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Penalty Kills and Power Trios

A look at one way Todd Reirden can deploy three of his Russian troops that could pay big dividends

NHL: Washington Capitals at Minnesota Wild Nick Wosika-USA TODAY Sports

When the Caps acquired Ilya Kovalchuk from the Canadiens last week to bolster their forward depth, it was almost as if Caps fans had to convince themselves that it was solely for the purpose of adding a little scoring punch to the bottom-six in order to temper expectations. Easy, heart... head’s got this.

But there isn’t a single person in the hockey world inside or outside the beltway who didn’t let their mind wander at least a little and wonder “what if?”

You know what I’m talking about. Don’t pretend that you don’t.

Then, last night, it happened.

Okay, heart, you can have this one. But let’s not go crazy.

The thing is, as glorious as that moment was (and it was), there was something even more intriguing about that trio of Alex Ovechkin, Evgeny Kuznetsov and Kovalchuk’s brief time together against the Wild (4:12 at five-on-five, per Natural Stat Trick), and it’s something that might have a really positive impact in the long run.

Late in the second period, John Carlson was whistled for tripping up Jared Spurgeon. The Caps’ typically terrific man-down unit (which had a bit of an off night) did its job, and as soon as the penalty-killing forwards were able to get off the ice, on came that Russian troika:

via ShiftChart

The shift wasn’t particularly long or eventful, resulting in just a single shot attempt — a miss from 53 feet from Ovechkin. Strategically, though, it was inspired; take the momentum gained from a successful penalty kill and supercharge it by throwing that skill trio over the boards. They’re rested (none of them kills penalties), don’t have to wait for linemates to catch their breath after the kill (Tom Wilson in Ovechkin and Kuznetsov’s case, Lars Eller and Carl Hagelin in Kovalchuk’s), and they’re facing generally weaker competition, as opponents’ best skaters tend to be key power play participants. In this case, as you can see above, Minnesota was without guys like Zach Parise, Eric Staal, Kevin Fiala, Ryan Suter and so on, who had just been out for the man-advantage. Makes a lot of sense, doesn’t it?

The Red Line is a “sometimes” line, and Todd Reirden knows as much:

“I wasn’t sure how it was going to go,” Reirden said of playing the three Russian forwards together for a handful of shifts. “I’ve done some research on this one. They haven’t played a lot together with the national team or anything, so that is something I wanted to see a little bit and we will see moving forward — just some different combinations that I think can keep the opposition on their heels.”

Deploying the trio after a successful penalty kill will certainly keep opposition on their heels. And the head and the heart can both get behind that.