Capitals’ Top Line Among NHL’s Best

The Washington Capitals rely on their top line of Alex Ovechkin, Evgeny Kuznetsov, and Tom Wilson to accumulate points, but they have exceeded expectations a month into the 2021-22 NHL season.

Alex Ovechkin #8 of the Washington Capitals
Alex Ovechkin and Evgeny Kuznetsov of the Washington Capitals (Photo by Jana Chytilova/Freestyle Photography/Getty Images)

If these three continue this pace, the Capitals will be strong contenders this season, as they work out the other issues that have prevented them from winning games. Wilson continues to progress, and Ovechkin and Kuznetsov are playing at the level they did in 2017-18 when Washington won the Stanley Cup.

Capitals Top Line is the Best in the NHL

They are arguably the best line in the league at the moment. Wilson has further developed his playmaking ability this season, and Ovechkin and Kuznetsov rank second and fifth in the NHL scoring race, respectively. Leon Draisaitl and Connor McDavid of the Edmonton Oilers are tied for first, but they don’t play on the same line, and they are an average of 7.5 years younger than their Capitals’ counterparts. 

PlayerAgeGames GoalsAssistsPointsNHL Rank (Points)Points Per GameAverage TOI
Alex Ovechkin36121110213rd1.7521:46
Evgeny Kuznetsov2912511166th1.3321:33
Tom Wilson2712371068th0.8319:34
Capitals’ First Line Forwards so far in 2021-22

For Ovechkin and Kuznetsov, the difference between this season and 2017-18 is Wilson, who continues to add new facets to his game — outside of being a so-called “bully.”

Tom Wilson

It wasn’t talked about a lot, but Wilson led the Capitals in assists in the first couple of weeks of the season. He has simmered since then, failing to post a point in four of his last six games, but the good news is he’s starting to put the puck in the back of the net.

Wilson has three goals in his last three games, and his presence is invaluable. He’s averaging 19:34 of ice time per game, which ranks third on the team and is over a minute more than his previous career-high of 18:16 in 2019-20. He averages 1:44 on the penalty kill, which means he is versatile and has fewer even-strength and power-play opportunities than his linemates.

He does take advantage of his chances, however. His even-strength goals-for per 60 minutes (GF/60) is 5.0, which falls between Ovechkin and Kuznetsov, but his power-play GF/60 rating rockets to 10.8, which substantially leads the team.

Evgeny Kuznetsov

Like Wilson, Kuznetsov understands his role and has added to his repertoire. He is a playmaking center and one of the best in the NHL when he wants to be, which he’s proving this season. His play declined in the last two years, but this season, he has rebounded to his high standard of play, one that led Washington to a title.  

During the Capitals’ Stanley Cup season, Kuznetsov not only had an incredible postseason run, but he also set regular-season career-highs in goals (27), points (83), and average ice time (18:49). This season, he’s on pace to best all those numbers, and he’s averaging 21:33 of ice time.

Related: Capitals Will Be a Dangerous Team if Kuznetsov Continues Producing

Like Wilson, Kuznetsov spends time on the penalty kill (1:05), but he receives more minutes on the man advantage. His 4:09 average on the power play ranks third on the Capitals, and six of his 16 points this season have come while playing up a man. That is what he’s supposed to do; create offense in all situations, like his fellow countryman.

Alex Ovechkin

At 36, Ovechkin is showing no signs of slowing down. Maybe it’s the added motivation to break Wayne Gretzky’s goal record, or he just being is his usual passionate, determined self who is on pace to score 75 goals and record 143 points in 82 games, though it probably won’t happen.

The “Great 8” has never scored more than 65 goals in a season (2007-08) and last eclipsed the century mark in 2008-09 when he posted 109 points. That is not necessarily Ovechkin’s fault. The league hasn’t seen a player get close to or over 150 points in a season since Mario Lemieux registered 161 in 1995-96. However, McDavid was on pace to record 154 points in the pandemic shortened season. 

Related: Alex Ovechkin’s October Gives Him Strong Start in Goal Scoring Race

Ovechkin earned player-of-the-month honors in October, and he’s still on a tear. He has a point in 10 of 12 games this season, including the first eight. He already has seven multi-point games, and he hasn’t averaged this amount of ice time in over a decade. Though his power-play production is always admirable, he is posting career-high GF/60 rates for even-strength goals (2.5) and points (4.3). Again, at 36, that’s impressive.

Capitals Still a Contender

If Wilson, Kuznetsov, and Ovechkin can keep a comparable pace—not an unrealistic one—for the rest of the season, then Washington will be primed for a deep playoff run. To put things in perspective, in 2017-18, Ovechkin finished with 87 points (49 goals, 38 assists) while averaging 20:09 of ice time, and Kuznetsov registered 83 points (27 goals, 56 assists) while averaging 18:49 of ice time. Those totals were good enough for 11th and 19th in the league, respectively, and they are well on their way to besting them this season.

Then there’s Wilson, our unsung anti-hero. His development can not be talked about enough. He has increased his offensive production each season since making his NHL debut in 2013-14 and is on pace to do the same. Through 12 games, he’s reached a third of his final assist total (21) from 2017-18.

Tom Wilson Washington Capitals
Tom Wilson, Washington Capitals (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Once the Capitals clean up some of their minor early-season issues and, most importantly, get healthy, they are a team to keep an eye on. For years, opponents have known who they have to stop to contain Washington, and yet, those players are producing at career-high rates.

Sign up for our regular 'Capitals Newsletter' for all the latest.