On Tuesday the Washington Capitals’ head coach Barry Trotz told reporters that he plans to start his two biggest stars on separate lines to start the season. Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom have played on the same line for a majority of the ten seasons they have been on the same team, and have found constant success. Ovechkin has been consistently the best sniper in the league, and Backstrom has proven himself as one of the best playmakers in the game. Together they have made for a deadly combo.
But now, the two will start the season with new linemates. Trotz plans to use the emerging Evgeny Kuznetsov to center Ovechkin, while Backstrom will center T.J. Oshie and Andre Burakovsky. Oshie played on the line with both of the star forwards last year and had his best year of offensive production in terms of points-per-game, with 56 points in 68 games.
Although rare, this is not the first time Ovechkin and Backstrom have been separated. Last year, the pair began on two different lines to get Backstrom into the flow slowly after having offseason hip surgery. But it took less than 20 games before the duo was put back together. This time, the experiment looks to be a more permanent one.
It is hard to say how Trotz’s plan will play out. With the pair spending so much time together over the years, how well they do away from each other is not something there is much data on. Backstrom did miss 40 games during the 2011/12 season due to a concussion. Ovechkin played parts of those games with his center either being Marcus Johansson or Brooks Laich and had the worst year of his career. Finishing with 65 points in 78 games, it is the least amount of points he scored in any full season during his career.
Ovechkin has not missed any significant time during his career. The least amount of games he has played during a full season was 72 during the 2009/10 season when he scored 50 goals and 109 points. Backstrom does have the consistency that Ovechkin has struggled with in the past. Backstrom has hovered around a point-per-game rate of 0.9 since the 2011/12 season, while Ovechkin’s PPG rate has gone down steadily from 1.16 to 0.84 in the past five seasons.
It will be interesting to see how quickly into the upcoming season, if at all, Trotz puts the two superstars back together again. Ovechkin and Backstrom have proven success together, and it will be easy for the head coach to go back to leaning on their chemistry if the team gets in a tough spot offensively. However, Kuznetsov has proven to be a dynamic offensive player in his own right, and should play effectively with Ovechkin while Oshie himself has proven success with Backstrom. It’s good for Trotz to try to spread out his offense, especially at the beginning of the season, to see if it will lend to future success in the playoffs.