The Biggest Question Mark on Each Washington Capitals' Line for 2013-14 Season
In hockey, lines are everything.
Red lines. Blue lines. Goal lines.
Imaginary lines that cannot be crossed without facing punishment.
But no lines are obsessed over as much as a team's forward lines.
The Washington Capitals are not free of this linear fascination. Every one of their forward lines have been reviewed, analyzed and pored over.
Here is the biggest question mark on each Washington Capitals line for the 2013-14 season.
Note: All statistics courtesy of NHL.com unless noted otherwise.
FOURTH LINE: Can Aaron Volpatti Replace Matt Hendricks?
Matt Hendricks was a valued member of the Washington Capitals, to say the least.
Chuck Gormley of CSNWashington.com spoke with Jay Beagle about the importance of Hendricks on May 17, immediately after the playoffs and before Hendricks had left the team:
He’s probably one of the best guys I’ve ever played with. You can talk to him about anything. He brings a certain work ethic every time you’re on the ice. He fights, he hits, he’s a good leader in the dressing room, he scores big goals, he has that shootout move not many guys can do. I tried it; I can’t do it. He’s a total package player, really. You need those guys on your team. He’ll go down and take a puck off his face. He’s a good role player and those guys are hard to come by.
Jason Chimera was more succinct when talking to Gormley about Hendricks:
There’s always changeover from year to year, but he’s one of those guys you’re not going to replace. It’s not an easy job to go out there and fight guys twice his size. He sticks up for guys on the team and brings energy when no one else has it.
Yet, general manager George McPhee has pegged Aaron Volpatti as the man to replace Hendricks.
The 28-year-old Volpatti has played only 71 games in his three-year NHL career. He has three goals and two assists, with a minus-five rating and 88 penalty minutes.
But it is Volpatti's physical presence that makes him an able replacement for Hendricks.
In his time in Washington during the 2012-13 season, Volpatti totaled 38 hits, seventh among Capitals forwards. On average, Volpatti had 2.24 hits per game, a number bested among Capitals forwards only by Alex Ovechkin (2.50 hits per game) and Troy Brouwer (2.30 hits per game). Hendricks averaged 1.94 hits per game. What's even more impressive is that Volpatti did this despite playing in only 17 games and averaging a team-worst time on ice per game of 9:18.
Plus, Volpatti likes to fight. The British Columbia native fought five times last season, according to hockeyfights.com. If he had played the entire season in Washington, he would have ranked second on the team in fights according to hockeyfights.com, behind only—you guessed it—Matt Hendricks.
Capitals fans may be pleasantly surprised at Volpatti's ability to fill Matt Hendricks' sizable skates.
THIRD LINE: Will They Retain Chemistry?
Adam Oates and the Capitals found something special on the third line, something that was sustained even through injury.
According to Leftwinglock.com, the trio of Jason Chimera, Mathieu Perreault and Eric Fehr was the second-most frequent even-strength line combination of the regular season at 5.2 percent of the time. Before the lines were shuffled due to Joel Ward's injury, the line combination of Chimera-Perreault-Ward was 11th-most at 3.1 percent.
The chemistry showed up in their production, as well. Ward, Fehr, Perreault and Chimera finished eighth, ninth, 10th and 11th on the team in points, respectively.
This group was kept together for the playoffs, and their effectiveness did not wane. Chimera spoke to Katie Carrera of The Washington Post on May 11 about Washington's third line:
We feel we can make a difference and we’re playing like it. P knows when to swat the puck and when P’s engaged in the game he’s probably one of the better centermen that I’ve played with. He distributes the puck real well and he’s a good passer. With Wardo or Fehrsie — big bodies out there — we control the puck down there for the main part of the series. We’ve got to keep doing that and keep helping the team out.
If this line can maintain its chemistry, it will be a valuable weapon for the Capitals. After all, the third line holds the key to the all-important secondary scoring.
SECOND LINE: Can a Line Have More Than One Question Mark?
This line has so many question marks that I don't even know where to start.
- Will Martin Erat justify his trade? The soon-to-be 32-year-old is oft-injured, and may struggle to make Capitals fans forget that he was acquired in a trade for prized prospect Filip Forsberg.
- Can Brooks Laich handle second-line center duties? The longest tenured Capital has done a lot of things for the Capitals. Now he has to replace talented second-line center Mike Ribeiro.
- Will Troy Brouwer have another career year? Last season, Brouwer produced 0.40 goals per game, according to Hockey-Reference.com. Over an 82-game season, that equates to 33 goals, easily a new career high.
- Where does Mikhail Grabovski fit in? The recent addition of Grabovski, ostensibly a second-line center according to Mike Vogel of Dump N' Chase, further clouds the outlook of this group.
With all this in mind, I hereby dub the Capitals' second group of forwards "The Jeopardy Line:" Every answer begs a new question.
FIRST LINE: Is 300 Points a Pipe Dream?
Before you leave a nasty response in the comments section, just think about it for a second: The three members of this line could combine for 300 points.
Last season, Alex Ovechkin averaged 1.17 points per game in 48 games, according to Hockey-Reference.com, in his first season under head coach Adam Oates. Ovechkin would need 1.22 points per game to rack up 100 points during his first 82-game season under Oates. It would be the fifth 100-point season of his nine-year career.
Nicklas Backstrom also achieved point-per-game production in 2012-13, finishing at exactly 1.00 points per game. Backstrom has reached the 100-point plateau once in his career and can realistically do so again if he remains Ovechkin's pivot all season long.
That makes Marcus Johansson the wild card. Johansson has a season-high mark of 46 points during his three-year career. Additionally, he only averages 0.52 points per game in his 183 career games. So it's a stretch to say the least.
But it's not out of the question. Johansson should get plenty of opportunities to play with these two 100-point scorers, both at even strength and on the power play. Last season, this trio skated on the Capitals' most frequent even-strength line combination and the second-most frequent power-play line combination, according to Leftwinglock.com.
That being said, Johansson will need all the mojo he can muster to help this line reach 300 points combined.