Washington Capitals head coach Peter Laviolette regularly receives a ton of heat from fans for his continuous juggling of the Capitals forward lines. It seems the changes come before each and every game.
While a lot can be said for keeping lines constant in order for linemates to develop chemistry, the fact of the matter is Laviolette is running tests in order to see what works and what doesn’t work, particularly during the early part of the season.
However, with just 24 games remaining in the regular season, and the Capitals fighting for a playoff spot, the time to lock-in on line combinations is now. Unfortunately, the Capitals are still dealing with injuries and players returning to the lineup with just a few games under their belts, which have not been tested in certain line combinations, so “testing” will likely continue.
Regardless of when Laviolette decides to lock-in on line combinations, it’s helpful to take a look at what has been “tested” to date, and how each of the Capitals line deployments has performed after the first 58 games of the season.
ALL LINE COMBINATIONS DEPLOYED TO DATE
The following graph plots the performance for each and every one of the 101 total forward line combination deployed by the Capitals this season. It includes the expected goals for percentage (xGF%) and time on ice (TOI) for each of the line combinations at five-on-five. [Click to enlarge].
[The statistics used in this post are courtesy of Natural Stat Trick, MoneyPuck and the NoVa Caps Advanced Analytics Model (NCAAM). If you’d like to learn more about the statistical terms used in this post, please check out our NHL Analytics Glossary]
When we begin to look at what has worked (and what hasn’t) we need to consider time on ice, and decided what constitutes a worthy sample size. There are plenty of eye-popping expected goals for percentages in the chart above, but many of those lines have only been deployed for a few minutes of ice time, and thus, can’t be considered a good sample size. That doesn’t mean the lines aren’t worth a continued look, but they are negated in this post.
For the purposes of this quick assessment, the focus centers on line combinations deployed for 40 minutes or more of five-on-five time on ice.
Several line combinations continue to jump off the graph above and standout as lines that have worked well and for a significant amount of time on ice.
As noted in previous posts, the Protas-Dowd-Hathaway line has been excellent with a 63.% xGF% and more than 186 minutes of TOI at five-on-five.
The Milano-Backstrom-Wilson line has also done really well (70.8%) and logged more than 49 minutes of time on ice at five-on-five.
Milano-Kuznetsov-Mantha has worked very well, with more than 77 minutes of time on ice and an xGF% of 52.1%.
The Johansson-Eller-Mantha line has also worked well at 53.5% xGF% and nearly 90 minutes of time on ice together.
Ovechkin-Strome-Aube-Kubel have worked well together, with a 66.3% xGF%, but has only been deployed for less than 43 minutes of five-on-five ice time. We could very well see more of this combination as the regular season winds down.
If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again?
There are also a number of line combinations that have been given a long look, but have not performed above the 50% threshold.
Capitals head coach Peter Laviolette has deployed the Ovechkin-Kuznetsov-Sheary line more than 199 minutes of five-on-five ice time, yet the combination still remains below 50% xGF%.
The Protas-Eller-Mantha line has been deployed for more than 40 minutes of five-on-five ice time, but has not done well in possession metrics, with a xGF% of 43.4%. Protas belongs on the fourth line with Dowd and Hathaway, and that’s a done deal.
Ain’t No Time To Hate…Barely Time To Wait
With just 24 games remaining in the Capitals 2022-23 regular season, “the hour is getting late.” Laviolette will look to lock-in on line combinations as soon as Nic Dowd returns, so look for a little more day-to-day consistency in the line combinations from this point forward.
By Jon Sorensen
I like the Ovechkin-Strome-Aube-Kubel line a lot.
I agree with this. I think most of the lines are locked in, Laviollette is just dealing with a surplus of forwards before the trade deadline.
This is definitely the likely case. Particularly when you look at yesterday’s line combinations with Dowd worked back in. The “sharing” of spots.
Connor Sheary — Evgeny Kuznetsov — Tom Wilson
Anthony Mantha — Dylan Strome — T.J. Oshie
Sonny Milano/Lars Eller — Nicklas Backstrom — Marcus Johansson
Nicolas Aube-Kubel/Aliaksei Protas — Nic Dowd — Garnet Hathaway
Dmitry Orlov — Trevor Van Riemsdyk
Martin Fehervary — Nick Jensen
Erik Gustafsson – Dylan McIlrath
Extras: Alexander Alexeyev, Matt Irwin
Jon…Once again…you have aggregated some meaningful statistics on a topic vital to success into a very telling format. I hope someone in the Caps coaching chain sees this as (IMO) it can only help them dial in towards the playoffs. We’ll Done !
Thank you for your kind words. 🙏
Peter Laviolette’s Patented Line Generator and Rearranger……what combination will come out this time?
Who cares if we’re sinking like a stone in the standings? One of these days we’ll get the line combinations right!
Isn’t there an old saying about deck chairs and the Titanic?
I think there’s an app for that?
One thing that is blaring stadium lights:
Backstrom should stick with Wilson. He has one other successful line (barely) at 51% in Johanson-Backy-Milano. (44 min TOI), but no other line combo that reaches above 500. Limited TOI, small sample, so ‘rust’ would be glaring in such samples, but it highlights my concern despite those caveats. I understand the franchise never trading Ovi; but you can’t make that condition with any other player on the team, and that includes Backstrom. You have to do what’s best for the team, even if its painful.
Trading Backstrom makes better sense to me than trading Eller. I can see McM or LaPierre taking his place in the future. I don’t see those two replacing Eller (though Protas would do nicely). Let them compete with Strome and Kuzy. Protas could replace Dowd or Eller, but he’s also a good winger as well. Eller and his line often provide the most important defense against the opponents top line. Having both Dowd and Eller is a must to me, with Protas as a backup for both, and a wing. Malestyn could be 4LW and Protas 4C if you lost Dowd. Protas has the ability to provide offense and defense which is why I think he would do well replacing Eller (and his physical size as Ellers) but I don’t see McM or LaPierre having that type of defensive presence. 2C defensive forward? Sure. 3C defensive forward? No.
I’d love to see more toi with the Milano-Eller-Mantha line if possible. It’s also interesting to note that Mantha has success with 5 different centers, all above 500. Four of those centers had an xgf% of at least 74%.