Evgeny Kuznetsov is among the players for whom Barry Trotz has struggled to find a consistent spot in the line-up. (Photo: Bruce Bennett/Getty)
To break out of their slump, the Capitals needed offensive contribution from their second line. Marcus Johansson and Andre Burakovsky scored four points each in the last three games, all Caps wins. Before that, when the Capitals struggled to get points, their third line featuring Joel Ward and Jason Chimera shone. Right now, the Caps have an eight-plus goal-scorer on each of their top three lines in Alex Ovechkin, Johansson, and Ward.
Coach Barry Trotz has found three successful pairs so far: Ovechkin-Backstrom, Johansson-Brouwer, Chimera-Ward. Andre Burakovsky seems to have secured second-line center position for now, which leaves two main vacancies in top nine: top-line right wing and third-line center.
Trotz has emphasized that he wants all of his four lines to contribute. “I’m trying to build four lines,” Trotz told Washington Post’s Alex Prewitt. “As the season wears on, you’re going to need to be a four-line team.”
Six players that are looking for a spot on one of five remaining forward positions: Eric Fehr, Evgeny Kuznetsov, Tom Wilson, Brooks Laich, Michael Latta, and Jay Beagle. All of them have either spent significant time sidelined with injuries or have bounced around the line-up.
So, the lines would look like:
Ovechkin – Backstrom – Fehr
Johansson – Burakovsky – Brouwer
Chimera – Latta – Ward
Laich – Kuznetsov – Wilson
Here’s a look at even-strength time distribution for the Caps three top-nine pairs. Those have remained intact since November 4th’s game against the Flames, a sample of four games. The numbers in columns two through five are the average TOI for each duo as a percentage of total even-strength TOI for games. So Ovechkin/Backstrom played 29.27 percent of even-strength ice time against Calgary for example. The last three columns are a reference to ES/PP/SH situation in those games.
The difference of 5 percent of ES TOI is about 2-3 minutes. The Caps’ bottom three lines would share that ice time almost equally, giving an opportunity for each player to shine and earn a little more ice time when he’s hot. Such a setup would allow Trotz to use all of his players without relying too much on hot streaks and abnormal shooting percentages.
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