Hockey is a team sport. When teams have a lot of success in both the regular season and in the playoffs, they need a lot of depth – A team where you have contributions up and down the lineup. From the top player on the first line to the last defenseman, to the goalie, you need everyone to do their part.
Yet there is a common saying in hockey, and that is, “You need your best players to be your best players.”
With names like Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom and T.J. Oshie, the Capitals undeniably have one of the best lines in both name recognition, popularity, and production. Most of the time, fans don’t need to worry about this line. You have Ovechkin, who is usually good for 50 goals a season, Backstrom, one of the best passers the game has, and Oshie, who is in the process of setting a career high in goals this season; he is currently at 26, tied for a career best.
On the other hand, when you look at other contending teams’ top lines, the Caps’ top trio doesn’t really stack up too well in some statistical categories. Consider this a warning: we are going to use some “advanced” stats here, so if you’re one of the people who isn’t a big fan of these stats….well you should read anyways cause why not?
We pulled numbers from nine top lines from nine different contending teams across the NHL, and Washington’s top line has some trouble keeping up.
Washington’s top line: 48.53 Corsi rating, 49.54 Scoring Chance %, and 60.53 Goals For %.
Scoring chances and goals for % are chances for and against per 60 minutes of play. Players don’t player 60 minutes a game, so maybe not the best stat to look at, but interesting to keep an eye on at the same time. As you can see from the Capitals’ top line, two of the three numbers are on the wrong side of 50%. Before we decide if this is a problem or not, let’s take a look at some contending teams’ top lines.
We’ll start with the two teams that participated in the Stanley Cup Final last season, the defending Cup champs, the Pittsburgh Penguins, and the San Jose Sharks. Frankly, neither of these teams has a top line that have been together consistently like last season, SO we’ll look at last season for both of these teams.
Pittsburgh’s top line of Patric Hornqvist-Sidney Crosby-Chris Kunitz: 61.15 Corsi rating, 61.70 SCF%, and 76.74 GF%.
San Jose’s top line of Joe Pavelski-Joe Thornton-Tomas Hertl: 56.70 Corsi rating, 55.17 SCF%, and 72.34 GF%.
Now for some top lines in the NHL this season:
Minnesota Wild: Nino Niederreiter-Eric Staal-Charlie Coyle: 54.85 Corsi rating, 63.93 SCF%, 63.64 GF%.
Chicago Blackhawks: Artemi Panarin-Artem Anisimov-Patrick Kane: 53.85 Corsi rating , 46.91 SCF%, 58.18GF%.
New York Rangers: Chris Kreider-Derek Stepan-Mats Zuccarello: 53.74 Corsi rating, 54.76 SCF%, 57.14 GF%.
Anaheim Ducks: Andrew Cogliano-Ryan Kesler-Jakob Silfverberg: 55.73 Corsi rating, 60.09 SCF%, 55.77GF%.
Edmonton Oilers: Patrick Maroon-Connor McDavid-Leon Draisaitl: 53.91 Corsi rating, 62.40 SCF%, 55.88 GF%.
Montreal Canadiens: Max Pacioretty-Phillip Danault-Alexander Radulov: 55.25 Corsi rating, 56.12 SCF%, 60 GF%
Columbus Blue Jackets: Brandon Saad-Alexander Wennberg-Nick Foligno: 52.48 Corsi rating, 50.59 SCF%, 60 GF%.
Including San Jose and Pittsburgh’s lines from last season, that’s nine different lines, the Capitals are the 10th team.
Washington’s top three ranks 10th in Corsi out of 10 top lines.They rank ninth in Scoring Chances For %, ahead of only Chicago’s Panarin-Anisimov-Kane line. In the Goals For % category, the Caps do look better, ranking fourth behind only San Jose and Pittsburgh’s lines from last season, as well as Minnesota’s top line this season.
Advanced stats are nothing to solely rely on. Washington’s best line had similar stats last season (49.83, 52.32 & 67.44), and they rebounded in the playoffs (54.76, 56.26 & 60). They also had 13 goals and 33 points combined in the playoffs in 12 games.
Depending on stats like this isn’t a good idea in my opinion. We can however, find stats like this and debate whether they mean anything. So, do these stats and rankings mean anything? I don’t think it’s a good thing that among top teams in the NHL, Washington ranks towards the bottom.
Will this cost the Capitals? That remains to be seen. Top lines are relied upon to score and if the Caps’ top guys can’t contribute in the playoffs and can’t bring up their possession numbers, they might become a pretty big liability.
Ovechkin, Backstrom and Oshie did well last season in the playoffs, they’re going to need to do it again.
By CJ Witt