With the rule change for the 2015-2016 season changing overtime lines from 4 on 4 to 3 on 3, it’s time to examine what that might look like for the Washington Capitals, and the league as a whole.
How will the different teams choose to structure the lines? There are really three options. First choice, two forwards and one defenseman. This seems most likely to be the “normal” formation. As much as that seems to be the best option, I can’t help but think that some team(s) will at least experiment with using three forwards on a line. The other option would be to go with more of a conservative shutdown line, using a single forward and two defensemen. While we can’t rule out a three defenseman line, it doesn’t seem all that likely except perhaps in rare circumstances.
So what might we expect the Capitals to do? Looking at two forwards and a single defenseman as the primary option, Backstrom and Ovechkin on the top line seem obvious. Kuznetsov and Burakovsky as a second line seems just as obvious. Really any combination of those four creates a handful for opponents. The top two defensemen likely to mix in on those lines would be Carlson and Niskanen. Both of those lines are offensive minded and capable of pushing the play deep into the offensive zone and striking fear in opponents.
From there things get a little murkier. It seems unlikely that Barry Trotz would choose to go with four offense minded lines for OT. What seems more probable, is you’d have at least one shutdown line to throw out against the opponents top offensive line. Think Crosby, Kessel and Letang. So given the Capitals lineup as it stands today, what would be the best three man line we could throw out to counter that threat? Alzner seems like the primary option on defense. For forwards you’d have to get Jay Beagle in there for the combination of face offs and defensive play and Brooks Laich would also seem to be a great candidate. The other option would be a single forward and two defenseman. Beagle still seems likely as the forward and Alzner and Orpik could be a good shutdown pairing of just good defense and a heavy game.
If you move to four lines (and we likely will), you could go either way, offense or defense. I think the Capitals go offense and it’s time to get TJ Oshie in the mix. His shootout skills should have a chance to come out given the space available at 3 on 3. Marcus Johansson would add speed and skill to a line with Oshie and either Nate Schmidt or Dmitry Orlov on defense. Schmidt’s possession numbers likely give him the edge at the start.
So what do the Caps actually do? To start the season I think we go with two forwards and a defenseman for all of the lines. Overtime is about winning, and so three scoring lines and one shutdown line seems most likely. In special instances (Crosby, Kessel, Letang), we might see a two defenseman line like above.
1st line – Backstrom, Ovechkin, Carlson
2nd line – Kuznetsov, Burakovsky, Niskanen
3rd line – Johansson, Oshie, Schmidt
4th line – Laich, Beagle, Alzner
Alternate 4th line – Beagle, Alzner, Orpik
We can expect many combinations over the course of the season, but starting out, things will probably look something like this. The first two lines will get the primary offensive zone starts with the fourth line getting the defensive zone starts. We should see a lot of short shifts and fast moving play. The team that gets trapped in their own zone for any period of time probably loses pretty quickly. 3 on 3 leaves a lot of time and space for skill players to work. It should be entertaining to say the least.
By Ernie Mudd