Look…. I think we all know it’s bleak right now. It’s almost unheard of for a team to blow a 3-0 lead. In fact, teams that take a 3-0 lead in a series win 98% of the time. But, as the Capitals’ captain pointed out Sunday after the game:
So far this series, the Caps’ offense has been completely stymied by the shutdown defense of the Islanders (and, of course, by their own screw-ups). If the Caps want any chance of pulling out the reverse sweep, and sending the Isles into meme history, they’re going to have to get some offense going. So, as a fun thought experiment, I wondered what it would look like if the Caps played their line-up in a way to completely abandon the idea of “defense.”
So I did just that. Using tools available from Natural Stat Trick, I went and found the offensive line combinations and defensive pairings that completely maxed out offensive production with absolutely no regard for defense. I highly doubt these will ever materialize, but hey, we’re down 3-0. At this point, everything is on the table. Going forward, xGF will stand for expected Goals For, a statistical approximation of the number of goals they should have scored based on when and where they were able to attempt shots.
Top Six Forwards
(Note that these lines were made with the assumption that Backstrom will still be in concussion protocol).
First Line: Ovechkin-Kuznetsov-Kovalchuk (1.87 xGF/60)
This was actually something that both KP and AB have brought up a few times on the post game live streams. In a little over 9 minutes of ice time together this regular season, (and despite the relatively low number of expected goals) this line generated a whopping 6.47 GF/60. Granted, that’s just one actual goal scored, but I think that we all know the crazy amounts of offense that this line could generate if you give them the chance.
Second Line: Vrana-Eller-Wilson (4.58 xGF/60)
This line had a somewhat larger sample size during the regular season. During 32 minutes of ice time together, these three put up a ton of shot attempts. Granted, they also allowed a bunch but isn’t that the point of this exercise? Not only that, but they were actually able to score on a pretty decent number of these attempts, averaging over 3 GF/60.
Bottom Six Forwards
Third Line: Hagelin-Boyd-Oshie (2.93 xGF/60)
Although the three together had an extraordinarily small sample size (less than a minute of ice time), Hagelin and Oshie have had substantially more time together, in which they put up 2.75 xGF/60. Unfortunately, they weren’t able to actually put any goals in the net together, but with such a small sample size that’s not a huge surprise.
Fourth Line: Panik-Dowd-Hathaway (3.28 xGF/60)
Dowd and Hathaway are solid fourth line guys, and Panik can slide into either half of the bottom six, depending on who you are playing against. In 46 minutes together, these 3 combined for over 5 goals per hour, which is pretty wild.
Top Pair: Orlov-Carlson (3.1 xGF/60).
Not a pairing we saw much of this year, but during the regular season, they were on the ice for a huge number of expected goals. The last time they got more than 6 minutes of 5v5 time together was in a loss to the Golden Knights in February. This one is a bit of throwback to a time before the arrival of Michal Kempny.
Middle Pair: Kempny-Jensen (2.88 xGF/60)
Honestly, seeing these two together as the second best pair for offensive production surprised me, seeing as Jensen isn’t particularly known for heavy offense. But not only did they put up shot attempts, they converted, as they also had a whopping 4.5 GF/60. They also managed to keep the puck out of the net during the limited time they got together too, which although not part of the criteria for this article, is certainly good to see.
Bottom Pair: Siegenthaler-Alexeyev (???? xGF/60)
Okay, I cheated on this one. Technically, the next analytically best D-pair that we’ve actually seen in any actual minutes of was Siegenthaler-Gudas, but Gudas has been so bad in the restart that I decided to sub in Alexeyev, because again why not? We’re down 3-0. Alexeyev had 21 points in Hershey this year, which was second best among defensemen for the bears. So he’s got some offense in him. Why not try it?
No-brainer. He played out of his mind on Sunday. This might be his last time in a Caps uniform. Plus, we know he knows how to shoot, so keeping with the “Selling out for offense” theme, he technically fits the bill more than the other goalies that made the trip.
All put together, here is the most aggressively offensive-minded lineup the Caps could possibly put together Tuesday night to try to get literally anything going:
Do I think this will happen Tuesday? No. Do I think this should happen? Eh. Maybe, but probably not. But I think Todd should at least keep these lines in mind if things really start to go south and we can’t generate any offense in the latter half of the game. Regardless, I think it would be a pretty fun game to watch if they used these lines, even if it turned out to be the last.
At this point, I just want to watch a little more hockey. So let’s hope that the Caps go 1-0 on Tuesday, and we get to watch them play at least two more times.