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On Burakovsky's Resurgence and the Offensive Output of the Second Line

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The Capitals second line is scoring goals at a faster rate than most team's number one unit.

Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

It might have taken half of the season to get there, but Andre Burakovsky is finally back on track. Back in November we identified a lack of confidence as the primary reason for Burakovsky's struggles and Pat Holden of RMNB wrote about Burakovsky's improvement a few weeks ago. Let's take a deeper dive.

Here's an overview of Burakovsky's season from Micah Blake McCurdy :

Stats used through 2/10/2016

  • The top chart is a breakdown of the players that Burakovsky has been playing alongside. You can see that recently he's been playing almost exclusively with Justin Williams and Evgeny Kuznetsov, while earlier in the year his linemates were almost always in flux.
  • The second chart is a detailed view of Burakovsky's minutes. The different colors represent the different situations that a player can be on the ice during (5v5, 5v4, 4v5, etc).
  • The third chart is a smoothed Corsi visualization (both for and against).
  • The fourth chart is a smoothed Shooting % graph (again both for and against)
  • Last, but not least, is a breakdown of Burakovsky's points so far this season

Burakovsky has points in ten of his last eleven games (six goals, eight assists) and he's now producing points at a faster rate this year than he did last.

So what's changed for Burakovsky? Well, based on the first and fifth charts above it looks like his offensive explosion coincides pretty nicely with his promotion to the second line.

Through the use of Emmanuel Perry's "line combination stats" tool we can get a detailed look at the advanced metrics for when that line is on the ice together

The defensive numbers aren't perfect, but they look worse than they really are due to a very low on-ice save percentage (84.52% per Puckalytics). That line's goal production is outstanding, and while it's due to regress a little, the underlying numbers are encouraging. Only five forward groupings that have played at least 100 minutes together have a higher GF/60 than the Capitals second line.

Forward Combination TOI GF/60
Kunitz-Crosby-Hornqvist 142.91 7.14
Lucic-Kopitar-Toffoli 179.86 5.00
Jones-Monahan-Gaudreau 104.83 4.58
Zibanejad-Hoffman-Ryan 136.78 4.39
Pouliot-McDavid-Yakupov 125.26 4.31
Burakovsky-Kuznetsov-Williams 175.09 4.11

Given how Burakovsky started the year, it's understandable to be a little surprised by just how well that line has clicked. That being said, Brian MacLellan has been thinking about this trio for quite some time.

In my mind, I’d like to play him with Burakovsky and Kuznetsov because I think he’d have a big effect on them

-Brian MacLellan on the free-agent signing of Justin Williams

Nailed it.

Alright, to try and get an idea of how this line can score let's look back at a few five-on-five goals this trio has scored together, starting with the first one.

The video starts with Burakovsky dishing the puck down the wall to Kuznetsov. Kuznetsov does a few fancy things then threads the needle back to Burakovsky. Kuznetsov's pass deserves a lot of praise but there are a few less heralded parts of the play should be mentioned as well; Burakovsky's approach angle after being forced out of the zone,  Kuznetsov's move to create the passing lane, and Williams' tie-up of the defenseman in front.

Burakovsky re-enters the zone inside of the neutral zone face-off dot. The winger that's marking him (circled in red) elects to stay high in the zone in order to cover Chorney. Burakovsky identifies the open space in front of him and moves right to it.

The goal doesn't happen without Kuznetsov drawing two Bruins defenders down low. His drive to the goal line followed by his quick spin back to the circle results in three Bruins being lined up almost in parallel to the goal line. The tight grouping of the defense creates some space between the defenseman guarding Williams and the Bruin guarding the slot.

The Bruins' defenseman at the top of the paint is in a position where he would have had an opportunity to play the puck on the eventual pass to Burakovsky... if his stick wasn't on the goal-line side of Williams. Williams' net-front presence essentially opens the passing lane for Kuznetsov. Unsurprisingly, the league leader in primary assists/60 exploits the passing window to create a scoring chance, which Burakovsky finishes to give the Capitals a 1-0 lead.

This line has scored a lot of goals, but some of them have been smoother than others. Burakovsky's goal against the Panthers* came on a shift where the Caps had 35 consecutive seconds of zone time, a shot saved, another miss the net, and a third attempt blocked.

*The NHL won't allow the video to be embedded so click through for the video

This next example, like with the first goal we looked at,  involves a lot of player movement - but this time that movement is in transition.

The Capitals second line has the ability to score with sustained offensive zone time, in transition, and when their opponents make a mistake.

Burakovsky's resurgence has provided the Capitals with a very dynamic scoring line one that has produced in the regular season and has the capability to keep producing in the playoffs. Both Williams and Kuznetsov are proven playoff performers (the latter to a lesser extent, simply due to limited opportunity) - which could help a Caps team that has, in the past, been undone by a lack of playoff scoring.