Who Should Nicklas Backstrom Play With?

Nick Backstrom

Photo credit: Bruce Bennett

Nicklas Backstrom and Alex Ovechkin, who spent much of the past two seasons on a line together, may have broken up.

Boudreau hasn’t officially announced anything, but he has put Marcus Johansson, Washington’s first round pick in 2009, on the Capitals’ top line with Alex Ovechkin for nearly a week of practice. This would seemingly set the stage to have Nicklas Backstrom on the second line with Alex Semin.

It would give the Capitals, who have two Swedes who could theoretically anchor either one of Washington’s top two lines, an effective scoring unit to put out immediately after a penalty kill while leveraging a potent combination for Washington over these past three years.

By looking at how the pair did in close games (the game is tied or within 1 goal in the first and second periods or tied in the third period) together and apart these past three years, we can see that it is a smart decision. Restricting the data to only 5v5 play when the score is close removes any score effects since teams will play differently when they are either trailing or leading.  Data courtesy of hockeyanalysis.com.

When skating with Alex Semin, Backstrom has been on the ice for 1.4 goals-for per 20 minutes of 5v5 play. They have also seen 56 percent of all shots directed at net go in their favor. Apart, they are on the ice for about a third fewer goals. Backstrom and Ovechkin see only one goal per 20 minutes, almost 24 percent less than when Ovechkin is apart from Backstrom.

The pairing of Semin and Backstrom is also more efficient. They score on 6.2 percent of all shots directed at net, compared to only 4.5 percent when the Swede is paired with Ovechkin.

No matter how Boudreau assembles his lines this season, it’s one of the things to like about the team this season: You’d be confident with any of the two pivots starting on the top line the first game.

  • Variat_9

    Sounds like a terrible idea. Opposing teams will just cover Ovechkin, and the “top” line will be  toothless. Semin-Backstrom-Ovechkin overwhelmed opposition with a three-pronged attack. This could make for a disappointing/boring season.

  • Brendan S.

    What I would like to see is analysis of the analysis. I’m one of those guys that likes to make bets and fantasy hockey choices off of analysis, but how far does that analysis really take me in making a good decision or not. Hmmm….

    To the XML data!

  • Peter

    Depends on how much of a threat the RW is and who is carrying the puck to enter the zone. If mojo is the handler, and Knuble is up front, that line sounds awesome. If Ovechkin is bearing the burden of carrying from neutral to the OZ, I think we will see a lot of the same problems as last year.

  • Pingback: Boudreau Juggles Capitals Lines in the Pre-Season()

  • It doesn’t sound like you know what you’re talking about Variat. The most common 1st line was Ov-Backs-Knuble. Besides, did you even read the article?  Statistically, the 2nd line will be better, which means the oppositions defense will be split, and therefore, less effective. I guess we won’t know anything for sure until the season is underway though.

  • Tim

    Semin-Backstrom-Ovie is the worst 1st line combo possible.  It will leave the 2nd with Johansson paired with two grinders – that would be a terrible 2nd line. Definitely split Ovie and Semin, in order to maximize scoring and keep a net presence on each scoring line.