caps players in the team’s history. I’m not asking for your vote and I’m not looking at the entire history of the team. Instead, I am looking at the Caps advanced stats All-Stars from the Alex Ovechkin era (2005-06-present). I am not claiming that advanced stats are the end of the discussion when it comes to player evaluation. However, they are for my purposes here. I also didn’t consider forward specific positions. Instead, I picked 3 forwards and 2 defenseman. I set the minimum games played to a completely arbitrary 115 games.

To rank the players, I looked at FenClose, FenClose rel, zone starts, and quality of competition. If a player ranked 1st, he got 5 points, down through 5th place getting 1 point. This was done for each of the 4 categories.

Without further delay, here are the long-awaited Caps advanced stats All-Stars from the Ovechkin era.

Forward #1-Sergei Fedorov (10 points)

Fedorov finished first in FenClose (56.19%) and FenRel (+4.43%). He wasn’t anywhere near the top in zone starts (0.73%% ZS rel), but did finish 8th in quality of competition (28.82).

Forward #2-Nick Backstrom (9 points)

Backstrom’s FenClose was good enough for 5th (53.44) and his FenRel 3rd (+3.28%). Backstrom’s zone starts were not noteworthy (6.08%). Backstrom really shines in quality of competition, where he finished first (29.63%)

Forward #3-Viktor Kozlov (7 points)

Kozlov finished 2nd in FenClose (54.48%), but did not place in the top-5 in FenClose rel (0.34%), a sign that he benefited from playing on very strong possession teams. Kozlov also didn’t find himself in the top-5 in zone starts (5.58% ZS rel). However, he  finished 3rd in quality of competition (29.39), cementing his place on the All-Star team.

Defenseman #1-Mike Green (10 points)

This isn’t surprising to anyone who pays attention to possession numbers. Green finished 1st in FenClose (53.10%) and 2nd in FenClose rel (+3.12%). Green didn’t place in the top 5 in zone starts (4.54%) but came in 5th in quality of competition (28.62%).

Defenseman #2 Shaone Morrissonn (9 points)

This was the biggest surprise to me, by a long ways. Morrisonn finished 5th in FenClose (50.21%) but didn’t make the top 5 in FenClose rel (-1.21%). He faced the toughest zone starts (-4.17%) and the 3rd toughest quality of competition (29.03%).

Here’s a player usage chart of the 5 All-Stars.

allstarusagechart

Morrisonn was the only negative possession player relative to his teammates. However, this is counter-balanced by the fact that he faced the toughest zone starts and 3rd toughest competition among all qualified defenseman. His inclusion is still shocking to me.

Ladies and gentlemen, the wait is finally over. Let’s hear it for your Caps advanced stats All-Stars of the Ovechkin era.

On Nick Backstrom, appreciation, and linemates

Backstrom_1

Photo by Amanda Bowen of RRBG Photography

Barry Trotz has not been shy in heaping praise upon Nick Backstrom since becoming head coach of the Caps. Trotz has also noted how under appreciated he feels Backstrom is around the league. I think Backstrom is deeply appreciated by Caps fans, generally recognized as one of the most important players on this team. But, just in case you forgot about how great Backstrom is, here’s a reminder.

backstromusage

Backstrom’s career usage chart displays a few things,none of which are surprising, but that I think are  cool to see in visual form. The first is that he’s only been a negative possession player relative to his teammates once in his career. That is was in 2008-09, and it was by less than 1/4 of a %. Other than that, the Caps, season-by-season, have always been a better possession team with Backstrom on the ice than without him. Backstrom has also faced pretty stiff competition, almost always finishing a season north of 29.2% TOI competition. That’s what we’d expect to find from a 1C who is often deployed with Alex Ovechkin.

Much has been made about the fact that Alex Ovechkin will likely start the season back at LW. It’s a fairly safe assumption that Backstrom will line up at Center on a line with Ovechkin. What potential RW would benefit the most by being centered by Backstrom? And what player would Backstrom most benefit from having on his right side?

