Capitals Must Ride Tone-setting Third Line Into Postseason

Published: Mar 23, 2014 17:40pm EDT
By Jeff Kryglik, Sports Writer for Konsume Sports

Please Note: This article was updated Mar 23, 2014 @ 06:17pm EDT

 

Usually in hockey, a team's first line is the go-to line in terms of scoring, kick-starting morale and leading the charge in victories and defeats, but for the Washington Capitals their third line seemingly is the threesome who plays as if they are enshrined as the top guys. 

It took awhile for this line to find some stability as the center position featured a plethora of players varying Brooks Laich, to Jay Beagle and finally to Eric Fehr, but the two constants of Jason Chimera and Joel Ward at the wing spots have made the ability to establish chemistry somewhat easier. Fehr is the perfect player to mesh with these two as he fits the mold of a typical grinding forward. That's what the third line is supposed to feature.

All three of these guys are hard-nosed players who forecheck, backcheck and create opportunities with a full head of steam each time they climb over the boards onto the ice. Fehr is a guy who has the versatility to play both wing and the center position, but his duties as a center on this line are required given what his other comrades offer on the outside. Fehr isn't the most talented goal-scorer, nor is he the fastest player on the ice at any given time, but it can be a difficult task in trying to find one single player who outworks him each game on the ice. He knows his abilities and that he needs to work extra hard in order to garner respectable ice time for the Capitals. 

As for Chimera, there probably isn't a more aggressive or agile skater on the ice for Washington at any given time. The 34-year-old gets bursts of speed from seemingly nowhere and takes what appear to be brutal collisions that sideline him in the locker room for a brief moment before returning to the ice for his next shift. Even though he's not the most polished stick-handler or goal scorer either, Jason creates opportunities from grit and determination. He's the kind of player who is a candidate for a "Gordie Howe hat trick" more so than any other player on the roster. He can supplement his line with an assist, crash the net for a breakaway goal and will scrap if he feels the need. 

Then, there's Joel Ward... the finisher of the group. Ward is on pace to set career highs in almost every major offensive statistical category. He has already set a career high in goals (22), points (42), shooting percentage (18.6%), power play goals (6), power play assists (3), power play points (9) and he has tied career highs in game-winning goals (4) and short-handed goals (2). The 33-year-old finds himself just one assist shy from tying his career high of 21 which he set back in 2009-2010 as a member of the Nashville Predators. Ward brings toughness and aggressiveness to the Capitals, but he's more of the Sidney Crosby type. He parks himself in front of the net in the low slot and waits to clean up the trash for "garbage goals" and more often than not, finishes successfully.

So, why does Adam Oates start virtually every game with these three?

Simple... he knows they set the tone for his team. They fit the mold of what a true two-way hockey player should be. As a team who has a reputation for being lazy defensively and at times careless on offense, these two deficiencies do not describe this threesome. They find a way make the most out of each shift and it has led to positive production.

In fact, when looking at forwards on the Capitals who log an average of at least 14 minutes of ice time each game and who have also played in at least 60 contests, only Chimera (+2) and Ward (+5) have positive +/- ratings - Fehr sits at -2. In nine of 12 games played this month, at least one member of this line has contributed a point on the score sheet.

With ten games remaining, Washington still remains out of playoff contention as the Detroit Red Wings, who also have 79 points, have two more games remaining. If the Capitals hope to stay hot as they grabbed five out of a possible six points on their most recent road trip to California, they must continue to look to the third line as their top line.  


 

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Jeff Kryglik
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