Twenty-two games into the season, the Washington Capitals stand atop the NHL standings thanks in large part to a consistently herculean effort from their top line and despite missing their second trio of forwards for most of the campaign.
And yet, saying that Alex Ovechkin, Evgeny Kuznetsov and Tom Wilson have picked up the scoring slack in the collective absences of Nick Backstrom, T.J. Oshie and Anthony Mantha somehow understates the degree to which they’ve done just that. Put simply, Ovechkin’s line has basically put up as many points as one might reasonably have expected both lines to amass.
First, the raw numbers on the season:
Forty goals, 99 points in 22 games, with just 18 man-games and 13 points coming from the second line.
But what if Mantha, Backstrom and Oshie had been healthy this whole time? What would reasonable expectations for these first 22 games have been if the Caps had their full lineup?
It’s impossible to say, of course, but for this exercise, we’ll apply last season’s scoring rates for each player (including the top line, of course) and see where we end up...
The top six, scoring at their respective rates from last season, would have scored one more goal and added four fewer assists through 22 games than they have this year, and that’s with the second line missing 22 games from Backstrom, a dozen from Mantha and 14 from Oshie.
Imagine if Ovi were “only” on a 41-goal pace. <shudders>
But wait, there’s more! The numbers (well, most of them) are even more impressive in the 11 games the Caps have played without any of their second line (as opposed to the 11 they’ve played with Oshie and/or Mantha in the lineup). Here’s a look at 82-game pace numbers for the top line in the different scenarios:
Look, these samples are small and unlikely to continue at these rates. (...right?) And the Caps are and will be a better team when more of their best players are in the lineup (creating some of those “nice problems to have”).
But enough can’t be said about the job the top line has done filling in for their injured teammates, scoring enough for two whole top-six lines. For Alex Ovechkin, it’s Hart Trophy material. For Evgeny Kuznetsov, it’s a career rebirth. For Tom Wilson, it may be a sweater for Team Canada at the Olympics. And for the rest of the Caps, it’s been more than a lifeboat in which to navigate rough early-season waters - it’s been a luxury yacht. And who better to captain it?