Adam Oates Looks for Scoring Balance With New Top-Six


Photo credit: Patrick McDermott

This season, Alex Ovechkin’s shot has been an unstoppable force of destruction. Ovi has registered 31 goals. His line’s scoring, however, has often been one-sided. Marcus Johansson and Nicklas Backstrom, Ovechkin’s linemates for much of the season, have scored just six even-strength goals. When Ovi’s hitting the net, it’s not a problem. But if last year’s MVP hits some bad luck, as he did over the four games before last night, the line struggles. Ovechkin has just a single assist during five-on-five play.

“It’s not enough,” Oates said when I asked him about that stat. “It shows how much all three guys are important.”

For Thursday’s game against the Hurricanes, Oates switched up his lines, putting Ovechkin with Eric Fehr and Mikhail Grabovski while placing Johansson and Backstrom with Brouwer.

While Backstrom and Johansson have been consistent producers this season, the majority of their points, along with Ovechkin’s, have come on the power play. Oates hopes, at least in some small way, to see the two Swedes dish less and go towards the net more.

“If that, in their minds, takes a little bit of a variable away, good,” Oates said of removing Ovechkin from Nick and Marcus. “That’s why when some guys aren’t scoring, that’s the first thing you say, get them to shoot more.”

Last night, the new lines both tallied goals, with Ovechkin also earning himself a penalty shot.

As for Fehr, he’s known for his big shot. Playing with Ovechkin, however, Fehr says he wants to be more balanced on a line that has scoring threats from every position.

“I’m trying to turn myself into a 50-50 passing and shooting as opposed to just shooting everything,” he said. “It’s a different style of play definitely. It’s something I’ll have to get used to, but it’ll work.”

  • Tadd

    I don’t know.. Obviously, we need our top-6 guys to score 5v5, a lot more then we’ve seen so far and both lines looked pretty good, although I’m pretty curious on what it’d be like to pair up Wilson with Backy and Mojo, instead of Brouwer.

    But there’s something inside me that really doesn’t like to split up 8 and 19. Perhaps it’s just me who can’t handle change in life or maybe it’s just a ’cause of me, as a Swede, wanting our home media acknowledging Nicklas Backstrom as the world class pivot that he is, and this will just me another nail in his coffin with those within the media that don’t think he’s worthy of a top-6 spot on our Olympics Team, come february (“Oh, look, he’s not even playing with Alex Ovechkin anymore! Let’s go with Zetterberg and Hank Sedin and leave Nicky at home! He’s not that good anymore!”).

    For a couple of games, I’m fine with this. Then again, Oates isn’t very quick to fix things. It could stay this way for the rest of the season – and I don’t think the team will benefit in the long run.

  • Jack Conness

    I think MoJo has to go. I don’t think he is a great hockey player and I think he is very overrated. His numbers balloon playing with NB19 and Ovi. I know some people love him, but he isn’t a goal scorer.

  • Jonathan Kenny

    I am fine with this move for one reason: Nicklas Backstrom has received a lot a positive attention for his numbers recently, such as this column by Mike Wise

    While much of this praise has been deserved, I still feel Backstrom has much to prove if he is to be an elite center in this league. I almost cringe when I write this as I can’t stand the Penguins, but as good as Backstrom is; he is no Sidney Crosby. In fact, it’s not even close. Early in the year when Backie was split from Ovi he didn’t produce much nor was he making his line mates better. Crosby, it seems, produces frequently and consistently no matter who he is playing alongside. It doesn’t seem to matter which key players are missing from the Pens line-up, chemistry doesn’t seem to be a problem with #87. If he’s not piling up assists, he’s in the right place at the right time to punch in a rebound.

    Right now Backie is a player we expect 20 goals/year from and wonder if he’ll get 25–similar to Joe Thorton–while putting up 50+ assists a season, which is still an All-Star level. But I think we should expect 30G from him and wonder if he can get to 40. But to light the lamp that much he will have to do it consistently even if Ovi is not on the ice as a distraction and be able to score regularly in 5-on-5 play. Right now I consider St Louis a better center than Backstrom and I give a slight edge to Toews as well. Getzlaf and Tavares are able to light the lamp at a greater rate than Backie while still supplying plenty of assists (compared to a center like Stamkos, who is primarily a goalscorer like Ovi).

    If the Caps go into the playoffs relying on another Top-2 or 3 in the league power-play to get them to the Finals, they will be fortunate to get out of the quarterfinals. they simply have to be a more consistent 5-on-5 threat and being able to split Backstrom and Ovi up successfully would really give opposing teams something to deal with. Teams that advance far in the playoffs often have a player who puts up surprising numbers (think Teddy Purcell or Sean Bergenheim w/ Tampa in the 2010-2011 playoffs). Behind these player’s emergence is usually a great set-up man facilitating. The Caps have never had one of these players emerge in the playoffs–Fehr, Chimera, Brouwer, and Ward are good candidates–and I feel Backstrom is the key to such a dark horse emerging.

  • kemiisto

    First, MoJo is not supposed to be a goal scorer, he is a natural centre. And he is still playing in the way a centre is supposed to play, rather then a winger. As a result a lot of assists and not too many goals.

    Second, the worst players on the roster are Green and Laich. Both are absolutely terrible and together they eat up more then $10M, but you want to trade MoJo with $2M contract and almost 30 points just because you think he is very overrated?

  • dylan wheatley

    this is a good change because it will result in brouwer scoring a bunch of goals and nicky getting the hart he so deserves.

    also, fehr – grabo – ovi is a pure sex line

  • Red

    Oates is focusing on the wrong issue. Our scoring is fine. It has been consistent all year long. The fact that he keeps fiddling with the o lines tells me that he’s at a loss when it comes to our lackluster defense, and he’s trying to remedy the problem through moar scoring. For now I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt and pretend that what he’s attempting to do is improve our 5on5 by repositioning our best possession players in a more balanced manner.

  • Kevin011

    In my humble opinion, Ovie’s back to having extremely high quality shooting, and Backstrom’s got the best damn stick work in the league, I don’t care what anybody says. So why seperate them? Ever? Giving Ovie fresh looks and new linemates isn’t needed, he’s back to being a badass! That does bring me to my next point though.

    Marcus doesn’t belong on the wing, but he’s got sick skills and I’ve seen him positionally dominate for stretches (See: Last Year’s Run To Make The Playoffs), however I just cannot find a place for him on our team anymore, especially now that Grabo’s here and kicking so much ass, and Martin Erat’s insanely bad luck changing his status here for now. He’s not a wing, and he’s not a bottom-6 center in my book, he’s not built to be a grinder over the long-term. They may want to hold on to him as insurance in case Grabo leaves town though.

    Oh, and I do think Fehr’s due for first line duties. He’s earned it.

  • Eric Schulz

    St Louis is a winger, not a center.

  • Eric Schulz

    What makes Johansson good is his versatility. That’s part of why he’s a nice fit on that line: he supplies whatever Backstrom and Ovie don’t. Also, he’s young and can still get better, all while not costing us that much.
    If we still had Semin, then Johansson would allow us to not have to put Semin on the top line, allowing us to split up our two great wingers, creating scoring depth. The problem was letting Semin go (and almost everything else GMGM’s done outside of the draft).