Blurred Lines: Barry Trotz Has Each Capitals Forward Trio Rolling

Posted January 23, 2017

(Caps Outsider)

When you wake up on a game day morning, scrolling through your Twitter feed as you sit at your office or classroom desk, the projected lines for the Capitals are likely one of the first things you see. Many armchair coaches and general managers then spend a few minutes scrutinizing said lines, explaining why their version would be better.

For the Washington Capitals, however, there is no mystery right now. For the better part of a month, there has been no questioning or arguing with the forward group that head coach Barry Trotz has puzzled together.

As the Capitals hit New Years Eve, they had dropped four of their previous five. They found themselves flip-flopping between the first and second wild-card position in the early Eastern Conference playoff picture with Philadelphia.

Including that New Years Eve blowout of the New Jersey Devils, the Capitals have accumulated 23 out of a possible 24 points. In those twelve games, they have scored five or more goals eight times, and find themselves on top of the league in terms of points.

Naturally, Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom are leading the charge offensively, with T.J. Oshie on their right. Ovechkin isn’t quite on his typical 50-goal pace right now, but this trio has played some excellent hockey. However, they haven’t been the biggest story for the Capitals.

Evgeny Kuznetsov, who struggled mightily to start the year, is back to his usual wizardry. As is Justin Williams, who has scored 14 goals in his last 22 games after appearing as if he lost a step to begin the campaign. Marcus Johansson, their third linemate, has been this line’s most consistent producer, with 32 points in 46 games. He is well on pace for a career high in points, and also happens to have a dad who can shred up the dance floor. We still haven’t reached the main story.

Lars Eller has been a key contributor on the Capitals’ strongest line as of late. (Caps Outsider)

Arguably the best trio on this team right now makes up the Capitals’ third line. Brett Connolly, who was acquired from the bargain bin during the 2016 free agent frenzy, has eight goals on the year, and has found his niche on Lars Eller’s left wing. Eller’s point totals don’t accurately describe his story, and he has been one of the team’s most important players this season. He is a possession monster with good hands and is extremely reliable on the penalty kill.

Alongside them is where Andre Burakovsky has finally found his touch. After struggling the begin the season for the second straight year, the young Swede is heating up again. He has nine goals and 13 assists – most of those points coming over the past month – and has opened the scoring for the Capitals in four consecutive games, tying an NHL record in the process.

The Capitals third line has been extraordinary since the beginning of 2017, racking up just under a whopping 62% of total shot attempts while they are on the ice together. While Connolly’s shooting percentage, currently north of 18%, won’t hold up forever, this line has been playing well enough to make you believe that between the three of them, they will continue to get results as they dominate possession.

Last but certainly not least, the Capitals fourth line has been reliable at worst. Tom Wilson hasn’t developed the scoring prowess that the organization had hoped for, but he has been an effective – and clean – player this season, finding a home on the team’s penalty kill. Daniel Winnik has also done a fine job, contributing 14 points on top of also being a key penalty killer. This fourth line has been very efficient playing a defense-heavy role, but their offense has come around likely due to the fact that they have stayed on the ice instead of spending valuable minutes in the penalty box for fighting.

The fourth line’s most vital player to this point has been none other than Jay Beagle. No player in Washington is more relied upon for defense and faceoffs than number 83, but his ten goals and ten assists this season have often come in huge moments. Look no further than Saturday night in Dallas, where Beagle finished off a comeback victory in overtime for the team’s first victory over the Stars since the beginning of time.

The moral of the story here is that, while there is a clear top six and bottom six in terms of time on ice, it is clear that Barry Trotz trusts this lineup. This is further strengthened by the fact that the Capitals have been carrying just twelve forwards for much of the last month, give or take a couple brief call-ups.

The Capitals are playing some incredible hockey right now, and while it isn’t sustainable at this high of a level long-term, they seem to have put together their best forward group ever. Currently, it would be hard to peg these lines as first, second, third or fourth. The Caps are receiving serious contributions from up and down the board, and because of that, they have found themselves in a familiar position once again.