Photo: Patrick Smith/Getty Images
This week, the “Down Goes Brown” column, written by Sean McIndoe for The Athletic (behind the pay wall), focused on “Projecting the Opening Night lineup for whichever team you personally cheer for”, describing the projected lineup for a generic NHL team in terms of archetypes of the players who would fill the roles. In this piece, Diane Doyle looks at players in the Caps’ recent history who describes one of these particular archetypes.
The first-line in the article consisted of the following archetypes: 1) The superstar everyone loves; 2) The other superstar that everyone loves slightly less; and 3) The random guy who gets to play with the two superstars. This “type” describes the lineup of the Capitals to a tee since the arrival of Nicklas Backstrom in 2007-08.
As most fans would guess, the “The superstar everyone loves” role has been filled by Alex Ovechkin since his arrival in 2005. The “other superstar that everyone loves slightly less” role has been filled since Backstrom was placed on the first-line during the 2007-08 season by then-Head Coach Bruce Boudreau. The Capitals’ first-line has generally consisted of the two superstar with a rotating cast of characters playing right wing (“the “random guy who gets to play with the two superstars”).
*Not all the players listed below are “random” per se, but rather a compilation of some notable players to suit up alongside Backstrom and Ovechkin.
Viktor Kozlov signed with the Capitals prior to the 2007-08 season having played most of his career as a center, the position at which he began the season. Eventually, however, the team’s coaching staff inserted Backstrom as the team’s number one center and moved Kozlov to right wing. In his first season in Washington, Kozlov scored 16 goals and recorded 38 assists for 54 points in 81 games played. During the 2008-09 season (his last in the NHL), Kozlov spent most of the season with Backstrom and Ovechkin, scoring 13 goals and adding 28 assists for 41 points in in 67 games played, missing time with various injuries. After the season, he signed a contract with Metallurg Magnitigorsk of the Kontinental Hockey League, ending his NHL career. In two seasons with Washington, Kozlov recorded 95 points (29 goals, 66 assists) in 148 games played.
With the departure of Kozlov, the Capitals signed 37-year old, veteran forward Mike Knuble in free agency. Prior to signing with Washington, Knuble had enjoyed several productive seasons with the Philadelphia Flyers for several years and was a very productive forward with goal totals upwards of 20 goals. For most of the 2009-10 and 2010-11 seasons, Knuble was the team’s top-line right wing alongside Ovechkin and Backstrom, scoring 29 goals and adding 24 assists in 2009-10, and 24 goals and 16 assists in 2010-11, respectively. However, Father Time caught up to Knuble in the 2011-12 season and his productivity plummeted, which effectively ended his time on the top-line
While the enigmatic Russian was not a “random” player, he was occasionally a linemate of Ovechkin and Backstrom in the event the team needed an offensive spark or in the wake of an injury.
The Caps acquired Brouwer in the summer of 2011, with the intention of placing him on the second-line. However, the decline of Knuble’s performance during the 2011-12 season forced the team’s coaching staff to insert him alongside Backstrom and Ovechkin. He spent most of the 2011-12 season on the first-line but also saw time on a checking-line with Matt Hendricks and Jay Beagle. For the season, Brouwer scored 18 goals and recorded 15 assists for 33 points.
The initial goal upon former Capital Marcus Johansson’s arrival in D.C. was that he would serve as the team’s second-line center, and in his first two seasons spent time as the third and second-line pivot. By the 2012-13 season, the Capitals decided that Johansson was better suited to play on the wing rather than at center. In 2012-13, then-Head Coach Adam Oates decided to move Ovechkin from left to right wing, believing that players should play on their strong side. As a result, Johansson ended up as the first-line left wing alongside Ovechkin and Backstrom. Johansson scored six goals with 16 assists during the season, one in which he also dealt with a concussion. The following season, Johansson remained on the top-line with Ovechkin and Backstrom, scoring eight goals andd adding 36 assists. During the 2014-15 season, Johansson mostly played with Ovechkin and Backstrom, scoring 20 goals along with 27 assists. With the acquisition of T.J. Oshie prior to the 2015-16 season, Johansson did not see much time on the top-line in 2015-16, but saw time with the team’s superstars the following season as a result of injuries to Oshie.
During the 2014-15 season, then-Head Coach Barry Trotz placed former first-round pick Andre Burakovsky on the top-line with Ovechkin and Backstrom, an experiment that lasted about 10 games.
In the summer of 2015, the Capitals went on the search for a top-line right wing to play alongside Ovechkin and Backstrom, hoping to solve a revolving door of linemates for the team’s stars. They found their man in Oshie, who they acquired from the St. Louis Blues in a deal that also involved Brouwer (among other pieces). Oshie responded by scoring a then career-high in goals with 26, in addition to 25 assists that year for 51 points. For the 2017-18 season, Oshie started the season on the top-line for the Capitals, but would eventually be moved to the second-line, as other players, primarily Tom Wilson, would replace him on the first-line.
Former Head Coach Barry Trotz placed Wilson on the top-line with Ovechkin and Backstrom during the 2014-15 as an experiment during the first half of the season after returning from a broken ankle in the offseason. The experiment was abandoned before the halfway point of the season. Wilson returned to the top-line for the 2017-18 season during which he would play mostly with Ovechkin and Backstrom but also with Ovehkin and Evgeny Kuznetsov; Wilson scored 14 goals and had 21 assists during the 2017-18 season. After serving a suspension during the early part of the 2018-19 season, Wilson returned to the top-line with Ovechkin and Backstrom, although there were periods in which Kuznetsov would center the line with Ovechkin and Wilson instead of Backstrom. He had an even better season in 2018-19, scoring 22 goals with 18 assists for 40 points overall. While Wilson was out during his suspension, other players served on the top-line, including Brett Connolly, Jakub Vrana, and Oshie.
Line combinations courtesy of hockeyviz.com
Player statistics courtesy of NHL.com and Hockeyreference.com