We are continuing our analysis of the performance of the Washington Capitals forward group for the 2022-23 season by taking a closer look at the performance of each and every line combination as they relate to each individual forward. The refined look attempts to glean additional insight into the team’s specific needs for the upcoming season.
We began the deeper dive on Capitals forwards with captain Alex Ovechkin’s line combinations. We have also reviewed each and every line combination deployed with Evgeny Kuznetsov, Nicklas Backstrom and T.J. Oshie. Today we review each and every line combination deployed with Tom Wilson last season.
Wilson played in just 33 games but recorded 13 goals and nine assists during his brief play in the 2022-23 season. He recorded a personal expected goals for percentage of 43.43 (yes, really) and was a -13.
The following graph plots all forward line combinations deployed with Wilson for the 2022-23 season at five-on-five (sans lines that included Marcus Johansson, Lars Eller and Garnet Hathaway). The graph includes the total time each line was on the ice (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%) 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]
Note: The thin horizontal red line above bifurcates the positive and negative expected goals for percentages for all of the line combinations.
The Milano-Backstrom-Wilson line was by far Wilson’s most successful line combination for the 2022-23 season. Once again, we see Milano show up on a top producing line, something we’ve discussed in previous line assessment posts. Don’t be shocked if we see this line quite a bit next season, assuming Nicklas Backstrom returns.
The Oshie-Kuznetsov-Wilson line also had some success last season, but was deployed for just 19.47 of time on ice at five-on-five. Oshie at left wing is interesting, as we occasionally saw this over the course of the season, and with some success.
WHAT DIDN’T WORK
The Ovechkin-Kuznetsov-Wilson line was by far Wilson’s most commonly deployed line combination, but the line was in effective and well below 50% expected goals for percentage. The poor performance of the line is likely linked to numerous factors, none more prominent that Kuznetsov’s down year. This line has been successful and a mainstay for the Capitals in season’s past, so it will most likely get revisited in the fall, to see if the trio can regain successes from years past.
The Ovechkin-Strome-Wilson line was deployed quite a bit last season as well, but the trio never could find sustained possession, posting an expected goals for percentage of 41.63% in 73.97 minutes of time on ice at five-on-five.
The Ovechkin-Strome-Wilson line was deployed quite a bit last season, but posted a very underwhelming 41.63% expected goals for percentage.
CONTEXT AND CAVEATS
In the end, Wilson was one of the Capitals few positive stories last season, as he returned from a serious knee injury and by most accounts, picked up right where he left off. He was on a 32-goal pace for an 82-game season.
If Nicklas Backstrom does indeed return next season, look for Wilson to stay with him for a good portion of five-on-five ice time, most likely on the third line. Wilson on the third line can be considered a negative byproduct of Backstrom’s situation or a logical spot for Wilson. That’s up for debate.
Next up, we will look at the performance of Sonny Milano’s line combinations last season. We will wrap this series with a summary of the Capitals optimal lines for the 2022-23 season.
By Jon Sorensen
I’m ok with Tommy at 3RW if it brings out the best in #19. Will be interesting to see see who is 1RW and 2RW if Caps don’t re-sign Sheary and assuming NAK remains at 4RW with Protas and Dowd.
Tommy was indeed one of the positives. Hopefully knee injury is 100% behind him.
Given the data, perhaps the problem was Ovechkin with Wilson…
You might also want to time-phase the data. Wilson definitely got better as time went on according to my eyeballs and memory (both of which can be faulty… ). If I remember correctly, his first few games weren’t great, then he got better, then he got hurt again, then he came back and was really good. The data might be skewed a bit depending on which lines were used over time.
As far as I remember, Lavi used this line throughout the entire time after Wilson’s return. And they were pretty effective, even impressive together – offensively. But defensively all three of them … trying to avoid overly offensive phrases here…)) If you’ve seen what happens when they’ve lost the puck and forecheck/backcheck didn’t work, they have to chase someone back into their own zone, or they have to defend in front of the goal – it’s just a joke! They simply don’t have a clue! They couldn’t catch a fly with a thousand whacks! Strome is better in this regard, but he’s just too skinny and can be shrugged off the puck real easy. So the three of them put together – defense rests its case, basically. I think this was illustrated perfectly by the awesome line comparisons and individual forward stats published earlier.
Interesting that Wilson was so productive with Backstrom. Not really surprised per se, but I don’t like Wilson down on third line.
If we believe in that line, and Backstrom back to top center status, then that can be your second line. Then you better get a really good 1RW.
Fully agree with that. Backy’s defensive skills help bail Wilson out. But then you have to think about the 1RW, you’re totally right.
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