Tinkering with lines won’t help Washington


(AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

A five-game losing streak is bound to lead a team to shake things up. We have already seen head coach Adam Oates try some line shuffling among the team’s top six forwards, all in an effort to get the Washington Capitals back on track.

The temporary juggling placed Jason Chimera among the top six for Washington’s tilt against the New York Rangers, but it didn’t result in much of a spark, as the Caps fell 4-1 to their Metropolitan Division rivals, who are now five points ahead of them in the standings. On 106.7 The Fan’s Grant and Danny show, co-host Danny Rouhier asked Washington play-by-play announcer Joe Beninati how fans should view the line shuffling in light of the loss. listen

“I think you are looking for chemistry, you are looking for a click,” Beninati said on air. “And I know at this point in the year when you are losing games obviously you are going to lose ground in the standings and fans are going to be concerned if there is a state of flux in the offensive lines. I have a feeling they are going to go back to the way we are more familiar with soon enough but right now there is a little bit of tinkering and a little bit of experimenting going on.”

Unfortunately, tinkering and experimenting with this roster, as constructed, doesn’t leave many options. The trio of Marcus Johansson, Nicklas Backstrom and Alex Ovechkin has been on the ice for 16 even-strength goals and has outshot opponents 306 to 289, putting 51.4 percent of the shot attempts in their favor. This is a legit, top line in the NHL and fans should rejoice that Oates has put them back together.

Mikhail Grabovski, signed this summer by Washington after the Toronto Maple Leafs bought out his contract, provides a legit second-line center option for Oates and the organization. When Grabovski is paired with Eric Fehr and Troy Brouwer, they have scored eight goals and seen 55.4 percent of attempts in their favor. When Grabbo is with Joel Ward and Jason Chimera those numbers are 12 and 51.1 percent, respectively. Unfortunately, Oates likes his left-handed forwards to be on the left wing and vice versa, likely making Fehr-Grabovski-Brouwer a non-starter. And with Chimera and Ward more suited to third-line minutes, that leaves the following combinations for Grabovski in a top-six role:

Goals For

Shot Atts For

Shot Atts Against

Laich-Grabovski-Brouwer

1

52

70

Erat-Grabovski-Fehr

0

6

0

We haven’t seen enough of Erat-Grabovski-Fehr to make any conclusive arguments but with Erat’s recent trade demands and time spent in the press box it is unlikely we see too much of him in a top-six role. Laich-Grabovski-Brouwer, meanwhile, hasn’t been able to score enough or generate more shot attempts than the opposition. There just doesn’t appear to be enough chemistry within the top six to create two, reliable scoring lines that can also drive puck possession and until this issue is addressed the Washington Capitals could continue spinning their wheels offensively.

Neil Greenberg analyzes advanced sports statistics for the Fancy Stats blog and prefers to be called a geek rather than a nerd.
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