I’m making a few assumptions in my considerations. One is that Brooks Laich and Evgeny Kuznetsov are not candidates, as I expect them to fill the 3C and 2C spots, respectively. I’m also assuming that most any winger is eligible. It is safe to assume that Trotz won’t be as obsessed with handedness as Adam Oates was, right? I’ve also excluded Tom Wilson from my list of viable options to play alongside Backstrom because their sample size together is minuscule, so there’s nothing to learn from their history together. Here’s how the remaining options for Trotz stack up, measured in Corsi For with and without Backstrom. These are career numbers.

backstromwowy

A note on the sample size here. Minutes with Backstrom are as follows: Brouwer 758:32, Johansson 991:41, Ward 88:53, Fehr 391:26, Chimera 314:37.

Here’s how Backstrom fared with and without each player listed above.

Backstrompart2

 

The “with” sample sizes here are obviously the same.

Brouwer and Johansson have by far the biggest sample sizes playing with Backstrom. It’s clear that Brouwer and Backstrom are not a good match as they both see their possession numbers plummet when playing together. Johansson sees his possession numbers improve with Backstrom, but he’s dead weight to Backstrom, who sees a significant jump in possession away from Johansson. Jason Chimera also appears to be a poor fit with Backstrom.

Joel Ward’s sample size with Backstrom is quite small, but the results are decent. That being said, his skill set is one that thrives on a 3rd line and is likely not suited to play with the likes of Backstrom and Ovechkin on a regular basis.

That bring us to Eric Fehr. Fehr’s success with Ovechkin and Mikhail Grabovski is something we’ve already talked about here in other posts. Fehr’s possession benefits from playing with Backstrom and Backstrom’s possession drops the least when playing with Fehr out of all of the RW options. Long story short, if Eric Fehr is not playing RW alongside Ovechkin and Backstrom on opening night, I’ll consider it a mistake by Trotz.

Nicklas Backstrom is awesome, isn’t he? And boy, an Ovechkin-Backstrom-Fehr line on opening night sure does make a lot of sense.

All stats pulled from War on Ice and Hockey Analysis 

 

War on Ice is awesome: Advanced stats highlights from the Caps 2009-10 season

As we’ve already highlighted here on the blog, advanced stats have gotten a lot of publicity this summer. A large part of this was due to NHL front offices making hires that were aimed at forming analytic departments. One of those hires, by the Toronto Maple Leafs, was Darryl Metcalf, the founder of ExtraSkater.com. Extra Skater was the go-to advanced stats resource for many people, myself included, but was shut down when Metcalf was hired by the Leafs. One site that has popped up in Extra Skater’s place is War on Ice. I’ve tweeted some of the stuff that makes War on Ice such a cool site, even eclipsing Extra Skater in terms of depth and quality. While Extra Skater had stats from the present day dating back to the 2010-11 season, War on Ice has stats starting with the 2002-03 season. Much like I did when Extra Skater added stats from the ’10-11 season, I wanted to highlight some interesting stats on War on Ice from seasons that were not available on Extra Skater. This post will take a look at advanced stats highlights from the Caps 2009-10 season. This post will far from exhaust all there is to say about the information available on War on Ice from the 2009-10 Caps. Instead, this post is both an effort to point out some interesting highlights, as well as show off some of the stuff that makes War on Ice so great.

For those who don’t remember, 2009-10 was the season that the Caps dominated the league and were then Halak’d out of the playoffs by the Montreal Canadians in the first round of the playoffs. The Caps were dynamic. 6 players had over 20 goals. Mike Green had 76 points in 75 games. As a lifelong sports fan, this team was the most exciting team I’ve rooted for, regardless of the sport.

To start, here’s a look at 2009-10 via just one of the seemingly endlessly customized chart options on War on Ice. This is a chart looking at all 30 NHL teams. The X-Axis is Fenwick %. The Y-Axis is team goal +/- and the color bubble variance is PDO. The bubble size variance is time on ice, fairly trivial for this chart. This is at 5-on-5 in close game situations.

200910team

The further right, the better the team was, as measured by puck possession. A blue bubble would indicate good fortunate, with red representing poor fortunate.

-The Caps were good, according to Fenwick, but not elite. They finished 12th in FenClose as a team. The Caps FenClose % of 51.19 is their 3rd best since 2002.

-The Caps have the darkest blue circle, meaning they led the league in PDO at an absurd 103.60.

