If you watch the Caps regularly, it’s easy to see that long-time linemates Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom are both playing better since they were reunited last month. They fell immediately back into their old rhythm and new partner Tom Wilson has been a great complement. But what exactly is going right for these two now that wasn’t before the line shake up? Below is a look at the numbers.
Let’s start with Ovechkin. After a white hot start with two hat tricks in the first two games of the year, Ovi scored just three goals the entire rest of October. He then scored just three more in the first three weeks of November but has seven goals in the past two weeks after being re-paired with Backstrom.
Taking a look beyond just the goals scored reveals an even greater degree of improvement. If you remove the first two games from the calculations, Ovi had a shooting percentage of just 6.9% from 10/9 to 11/20 and averaged 4.35 shots per game. Since being reunited with Backstrom on 11/22, his shooting percentage has skyrocketed to 28.6% and his shots on goal have increased to 4.66 per game. Aside from the statistical improvement, it’s obvious that Ovechkin has some spring in his step and is skating with a bit more pep now than in the preceding weeks. Obviously, getting the band back together has agreed with the Great 8.
The statistical differences are even more stark for Backstrom. He is in the midst of an exceedingly long goal drought, now at twenty-one games, tying the longest such stretch of his career. He scored just three goals and had assists in just 36% of the games between 10/9 and 11/20, an offensive production much lower than expected from a player of Backstrom’s pedigree. Since 11/22 when Ovi came back to the top line with him, he has assists in four of the six games played, or 66%. He and Ovechkin work together flawlessly and it’s easy to see that the familiarity they have with each other is greatly benefiting them both.
It’s clearly evident that these two players are better together than they are apart. It was a curious decision to separate them and hopefully an experiment that won’t be repeated anytime soon. The top two lines have been excellent of late, so it may be that Burakovsky joins the third line upon his imminent return to the ice. The bottom lines have been quite productive in the last two games and can only be improved by the return of #65. With Ovi and Backstrom together again and the top line clicking on all cylinders, this team may finally be establishing its 2017 identity.