Photo from NHL.com
John Tavares is one of the best hockey players on the planet. If the New York Islanders hope to take down Alex Ovechkin, the best hockey player on the planet, and the Washington Capitals, Tavares will have to play a leading role. So, quite obviously, one of the Caps primary concerns when game planning is shutting down the Isles superstar center.
A safe assumption to make is that Barry Trotz will get Brooks Orpik and John Carlson on the ice against Tavares as often as possible. Here’s how things have gone when these guys have faced each other previously.
In short, in his career Tavares has feasted on minutes against Orpik, while Carlson has been able to limit Tavares’ puck possession.
While the bigger sample is nice, this season provides better context, as they are the only minutes Orpik and Carlson have played together, and the only minutes Tavares has faced a Barry Trotz-coached Capitals team.
Orpik and Carlson have fared a little better against Tavares than the rest of the league, but he’s still an elite possession forward when facing the Caps’ top defensive pair. This is in 35:02 of time on ice this season, so while the sample is small, it doesn’t give any reason to believe that Tavares finds it particularly challenging to play against the Orpik and Carlson pairing.
Trotz will presumably task the third line with facing Tavares for much of the series. As of practice on Monday morning, the Caps third line was Brooks Laich, Eric Fehr, and Jay Beagle. Here’s how Tavares has done against each of these guys in his career.
There’s nothing too alarming about Tavares’ numbers against Laich and Fehr, and Fehr actually has done reasonably well. But please keep Jay Beagle away from John Tavares. This is a case of the numbers supporting what my eye-test and thoughts on Beagle would lead me to think. Beagle is a fine player in a fourth-line role. But if the Caps are counting on a player of Beagle’s caliber to be part of a trio to shut down one of the best players in the world, they have another thing coming.
There’s nothing to say that Beagle will remain on the third line when the Caps and Isles open up the series on Wednesday. Trotz has a lot of other wingers he can slot in on the third line, and given his propensity for switching up lines, multiple forwards may share time alongside Laich and Fehr.
Of the other options for Trotz, Jason Chimera and Joel Ward are the only wingers to have faced Tavares enough to have a sample size worth mentioning. Here’s how Tavares’ possession numbers look against them in his career.
Well, this is shocking. Chimera and Ward have each faced Tavares for roughly 45 minutes in their respective careers and they have absolutely owned the puck during this time.
Tavares’ 37.2 shot attempt percentage against Chimera is the lowest of any forward he’s skated 42-plus minutes against in his career.
Even if we look at the past three seasons, as the Isles have become a better puck possession team, Tavares is still a sub-40 percent possession player when facing the ice cheetah and is at 40.2 percent vs. Ward.
The Caps may have forwards better suited than Chimera to skate third line minutes in the playoffs. And the lines may be better optimized with Chimera on the fourth line. But, given these numbers, how can the Caps not start the series with the trio of Fehr, Chimera, and Ward tasked with shutting down Tavares?
Trotz also shouldn’t shy away from putting power against power, as Tavares has poor career possession numbers vs. Ovechkin (39.5 percent) and Backstrom (40.6 percent) as well.
But the choice is clear insofar as what shutdown line should be facing Tavares. Given their dominating puck possession vs. the Isles leader, Trotz should deploy Fehr, Chimera, and Ward against Tavares when the Caps face the Isles on Wednesday.
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