So…will breaking up the first line to insert Eric Fehr and move Viktor Kozlov to the second line play havoc with that top line?
The Caps, of course, are hoping it will not. And frankly, the recent statistics suggest the hope is well-founded.
Let’s do two things…let’s assume that as Alex Ovechkin goes, so goes the top line. He’s the finisher, he’s the engine that makes that line hum. Next, let’s look at the 14-game stretch that began with Ovechkin’s first four-goal game against
In those games, Ovechkin scored 17 goals. Now…who assisted. Here they are, in their entirety (principal linemates Nicklas Backstrom and Viktor Kozlov in bold):
Goal 1: Mike Green, Alexander Semin
Goal 2: Tom Poti, Nicklas Backstrom
Goal 3: Jeff Schultz
Goal 4: unassisted
Goal 5: Michael Nylander
Goal 6: John Erskine
Goal 7: Viktor Kozlov, Mike Green
Goal 8: Brooks Laich, Tomas Fleischmann
Goal 9: Boyd Gordon, Jeff Schultz
Goal 10: Mike Green, Nicklas Backstrom
Goal 11: Tomas Fleischmann, Nicklas Backstrom
Goal 12: Nicklas Backstrom,
Goal 13: Viktor Kozlov, Steve Eminger
Goal 15: Viktor Kozlov, Nicklas Backstrom
Goal 16: Viktor Kozlov, Mike Green
Goal 17: Jeff Schultz, Mike Green
Mike Green: 2-3-5
Nicklas Backstrom: 1-4-5
Viktor Kozlov: 4-0-4
Jeff Schultz: 2-1-3
Tomas Fleischmann: 1-1-2
Tom Poti: 1-0-1
Michael Nylander: 1-0-1
John Erskine: 1-0-1
Brooks Laich: 1-0-1
Boyd Gordon: 1-0-1
Alexander Semin: 0-1-1
Steve Eminger: 0-1-1
The usual suspects are at the top of the list – Backstrom, Kozlov, and Green
But look a little closer…that’s 13 different players providing at least one assist on an Ovechkin goal (he is an equal opportunity finisher). Kozlov has the lion’s share of primary assists, but defensemen have seven of those primary assists, too.
Then there are power play goals. Ovechkin has five power play goals in this group. Neither Kozlov nor Backstrom has a primary assist on any of them (Backstrom has two secondary assists).
It hardly seems to matter who gets the puck to Ovechkin; he’s finding a way to deposit it in the back of the net, regardless.
Now, let’s set those first two assumptions aside and look at the Kozlov-Backstrom pairing. Over the last seven games, Viktor Kozlov has six goals, and the assists on them break down like this:
Goal 1: Mike Green, Nicklas Backstrom
Goal 2: Nicklas Backstrom
Goal 3: Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom
Goal 4: Matt Pettinger, Nicklas Backstrom
Goal 5: Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom
Goal 6: Alex Ovechkin, Tom Poti
Backstrom has five assists, a product of consistent pairing with Kozlov, no doubt (there are two power play and three even strength assists in there). But whatever the reason, Kozlov and Backstrom have been showing up on the same line on the goal scoring record.
Hopefully, Fehr will be able to replace some of, if not all of the recent goal scoring that came from Kozlov, who might now be trying to resurrect the second line. If this is to be the case, it means he’s going to need to develop a working chemistry with Nicklas Backstrom in pretty short order. Quite a task for a couple of kids with a combined 78 games of NHL experience between them. But that could be the key to whether the top line continues to produce, or if teams start to load up defenses on the left side to slow Ovechkin down.