-My quick takeaway from this chart is that the Caps, at 5-on-5, were a good team that was also very fortunate, which resulted in the huge goal differential.

-War on Ice tracks PDO back to 2002, and the 103.60 is by far the highest season PDO the Caps have had in the time frame. The next highest is 101.78 (2002-03)

The next chart is a look at the Caps defenders. The X-axis is FenRel % and the Y-axis is TOI Competition %. The bubble size and color are set to TOI/G. I’m not sure what variable to use as the 4th that will contribute to the substance of this chart, so I TOI is left as a repeat. I’m open to suggestions!

200910CapsD

A few takeaways from this chart:

-Tom Poti and Joe Corvo played a lot of minutes. They were tough minutes and they handled them really well.

-Karl Alzner played against weak competition and he struggled.

-Why was Brian Pothier getting more minutes than Shaone Morrisonn and Milan Jurcina?

Here are some other interesting details. First, the Caps top 5 FenClose Rel from 2009-10

Player Games FenClose Rel
Ovechkin 71 5.59
Backstrom 81 4.64
Poti 69 4.31
Gordon 35 3.83
Steckel 78 3.45

 

And the 5 worst

Player Games FenClose Rel
Alzner 21 -7.04%
Chimera 77 -4.89%
Perreault 21 -4.86%
Sloan 39 -4.78%
Fleischmann 68 -4.02%

 

These charts are pretty self-explanatory. Ovechkin and Backstrom, those two guys are pretty good, eh?

Let us not forget that 2009-10 was the year that Jeff Schultz led the league in +/-.  Now, when arguing with someone about how flawed of a stat +/- is, you can give them Schultz’s exact PDO in the ’09-10 season. Schultz’s PDO was 105.75, which was somehow only good enough for 4th on the Caps that season, behind Carlson (105.89), Fehr (105.87), and Ovechkin (105.81). If only considering players who played in 41+ games, Henrik Sedin finished first in the NHL in PDO at 106.71. The next 3 players league-wide were Caps! Carlson only appeared in 22 games, so the top 4 in the NHL is rounded out by Fehr, Ovechkin, and Schultz.

This look at the 2009-10 season is just scratching the surface of the data available on War on Ice. Go ahead and head over there yourself but be prepared to get lost for days!

 

Mikhail Grabovski: Caps loss is Isles gain (Jeremy Roenick is still wrong)

Yup, this is my second post about ex-Caps player Mikhail Grabovski in the past week. While it’s not my intention in writing this, this is further proof of how wrong Jeremy Roenick is about Grabovski.  But this post is more about the fact that the loss of Grabovski hurts the Caps, while the Isles will benefit from signing him.

On a personal level, Grabovski was the Caps player I most enjoyed watching last season. From a team level, he was a possession monster and a nice solution to the Caps problems at 2C that could have been had long-term for a reasonable salary. But I shouldn’t be the only one missing Grabovski. In fact, most everyone of his teammates should be missing him because almost every Caps player saw an improvement in their possession numbers in the minutes they played with Grabovski vs. when they played without him.

Here is a look at how every Caps forward fared while playing with Grabovski vs. while playing without him. I cut off the minimum minutes at 19:48, so as not to exclude possession anchor Aaron Volpatti. Sample-size warnings obviously apply, but you can see a trend. SA% is the % of shot attempts the Caps saw go in their favor while that player was on the ice.

Player TOI w/Grabovski SA% w/Grabovski TOI w/out Grabovski SA% w/out Grabovski Grabovski effect
Brouwer 273:16 51.6 756:55 46.4 +5.2
Fehr 271:10 55.1 641:53 46.4 +8.7
Ovechkin 235:19 50.8 888:27 48.8 +2.0
Chimera 223:53 49.8 804:11 45.6 +4.2
Ward 207:13 51.2 787:24 46.2 +5.0
Laich 123:59 48.1 508:47 47.9 +0.2
Backstrom 82:42 47.3 1070:13 49.5 -2.2
Wilson 40:53 48.8 598:32 44.8 +4.0
Erat 38:20 58.5 799:17 49.7 +8.8
Johansson 27:26 54.8 1039:55 48.2 +6.6
Beagle 19:49 46.2 609:13 44.6 +1.6
Volpatti 19:48 38.1 279:42 39.7 -1.6

-10 of the 12 Caps forwards who played 19:48+ with Grabovski this past season saw an increase in SF% with Grabovski vs without him, the only two exceptions being Backstrom and Volpatti.

