The Caps rolled out new lines at practice on Monday. The most notable change was fourth line forward Tom Wilson getting promoted to play on the team’s first line alongside superstars Alex Ovechkin and Nick Backstrom. There’s never a shortage of opinions on Wilson, so playing him alongside the two best players in the history of the franchise was sure to draw a lot of reactions.
There’s actually a good bit of history to draw on when evaluating this move. Since 2013, Wilson has skated 305 minutes with Ovechkin and Backstrom, third only to TJ Oshie and Marcus Johansson as the most frequent right wing to play with them.
Those 305 minutes of hockey show us that there’s reason to be optimistic that top-line Tom could work out alright for the Caps.
Over the last four seasons, Backstrom and Ovechkin have skated together for over 100 minutes of 5-on-5 hockey with seven different teammates. They are, in order, Oshie, Johansson, Wilson, Burakovsky, Beagle, Williams and ……. Martin Erat.
When looking at how these seven trios have performed, Wilson’s time on the top line looks solid. Here’s how the current top trio has fared and how they rank among these seven different combos:
|Shot attempt percentage||54.8 (3rd)|
|Scoring chance percentage||52.9 (4th)|
|Expected goals for percentage||59.1 (1st)|
|Goals for percentage||54.4 (3rd)|
The Caps’ latest top line ranks in the top four in all of these key categories and leads the way in one: expected goals for percentage.
So, there’s reason to believe that Wilson on the top line could work out for the Caps. Further, moving Oshie to the third line could allow Trotz to trust that line a bit more while Andre Burakovsky is out. This would be a good thing because more ice time for Lars Eller is needed, as he’s skated fewer minutes at 5-on-5 than Beagle eight times in the last 10 games.
It remains to be seen if Trotz will make that adjustment with Oshie. During Monday’s practice, Oshie skated on the third line, but it appears he won’t play Tuesday in New York, so time will tell if Trotz is willing to use that lineup in a game.
Who knows how long the Caps will stick with #TopLineTom. But, if the Caps decide to keep the rugged winger with Ovechkin and Backstrom for a while, history shows it could work out.
Stats via Corsica
Headline image: Bruce Bennett
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