clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

How the Caps’ Third Line Has Gone from Bottom-Six to Top-Nine

A look at the effectiveness of the newly arrived compared to the recently departed.

NHL: Los Angeles Kings at Washington Capitals Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

With the Caps on yet another tear through the middle months of the NHL’s regular season, comparisons to last year’s squad are inevitable. They’re also warranted, as this year’s roster is extremely similar to last season’s.

If “yes” is the answer to “is this year’s team better than last year’s” the reasons for that are manifold: Phillip Grubauer’s stellar play when he gets the nod, optimal usage of Brooks Orpik, increased production from last year’s newcomers T.J. Oshie and Justin Williams, a full offseason for Daniel Winnik, the list goes on.

But today we’re going to focus on the two real tangible year-over-year changes to the squad: the arrival of Lars Eller and Brett Connolly to D.C., and the departure of Jason Chimera and Mike Richards.

all data from Corsica

Both players fall well on the right side of the coin. They’ve got the best possession numbers on the team, and Brett Connolly boasts a standout GF% (and its hard to standout when your cellar-dwelling GF% is Justin Williams’ 58.9. Seriously, check out the scale on the y-axis on that graph. Redonkulous.) Basically, Eller and Connolly are both killing it. For some perspective on how killing it they are, here’s the same visualization, this time looking at average possession and production efficiency for the entire Trotz era in Washington.

When it comes to possession in the Trotz era, Connolly and Eller are the gold standard, though it goes without saying that in a visualization like this they’re benefiting from a small sample size compared with their peerset. But Connolly and Eller have no control over their sample size, and the data only reflects the on-ice inputs, so with those caveats let’s simplify this chart to show Connolly and Eller alongside Chimera and Richards, who they nominally replaced.

That’s a stark difference. Connolly and Eller are spending a lot more time in the offensive zone, and the production is following suit. We recently used research by Micah Blake McCurdy to take a look at indicators that a team may be situated for a deep playoff push. Long story short, the individual components of possession (shot attempts and shot suppression) combined with quality of goaltending correlate most strongly to success in the playoffs. So let’s take a look at the contributions of the newcomers versus those of the departed to the possession components.

Not only are both Connolly and Eller averaging over 12 more shot attempts per 60 minutes of 5v5 ice team than the skaters they replaced, but they also suppress the opposition’s attempts better than Chimera and Richards did last year.

In the Brian MacLellan era, the acquisitions and departures have been surgical in their intent, and by and large effective. From bringing in Brooks Orpik and Matt Niskanen to solidy an at-the-time porous blueline, to revamping the core scoring forwards by sending Troy Brouwer packing and welcoming T.J. Oshie and Justin Williams to the Top-6, to bringing in Eller and Connolly, each move has improved the team.

But at this point, anyone who pays attention to puck in the D.C. area knows that “improvement" is ultimately writ or disproven during the NHL’s second season in the Spring. Based on what we’ve seen to date, there’s no reason that this year’s crop of new arrivals shouldn’t be an effective motor to that end.