With just a few days left before a trade deadline, managers around the NHL are comparing their teams to the rest of the league and looking for the pieces needed for a playoff run. With the new playoff format, it’s especially important to overmatch the division rivals you are likely to face early in the postseason.
The Caps, despite sitting just fourth in the Metropolitan division, keep up with the teams above them in most statistical categories. But there is one area in which they are struggling: the second line.
Centered by rookie Evgeny Kuznetsov since the end of November, the Caps second line hasn’t been as good as their counterparts around the Metropolitan division’s top four.
Here’s how I identified second lines around the division:
The bars indicate shot-attempt percentage for the two players when on ice together. The grey line is whole team’s shot-attempt percentage. All stats are five-on-five play. The league average is 50 percent. These numbers are up to date as of February 27.
As seen on this graph, the Caps’ unit is one of two second lines below their team’s average among the four teams. They are pulling down possession rather than improving it. Interestingly, the Rangers line faces much tougher competition than the other three.
And again, keep in mind that the Kunitz – Malkin sample is relatively small. They’re good, but they’re probably not that good.
Now let’s break it down in shot generation and suppression.
For every forward duo, the left bar is shot-attempts-for/60 (shot generation) and the right bar is shot-attempts-against/60 (shot suppression).
The Caps’ second line is fine defensively, but they’re not creating enough offense. Both Isles’ and Pens’ second lines produce significantly more shots than the Johansson – Kuznetsov – Brouwer line. Despite facing tougher competition, the Rangers’ second line manages to keep pace.
It’s hard to say how the Caps can fix their second line’s offensive struggles. They might try to promote a known possession player like Eric Fehr (which might hurt the third line, which gets even more even-strength ice time and faces tougher competition) or look for a trade that would spark secondary scoring. So far the Caps have been linked with Flames’ forward Curtis Glencross, who would hardly be what that second line needs and would probably be used as a first-line right wing anyway, and proven possession player Patrick Sharp, who might be too good for the second line.
While it may appear that the revolving door at the first-line right wing position is the most gaping hole in the Caps line-up, the team consistently lacks secondary scoring threats, which may hold them back in the postseason when, as Barry Trotz said recently, star players often cancel each other out. A seven-game series might come down to the secondary scoring, and the Caps need help in that department.
WOWY stats via HockeyAnalysis.com.
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