Corsi-Optimized Lineup: Do-or-Die Edition

Rob Carr

Can moving some players around the lineup help the Capitals on their last-chance playoff push?

Tuesday, on the morning of its seventh-to-last game of the season, Washington was a point back of the final playoff spot and didn't hold the tiebreaker. Last season, on the morning of game 42 (i.e. seven games left), the Capitals were two points clear of Winnipeg atop the Southeast Division, without the tiebreaker but with a game in hand. In 2012, under Dale Hunter, the team sat in ninth, two points back of Buffalo but with a game in hand and holding the tiebreaker. In 07-08, the team was two points back of Philadelphia and the Flyers held a game in hand. (Of course, not only did the Caps chase down Philadelphia, but they chased down Carolina, which was seven points ahead.)

After Tuesday's loss to Dallas, the Caps sit two points back of Columbus, now needing to outdo the Blue Jackets by three points over the next six games despite Columbus having an extra game to play.

And this time, unlike earlier in the season (the last two times we visited this problem), it doesn't look like there's a good "optimal lineup" Adam Oates can use for this last-ditch playoff push.

Just a note: I removed Brooks Laich, Nate Schmidt, and Patrick Wey for injury-related reasons.

Defense

LD

RD

CF/CA

CF%

Orlov

Green

372/280

57.1

Alzner

Carlson

525/589

47.1

Erskine

Carrick

112/132

45.9

Total:

50.1

Without Schmidt or Wey — if both were healthy, Schmidt would be with Mike Green and Wey with Dmitry Orlov — the third pair is once again the cringeworthy duo of John Erskine and Connor Carrick.

At this point, it may be best for the Caps to just roll their top four almost all game, like teams without a good third pair are wont to do in a close game in the postseason. Even if Adam Oates is willing to roll an older left-handed defensemen on the right side in lieu of Carrick — as he was against Dallas — the pairing would still lack a defenseman good enough to compensate for the shortcomings of his partner.

LW

C

RW

LW-C

LW-RW

C-RW

Exp. CF%

Penner

Johansson

Ovechkin

35/31

50/43

542/514

52.7

Kuznetsov

Backstrom

Brouwer

39/47

30/39

282/304

45.6

Chimera

Grabovski

Fehr

122/134

254/253

211/161

51.5

Volpatti

Beagle

Wilson

93/132

102/132

126/128

44.8

Total:

49.2

Dustin Penner hasn't gotten much of a look with Ovechkin, but in the time they have spent together, they've been okay — hardly the case for Ovechkin with Beagle. Marcus Johansson also hasn't played much center for Alex Ovechkin, so it may be better to move Backstrom and Grabovski (who, for the Caps' sake, better be ready to line up at center sooner rather than later) each up a line and Johansson down.

Joel Ward didn't make the cut thanks to a lack of ice time with players other than Jason Chimera and Eric Fehr and Mikhail Grabovski's dominance with the latter. Realistically, he'd be in the lineup instead of Volpatti, although perhaps slotting in on the third line instead of fourth line left wing - Chimera and Ward together have been much better together than when apart, and Oates certainly wouldn't want to mess with the only line that's been any good for them at even strength since the Olympics in terms of goals-for percentage.

With 10 or maybe even 11 top-nine forwards, a talented player or two will be left on the fourth line regardless of how the lineup shakes out. It's a good lineup on paper, but without some serious changes in chemistry or system, it's not likely going to be all that good on the ice, if past performance is any indication.

Team average: 49.9%

That's not very good. The Capitals need to win out (or come close to that) if neither Detroit nor Columbus suddenly falters in a major way, and a break-even Corsi percentage is not the hallmark of a team that can realistically hope to pull off six wins in a row.

Cristobal Huet stopped 94.7% of the shots he faced in his final six starts of the 07-08 season — all wins. Braden Holtby stopped 93.1% of the shots he faced in his final six appearances last season, going 5-1. Unless there's a major change up front, in order to qualify for the playoffs this season, the Caps are going to need Holtby and/or Jaroslav Halak to put together a similar performance.

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