Is It Time For Barry Trotz to Tinker With the Third Line?

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Photo by Amanda Bowen of RRBG Photography

The Caps trio of Brooks Laich, Eric Fehr, and Joel Ward, has remained largely intact since they were put together on December 2nd. Understandably so, as the three players provided a stabilizing presence in the Caps lineup. While it’s not nearly time to sound the panic button, recent trends in both process and results show that it may be time for Barry Trotz to consider more frequently experimenting with different combinations for his third line.

Here’s a look at how the Caps third line fared from December 2nd until the All-Star break, a span of 23 games. All Caps forwards are included for context. (Thanks to War on Ice for the graphics.)

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Fehr, Laich, and Ward faced competition on par with Backstrom and Ovechkin, while facing the toughest zone starts of any forward on the team. Possession-wise, they were strong as well. After adjusting for score effects, only Fehr was a negative possession player, as the Caps were a negligible 0.1% worse in terms of possession when he was on the ice.  Laich and Ward were both positive possession players, and each member of the third line was among the Caps’ top 6 possession forwards during this run.

And then…

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The Caps third line has been facing easier competition and had slightly easier zone starts, yet their possession numbers are not as strong, particularly Ward and Fehr.

For a different angle, here’s a look at each player’s 10 game rolling, relative, score-adjusted possession numbers.

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This shows that the recent dip in possession could be nothing more than a bad string of games for the line. They’ve had other dips in possession, both when playing together and apart. On the flip side, this also shows that this line shouldn’t be considered largely untouchable when Trotz tinkers with his lines.

All three players have also seen a drop in production during the second segment of games.

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As J.P has already astutely pointed out, it’s important to note that the line hasn’t seen as much puck luck recently, shown below in their on-ice shooting percentages.

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The third line got off to a great start, but both the process and the results have been trending in the wrong direction for the last month. While this may be just a blip on the radar screen, Barry Trotz should not be so steadfast in keeping this trio together, relative to his other line combinations. It wouldn’t hurt to try Fehr in a top-6 wing role or give third line minutes to Tom Wilson or Michael Latta.

Even if juggling the third line proves that the current trio should be put back together, their recent play hasn’t demanded they be kept together. Trotz should use this as an opportunity to try other combinations on the third line.

About Pat Holden

Pat writes regularly about hockey on Brooks Laichyear and Russian Machine Never Breaks. His work has also appeared on ESPN.com and The Washington Post. You can follow him on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/pfholden

Posted on February 25, 2015, in Statistical Analysis and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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