-Remember when Adam Oates started the season with his obvious 2C (Grabovski) on the 3rd line and obvious 2W (Erat) on the 4th line? One wonders what the two could have done if ever given extended minutes together (something I, and many others, called for all season) given their dominating 58.5% SF in the very small sample.

-One interesting tidbit not shows here is that Backstrom, the player with the worst “Grabovski Effect,” saw his highest Goals For % with Grabovski out of all Caps forwards. Certainly just a sample size thing, but interesting nonetheless.

Here’s how are the Caps top 7 D, in terms of minutes played with Grabovski, fared with and without him last season at 5-on-5. Again, sample size warnings apply, but a clear patterns emerges.

Player TOI w/Grabovski SA% w/Grabovski TOI w/out Grabovski SA% w/out Grabovski Grabovski effect
Carlson 291:57 49.1 1029:15 46.3 +2.8
Alzner 287:30 49.9 1005:32 46.4 +3.5
Green 275:10 55.3 1003:39 50.4 +4.9
Orlov 166:52 59.9 795:41 49.0 +10.9
Schmidt 130:48 49.0 358:10 51.3 -2.3
Oleksy 119:42 50.4 316:32 44.9 +5.5
Erskine 92:14 53.3 405:21 43.9 +9.4

-Other than Nate Schmidt, every defender listed saw an improvement in their possession numbers, many of them pretty drastic improvements, when on the ice with Grabovski.

 -It’s especially interesting that the two worst puck possession players on the list, Oleksy and Erskine, both became positive possession players in their minutes with Grabovski, which were admittedly limited.

-I know it’s only 166 minutes, but the Caps were dominant when Grabovski was on the ice with Orlov.

Like I said above, sample-size warnings obviously apply here.  It should also be noted that none of these numbers include any caveats such as zone starts or quality of competition. But make no mistake about it, regardless of that, the Capitals were a better team with Grabovski on the ice, and his new Islanders teammates will start reaping the benefits in October.

All stats pulled from http://stats.hockeyanalysis.com/

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Advanced stats highlights from the Caps 2010-11 season

Advanced stats for the 2010-11 season are now available on ExtraSkater.com. I highly recommend visiting Extra Skater to see the stats for yourself, but below, after a quick refresher on the season, are some Caps highlights I pulled from a glance at the new stats on Extra Skater.

With a record of 48-23-11, the Caps were not only Southeast Division champs, but finished first in the Eastern Conference, with 107 points. The Caps discarded the Rangers 4-1 in the first round of the playoffs before being swept by the #5 seed Tampa Bay Lightening in the second round. This was also the season during which the Caps, under Bruce Boudreau, shifted to a more defensive-oriented system. The Caps defeated the Penguins 3-1 in the 2011 Winter Classic and were featured on the HBO series 24/7.

 

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-The Caps finished 15th in Fenclose%, tied with the Kings at 50.4. The two teams have gone in opposite directions since, with the Caps (47.5%) finishing 25th in 2013-14 and the Kings (56.7%) finishing first.

-Nicklas Backstorm led all qualifying (41+ games played) Caps in FenClose rel at +5.0%, followed by Alex Ovechkin at +3.9% and Alex Semin at +3.5%. The top Caps defender was John Carlson at  +1.9%.

-Alex Semin’s PDO of 107.7 ranked highest on the team, aided by his teammates’ on-ice shooting % of 10.5%, 1.8% higher than any other Caps player.

-Marcus Johansson had the highest ZS% at 58.1%, while Boyd Gordon faced the toughest zone starts, with a ZS% of 41.8%

-As would be expected, the Caps top forward line of Ovechkin, Backstrom, and Mike Knuble faced tougher competition than any of their teammates. Carlson and Karl Alzner faced the toughest competition of any Caps defenders.

-To the surprise of absolutely no one, Mike Knuble had the shortest average shot distance (24.7 feet).

