Following the Colorado Avalanche’s 6-3 trouncing of the Caps on October 14th, Capitals bench boss Todd Reirden shook-up the line combinations across all four lines, but more interestingly, he implemented unique combinations on the third and fourth lines. Since the loss against the Avs, the Caps are 4-0-0, and the bottom six has shown some signs of life. In this post, we’ll take a look at some advanced analytics and the overall performance of the third and fourth line combinations, and what we may expect going forward.
The newly assembled third line consists of Jakub Vrana, Lars Eller, and Garnet Hathaway. So far, the results have been mixed at 5-on-5 play. Here’s are a few key statistics for this line through four games at 5-on-5 play:
In terms of an overall strong effort, the game against Toronto was the best game this line has had so far at 5-on-5 play. Toronto is a strong possession team, coming in at 5th in the NHL in ‘Corsi For’ percentage and 10th overall in ‘Fenwick For’ percentage. Overall, this line has had some diminishing results in each subsequent contest, mostly due to less time on ice at 5-on-5, as a result of an increase in power plays and penalty killing.
Overall, if we try to project the performance of this line, you’re going to see a pretty strong possession-based third line that’ll tend to give up slightly more high danger chances against than high danger chances for.
Interestingly enough, Vrana, Eller, and Hathaway have strong possession numbers individually at 5-on-5. Here’s a look at the third line’s individual numbers:
Eller is leading the team in ‘Corsi For’ percentage (when you remove Martin Fehervary from the picture), and is in the top 5 for ‘Fenwick For’ percentage and ‘Expected Goals For’ per 60 minutes.
This is tremendous for the Capitals, because they can move Eller into a top six role pretty seamlessly, if there’s an injury to Evgeny Kuznetsov or Nicklas Backstrom. It’s pretty hard to harp on anything individually here, other than the expectation of a third line is some defensive responsibility.
Only Jensen and Kempny (small sample size skewing results) have higher expected goals against per 60 minutes than Vrana. Vrana probably isn’t the best fit for a third line deployment with his skill set, but the Caps are making it work right now. We’ll likely see Vrana bump back up to the second line fairly soon if he can keep up his current goals for per 60 minutes pace, since he’s right at his expected mark at 2.37.
The most surprising thing here is that Garnet Hathaway is sixth on the team in expected goals for over 60 minutes. He’s certainly getting good chances, but he’s currently at 2.08 in actual goals for per 60 minutes. That’s not bad, and he’s actually above Tom Wilson in that regard. The downside is that he’s pretty low on the list in expected goals against per 60 minutes, but he’s fifth overall in actual goals against per 60 minutes at 2.08.
Let’s go ahead and hop right into the key statistics for the fourth line of Brendan Leipsic, Nic Dowd, and Chandler Stephenson:
Looking at these metrics, there’s not much more you can ask for from your fourth line at 5-on-5 play. After being assembled against the Rangers, due to Richard Panik’s injury, the fourth line has had strong possession games in fairly low time on ice as a line at 5-on-5.
The fourth line has produced more high danger chances for than against. Watching this line, you can see how aggressive on the puck and on puck retrievals this line is. All three have speed and skill, which helps create possession tilts like the ones we see here.
Now, let’s check out the fourth line’s individual stats this season:
Overall, with limited ice time at 5-on-5 play, the individual stats for these three mirror what we see above. Both Leipsic and Dowd are really solid in expected goals against per 60 minutes, which lends credence to their strong possession metrics. Leipsic is still looking for his first goal as a Capital, but he passes the eye test here. He certainly gets his chances, and he’ll bury one soon if he keeps this up.
When inserted into the lineup, Dowd has had strong games. He’s the lowest on the team in 5-on-5 ice time per game, but he is in the top 5 for Corsi For, Fenwick For, and expected goals against per 60 minutes, and is ninth in expected goals for per 60 minutes. Dowd is certainly making his case for staying in the lineup when Panik returns from his injury in a few weeks.
In the past four games for this iteration of the third line, and the past three games for this fourth line, the Caps are starting to push some forward momentum. Strong 5-on-5 play from your bottom six forward group is a huge piece to the puzzle. In a sport where your top forwards usually only play at most a third of the game, the importance of depth becomes magnified.
If the lines of Vrana – Eller – Hathaway and Leipsic – Dowd – Stephenson can keep this level of play up, the Caps are in good shape. You’ll likely see a bit more ice time for the bottom six in the back-to-back against Edmonton and Vancouver, since Reirden will want to roll four lines to keep everyone fresh.
By Justin Trudel