1 Improvement Each Washington Capitals Line Must Make
But the forward lines could stand to improve a bit.
They can work on their plus/minus rating and reduce the number of penalties they take. Some players simply have to shoot the puck more.
Here is a list of one improvement that each Washington Capitals line must make.
Note: All statistics updated through Dec. 8 courtesy of NHL.com unless noted otherwise.
1st Line: 5-on-5 Production
Washington's first line of Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom and Marcus Johansson has excelled on the power play. Ovechkin leads the NHL in power-play goals, and Backstrom, Ovechkin and Johansson rank second, 14th and 34th in the league, respectively, in power-play assists.
But the Capitals so-called Vodka Line could stand to improve in five-on-five play. According to LeftWingLock.com, the Ovechkin-Backstrom-Johansson line is the 12th-most productive even-strength line combination in the league with 12 goals. This ties them with the Capitals' Jason Chimera-Mikhail Grabovski-Joel Ward line combination, which skated as the Capitals' third line and is not currently in existence.
The Capitals' first line and not its third line needs to be its most productive line in terms of five-on-five play. This particular first line of forwards is capable of being the most productive even-strength line combination in the NHL.
2nd Line: Plus/Minus Rating
Not only is the Capitals' second line failing to produce offense, it is a defensive liability at the same time. That adds up to a dreadful plus/minus rating.
Troy Brouwer and Brooks Laich have spent the most time on the Capitals' second line, according to LeftWingLock.com. They rank 10th and 13th, respectively, among the Capitals' 14 forwards in plus/minus rating.
There is hope. With Laich injured, the second line is now centered by Mikhail Grabovski, who happens to lead the Capitals' forwards in plus/minus rating. So, he could be a positive influence on his new linemates in terms of plus/minus.
3rd Line: Minor Penalties
The Capitals' third line has been excellent this season. But the players are taking too many penalties.
Of the Capitals' four most frequent line combinations since the beginning of the season, according to LeftWingLock.com, none of them has committed more minor penalties than the 18 committed by Chimera-Grabovski-Ward.
This is especially disconcerting if you consider that two of the forwards on this line are valuable members of the penalty-killing unit. Joel Ward and Jason Chimera rank third and fourth among the teams' forwards in short-handed time on ice per game, respectively. They cannot possibly help on the penalty kill if they're in the penalty box themselves.
The Caps' third line can improve in this area now that Jay Beagle has replaced Grabovski on the third line over the last three games, according to LeftWingLock.com. Beagle ranks 12th among Capitals' forwards in minor penalties, while Chimera, Ward and Grabovski rank fifth, sixth and seventh, respectively. Plus, Beagle is a key contributor on the penalty kill, ranking right behind Ward and Chimera in short-handed time on ice per game among Capitals' forwards.
4th Line: Shot Counter
The Capitals' fourth line is supposed to create animosity, not offense. And it is quite good at it. The Caps rank 13th in the league in team fighting majors, according to HockeyFights.com. Two stalwarts of the fourth line—Tom Wilson and Aaron Volpatti—have accounted for nine of Washington's 16 fighting majors.
But no one will complain if this group starts to create some offense as well. To do so, the line needs to shoot the puck more.
According to LeftWingLock.com, the five most frequent members of the fourth line are Wilson, Volpatti, Martin Erat, Michael Latta and Jay Beagle. They happen to represent the bottom five of the team's 14 forwards in terms of shots per game. Not surprisingly, this same quintet represents the bottom five among the team's forwards in terms of goals scored.
Shoot puck. Score goal.