When Brian MacLellan got Justin Williams to put pen to paper this offseason, and then made what was arguably the NHL's offseason blockbuster deal when he brought T.J. Oshie to town in exchange for Troy Brouwer, it was pretty clear he wanted a different look in his top-six forward ranks.
But what look did he want exactly? Williams is a hard-nosed vet who by all accounts is a tremendous locker room presence, and whose post-season track record says more than any collection of words. Oshie was the face of his previous franchise, a multi-tooled player with a reputation for nifty offense. At the end of the day they were both signed to skate on the Capitals' top two lines - which means the expectation was likely to bring the offense, and to ostensibly do so at even-strength.
Seven games into the season, both these guys have some pretty nice boxcars - Oshie with three goals and four assists, Williams with a goal and five assists. But we know that on-ice impact doesn't always show up on the scoresheet (or at least that the scoresheet doesn't tell the whole story) so let's take a look at where the effect of these new arrivals may be more evident: individual shot attempts at five-on-five.
(It goes without saying that data this early in the season is subject to sample-size related volatility. But it's still interesting, and worth cataloging now so we can check back on it later.)
Alex Ovechkin led the team - and the League - last year with 23.05 shot attempts per 60 minutes of 5v5 ice time. Among skaters who played more than 13 games, Eric Fehr was next on that list with 13.20 shot attempts/60, followed by Andre Burakovsky (12.71), Mike Green (12.41), John Carlson (12.20), and Tom Wilson (11.95).
In the early goings of the 2015-2016 campaign, Alex Ovechkin has been firing two and a half more pucks towards the net every 60 minutes of even strength ice he gets, nearly a ten percent increase. But here's the thing: his new linemate, Oshie, is a more prolific shooter than last year's second best on the team (Fehr), boasting 13.45 shot attempts/60.
No winger spent more 5v5 time on the ice with Ovechkin than Wilson, who fired off 11.95 shot attempts/60... or, put another way, about 1.5 shot attempts/60 fewer than Oshie. That's 4.5 full shot attempts/60 improvement from the top line wingers, who getting the lion's share of the ice time in any given game are essentially maximizing the return on the increased rate. But the effect trickles down.
(shot attempt stats from Hockey Analysis)
Brooks Laich, Jason Chimera, and Williams are all also firing the puck at a greater rate than Fehr's mark from last year with rates of 18.79, 15.98, and 13.45/60 respectively. Put another way, with Laich representing the fourth line, Chimera the third, Williams the second, and Oshie the first (with Ovechkin obviously wearing the crown), every single forward trio has one skater that on last year's team would have had the second highest shot attempts/60.
Or yet another way: the Caps forwards are really firing the puck, and probably at the expense of some looks from the blueliners.
Some part of this can certainly be attributed to small sample size, but the lay of the underlying numbers seems to evince that the new look in the top-six is working favorably (as if that wasn't clear enough from the boxcar output), and if these trends are sustained at any meaningful level it could be a major year-over-year improvement for the Caps' bread and butter.