Nicklas Backstrom led the Washington Capitals in points and assists this season, and yet his linemates tend to score a lot more when they’re with The Other Guy.
|18.6||time on ice per game|
|50.7||5-on-5 shot-attempt percentage, adjusted|
|50.6||5-on-5 expected goal percentage, adjusted|
|61.2||5-on-5 goal percentage, adjusted|
About this visualization: This series of charts made by Micah Blake McCurdy of hockeyviz.com shows lots of information for the player over the season. A short description of each chart:
About this visualization: At three times during the season (end of January, end of March, and end of May), RMNB shared an open survey with fans, asking the following question for each player:
On a scale from 1 to 5, how HAPPY are you to have this player on the team?
1 means VERY UNHAPPY TO HAVE THEM ON THE TEAM
2 means UNHAPPY
3 means NEITHER HAPPY NOR UNHAPPY
4 means HAPPY
5 means VERY HAPPY TO HAVE THEM ON THE TEAM
The numbers above show the average score for the player in each survey period.
For the second season in a row, Nicklas Backstrom recorded 0.69 assists per game. Nice. That puts him around 15th in the league (forwards with 400 minutes, all situations) — still elite territory for this 33-year-old, somewhat hobbled stud. He led the Caps in assists and points, and placed a surprise third in goals after a red-hot start.
Those dashboard stats make Backstrom seem like an offensive dynamo, but that’s not really the case. The Caps attempted 51 shots per hour when he was on the ice and generated 1.9 expected goals– both career-lows for Backstrom, and both virtually even with how opponents fared in those samples (Caps possessed 50.0 percent of shot attempts, 50.3 percent of xG).
Worse, the compressed schedule took its toll on Backstrom. He hit the wall late in the season and got hobbled with a lower-body injury that visibly impacted his postseason performance.
It’s impossible to think about Backstrom without comparing him to Evgeny Kuznetsov. Washington’s centerpiece, Alex Ovechkin gets his goal rate roughly cut in half when he was paired with Backstrom instead of Kuznetsov, with underlying rates like shot attempts dropping 25 percent and others, like high-danger chances falling off a cliff like 75 percent. The same effect happened with TJ Oshie, though Tom Wilson seemed to do noticeably better with Backstrom.
So as much as Backstrom feels like the heart of this team, I worry about him too. Washington needs a center who can activate Ovechkin, and I’m not sure that’s Nicky anymore. I don’t think it’s the other guy either, but we’ll talk about that on Friday, June 18.
Can Backstrom get his offensive touch back? If not, how do you use him with (or without) Ovechkin?
Read more: Japers Rink
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