-Alex Ovechkin was on the ice for 82.4% of the Caps PP minutes during the season (this past season Ovechkin saw the ice during 93.2% of the Caps PP minutes).

This was after a quick look at the stats. If you look through Extra Skater and find any interesting tidbits, leave them in the comments below or give us a shout on Twitter.

The issue in the Caps’ top six forwards

Ovechkin and Backstrom

Oveckin and Backstrom (Photo: Mike Holden)

There are many ways to win consistently in the NHL. One of those can be by having the right talent, another by having a great system and sticking to it. It doesn’t necessarily matter whether it’s offense or defense-oriented or a little of both, a team with a solid approach that plays it well game-after-game can sometimes make up for talent issues on a roster. And even teams with the best players need a good plan.

In this lockout-shortened season that came without a proper training camp and preseason, it’s apparent that the Washington Capitals could have used that time to learn their new coach’s system. It’s also clear that Adam Oates and the Caps could use a bit more talent in certain areas, one of them being within the six forwards on their first two lines.

With the Caps coming off a 4-0 win in Winnipeg Thursday night, now might seem like an odd time to talk about one of the areas where the team is lacking. But, if the Caps keep winning and make the playoffs or even just miss it, the issue could rear its head again. And, going into next season, it will likely need to be addressed for the team to become a true threat.

In their top six forwards, the Caps have three very talented skill players in Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom and Mike Ribeiro. They also have several wingers who are top six material as a compliment to these players.

For example, Brooks Laich, just back from an injury, is a talented and capable left wing that the team can try pairing up with the Ovechkin-Backstrom duo. 22 year-old Marcus Johansson has struggled to develop further as a player while showing promise at times in his still-young NHL career, but he may be another who can be plugged in alongside Backstrom and Ovechkin as he was on Thursday.

Matt Hendricks has also been tried on the top line, though he may deliver better value skating on a lower one. And it appears that Wojtek Wolski and Jason Chimera are done, at least presently, getting time with the top unit.

On the second line with Ribeiro, Troy Brouwer is a solid choice at right wing. With 11 goals and 21 points in 29 games this season, Brouwer is putting up numbers that justify his $3.6 million cap hit and the move the team made to acquire him two summers ago.

On the left side of the second line, Oates can plug-in any number of players, such as he did with Laich last night while skating Johnasson in that spot on the top line. Eric Fehr is also an option as are some others. However, with their current roster of players, it is here on that left side of Ribeiro that the Caps run into the hole in their top six.

Washington has good players that can be used in this second line role, but they are guys that, when put in a top six spot, should mostly be used to complement a skilled duo. The top line currently has Backstrom and Ovechkin. The second has Ribeiro and needs someone else in the highly skilled department, even with Brouwer putting up some nice numbers this season.

In past years, the Caps had a legitimate goal-scoring threat on the left side of their second line in Alexander Semin, but he rarely had the opportunity to play with a second line-caliber center. The Caps now have that center in Ribeiro, but let Semin go and have yet to properly replace him.

Should Washington play well the next week or so and decide to become buyers at this season’s April 3 trade deadline, a deal for a sniping or highly skilled left wing should be high on their list. And going into October and the 2013-14 season, it’s an issue they should eliminate if they are to become a top team again.

The Caps could get by without this player, if they execute Oates’ system consistently. But even then, to take the team’s play to the next level and make them tougher to shut down, the Caps could use someone to fill this gap in their top six.

QUESTION FOR YOU: How many Top 6 forwards do the Caps have?

It’s no secret that the 2012-13 Washington Capitals have holes to fill at wing on their top two lines. After going without a legitimate second line center for several years, the Caps’ June 2012 acquisition of Mike Ribeiro from the Dallas Stars appears to have solved that problem at least through the end of this season, when Ribeiro’s contract is set to expire. But after Ribeiro, Nicklas Backstrom and Alex Ovechkin, the “Top 6″ talent on the Caps’ 2012-13 roster drops off substantially.

Here’s the question for you, the readers: How many Top 6 forwards do you feel the Caps have on the team right now? Tell us in the comments below or via Twitter (we’ll paste some of your tweets into this post) how many you think the Caps have and who those players are. Your answer does not have to be a whole number. For example, I might score the team at a 3.5 right now:

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