What Forward Lines Worked (And Didn’t Work) For The Capitals In The 2022-23 Season?

We began our postseason assessment of the Capitals forward group last week with a look at the individual points per minute of ice time and expected goals performance for each forward for the 2022-23 season [here].

Today we supplement that initial assessment with a look at the performance of each and every forward line combination deployed by the Capitals this season. We will compare their expected goals differential (xGF – xGA) and expected goals for percentage (xGF%) with their offensive zone faceoff shift start percentage (OZFO%) at five-on-five.


The following graph plots each and every forward line combination deployed for the 2022-23 season (sans lines that included Lars Eller and Garnet Hathaway). The graph includes the total time each line was deployed (TOI), the percentage of offensive zone faceoffs each line was on the ice for (OZFO%), the expected goals differential (xGF – xGA) and the expected goals for percentage (xGF%) for each line deployed at five-on-five. [Click to enlarge].

[The statistics used in this post are courtesy of Natural Stat Trick 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]

The thin vertical red line above bifurcates the positive and negative expected goals for percentages for all of the line combinations.


If we toss out the top eight line combinations due to lack of adequate sample size (minimum time on ice) we can look at the remaining top performing line combinations that incurred significant time on ice together. [Click to enlarge].

The Ovechkin-Strome-Sheary line is probably the first line that jumps out at you. The trio posted excellent possession numbers and logged the most minutes of all Capitals line combinations this season. However, they also logged more than 80% offensive zone faceoffs, which will obviously impact their positive possession metrics.

The Protas-Dowd-Aube-Kubel line logged positive possession metrics, all while seeing just 12.5% of their shifts starting with an offensive zone faceoff. But that’s what the fourth line does. They typically start in the defensive zone and typically face the opposition’s top lines. The fact that they posted positive numbers is impressive, but not a shock for a Nic Dowd line.

There’s a very good chance that the aforementioned two lines will begin next season as they sit, with the top line of Ovechkin-Strome-Sheary (if Sheary is re-signed) and the fourth line of Protas-Dowd-Aube Kubel. If Sheary is not re-signed, you could see Aube-Kubel take Sheary’s position on the top line, which also worked well this season. Obviously that would create an additional need on the fourth line.

It should be added that the Milano-Backstrom-Wilson line performed very well, for 49 minutes of five-on-five ice time. That’s significant and something that will need to be considered moving forward.

It should also be noted that Craig Smith posted solid numbers on more than one line combination in his short time with the Capitals. He’s 33, and likely not returning to the Capitals, but he deserves the credit for the work he did and the success he had. He (quietly) put together a solid finish to the season.


Just as important of a consideration is the lines that did not perform well with regards to the pre-defined possession metrics. [Click to enlarge].

Somewhat surprising was the performance of the Ovechkin-Strome-Wilson line, which saw significant time on ice together but posted negative possession metrics. The Ovechkin-Kuznetsov-Wilson line also didn’t perform very well, considering the offensive zone shift start percentages. Wilson missed half the season, so this line will likely be revisited by the next head coach early next season to get an update on how they are working together.

The Capitals also gave significant time to the Ovechkin-Kuznetsov-Sheary line, with just under 50% results. This could be due to Kuznetsov’s sub-par season and terrible finish, but it’s likely this line gets more time next season, assuming Kuznetsov and Sheary are back.


As with all analysis, the aforementioned statistics are just a few more brushstrokes to the overall painting we started with the points per minute and the expected goals performance post.

The next (third) step of the forward analysis will look at other key possession metrics as well as look at player replacement values based on Goals Above Replacement (GAR) and expected Goals Above Replacement (xGAR) for each of the Capitals forwards. We’ll conclude the series with a final post that pulls all of the analysis together.

By Jon Sorensen

About Jon Sorensen

Jon has been a Caps fan since day one, attending his first game at the Capital Centre in 1974. His interest in the Caps has grown over the decades and included time as a season ticket holder. He has been a journalist covering the team for 10+ years, primarily focusing on analysis, analytics and prospect development.
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4 Responses to What Forward Lines Worked (And Didn’t Work) For The Capitals In The 2022-23 Season?

  1. Anonymous says:

    Caps have to re-sign Sheary. So many positives for a relatively low-paid forward.

  2. Anonymous says:

    It’s strange, Mac said he wanted to focus on improving top six, but the first line is pretty much locked down – it will be interesting to ultimately see what he meant by that.

  3. Anonymous says:

    I think they need to create a speed line, something that takes significant attention of opponents in preparing and playing the Capitals

  4. DC Scappeli says:

    Puck possession—can’t score if you don’t have the puck in the other team’s end. Just from the eyeball test, it looked as if the Caps were more back on D as opposed to being on the O, puck cycling and wearing out the other team’s D men. Too much one and done and then it was back up the ice on D. Again.

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