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You Be the Coach: Who’s Your Top Right Wing?

It’s time for you to make the big decisions.

Washington Capitals v Pittsburgh Penguins Photo by Joe Sargent/NHLI via Getty Images

An NHL head coach’s moves are usually subjected to intense scrutiny on any given day - and that goes at least double during the playoffs, when a bench boss’s ability to read the plays and adjust to the opponent can help determine a series.

So with the playoffs upon us, we are introducing a new series called “You Be the Coach”. Through some sort of magic, you are now Peter Laviolette, with all the responsibilities, decisions, and dapper suits in your hands. We’ll present you with the facts... and then it’s time for you to make the call.

Can you handle it?

Today’s decision: As you prepare to face the Florida Panthers, who gets the coveted right-wing slot on the top line alongside Alex Ovechkin and Evgeny Kuznetsov?

While some aspects of the Caps’ lineup have been pretty static over the course of the season, there have been a couple of different incarnations of the team’s top-six forwards, usually shifting around the right-wing spot. Tom Wilson has gotten the lion’s share of time in that spot, with almost 500 minutes at five-on-five alongside the Russian duo... but lately Conor Sheary has been getting the nod, and was in that spot when the team lined up for practice earlier today (and played there in the final three games of the season, sans Ovechkin).

Here are the facts on each:

Conor Sheary. The diminutive winger has earned the trust of, and rave reviews from, his coaching staff for his ability to fill multiple roles, and his 19 goals and 43 points were both the second-best totals of his career. This season he logged 167:18 with Ovechkin and Kuznetsov at evens, plus another 49:06 just with Kuznetsov and 53:40 with Ovechkin.

The results have been somewhat mixed. When the trio is together, they’ve put up a CF% of 47.2, about 3% below the team’s rate without any of them on the ice, and given up more scoring chances and high-danger chances than they’ve generated (45.5% and 42.25%, respectively) - although they are just about even in overall shots for/against when they’re on the ice. From a pure goal-scoring standpoint, they’ve put up 7 at five-on-five and given up 11 (although a sub-.900 save percentage when they’re out together hasn’t helped their case).

Basically they’re generating plenty offensively... but the other side of the ice is a bit of an issue.

Then there are the intangibles, the things that maybe can’t be quantified but could factor in to one’s decision-making. Sheary has the ability to sneak into spots on the ice that others maybe couldn’t, and in getting to those spots, he doesn’t draw the attention (or ire) of the other team as much as, say, Wilson would. A lot of his goals and chances seem to come from right in front of the net when no one knew he was there. For example:

Tom Wilson. Wilson has carried the bulk of the load on the top line this season, particularly with T.J. Oshie in and out of the lineup. Interestingly, the overall numbers from this larger sample size aren’t significantly different from Sheary’s... with one exception, and that’s in the ability of the Ovechkin-Kuznetsov-Wilson line to generate high-danger offense - they’ve been out-attempted 82-98 but have scored 13 to their opponents’ 8.

So that’s the quantitative piece. What about his intangibles? Well, we all know the part of Wilson’s game that makes his impact on the line a little different from Sheary’s, and that’s what we can refer to simply as “The Wilson Factor” - the physicality and the space he creates plus the skill he brings makes him an often lethal, and rare, asset.

T.J. Oshie. This isn’t an option Peter Laviolette has gone to very much this season, with Oshie slotting in on the top line for less than 40 minutes of ice time at evens - but that was probably as much due to Oshie’s frequent absence from the lineup (and Laviolette’s desire to maintain some consistency in his forward lines, in a year where consistency was hard to find). In that limited time - and small sample size warnings abound - they’ve actually done pretty well as a trio, with the CF% at evens just shy of 60%, xGF% of 64.5%, and HDCF% of 72.7%.

Those numbers drop when looking at the larger picture over the last five seasons, but still very respectable, and they bounce back up to those high levels in Oshie’s first few years in DC.

The issue with Oshie, of course, is health. If he’s as close to 100% as he or anyone can be this time of year, he’s an impactful player who obviously has some great chemistry with Ovechkin and Kuznetsov. But the Caps need to be able to rely on him to stay in the lineup in that role - and there’s also value in spreading his feistiness to other lines, as well, especially when looking for a balanced attack.

So those are the facts... now it’s time to make your decision. Remember that none of these decisions are made in a vacuum, and putting one guy on the top line means he’s not on another line (duh) so keep that in mind when making the call. Choose wisely!


Who do you put at top line RW?

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  • 18%
    (59 votes)
  • 65%
    (212 votes)
  • 15%
    (51 votes)
322 votes total Vote Now