Justin Williams on the Top Line?

Posted March 21, 2016

(Justin Williams/Caps Outsider)

Last night’s Caps game was one to forget. Barry Trotz has been experimenting with some different line combinations recently as we saw #TopLineBeagle. However, I believe the Caps have a secret combination that they do not even know about. Granted, it is a small sample size, but when Justin Williams pairs up with Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom, they dominate.

As seen here, they are a +22 in 5v5 shots per 60, yet they have only been together for 21 minutes.For comparison, the Ovechkin Backstrom, Oshie line is even at 599 minutes together and Burrakovsky, Kuznetsov and Williams are +3 in 321 minutes together.

This is a very small sample size, so let us look at them individually. Together as a pair, Williams and Ovechkin have played 92 minutes and are a +12 in 5v5 shots per 60. Backstrom and Williams have played 127 minutes together and as a combo they are at +14 in 5v5 shots per 60.

via @ineffectivemath

via @ineffectivemath, note this one is score-adjusted

The graphic above shows how Williams is on the ice with different players. Ovechkin and Backstrom float much closer to the “good” while playing with Williams. Without him, they are close to even. Williams without Ovechkin and Backstrom is roughly equal but a little better.

Remember when Mike Knuble played alongside Ovechkin and Backstrom? That line was pretty good, and now the Caps can do even better than that with Williams given how Ovechkin and Backstrom have developed over the past five seasons.

If you are wondering how the second line would do, they would do just fine. T.J. Oshie is not as gritty as Williams but adding his skill on that line would drive opponents’ defenses crazy being hemmed in their own zone. As a line, they are a -1 in 53 minutes played, but as pairs they are not bad. Evgeny Kuznetsov and Andre Burakovsky are+2 in 442 minutes, Kuznetsov and Oshie are +5 in 247 minutes. Only negative pair is Burakovsky  and Oshie who are -3 in 100 minutes played. Given the skill of those three players, the more they play together the better they will be. They will develop outstanding chemistry.

The Caps have 11 games before the playoffs with virtually nothing to play for. Now is the time to experiment with different line combinations so everybody goes into the playoffs red hot.