For the first quarter of the Capitals’ 2011-2012 season, there was much deserved attention around what started out as the third line of Jason Chimera, Brooks Laich, and Joel Ward. Chimera is leading the team in goals, and, when giving interviews after his two-goal game Wednesday, he credited much of that success to semi-regular linemates Laich and Ward (though Ward didn’t play in that particular game).
There are obvious reasons these three guys have enjoyed success together–they win individual battles, they rely on heart to help talent, they’re strong without being cumbersome–but there may be another explanation hidden in the stats sheet.
Laich, Chimera and Ward average the most shifts per game of any Capitals forwards except Nicklas Backstrom. But when it comes to the length of their shifts, the three have the lowest average on the team, except for Matt Hendricks (who still averages more time on ice per shift than Chimera and Ward) and Jeff Halpern.
For all three, there’s been a shortening of the shift lengths since last year. Chimera’s has dropped by 5 seconds; Ward’s by 3; Laich’s by 4. Of course, Laich is a little more difficult to quantify and compare, since he spends so much time on special teams units in addition to even strength.
But the shorter shifts seem to be working for the trio. Ward and Chimera have the second and third shortest shifts among forwards yet carry the best plus/minuses on the team overall. Laich’s is less stellar, at -2. But if you go back and look at each of the 8 games game where he finished a minus, only in 50% of those were Chimera and Ward his companion forwards on the ice at the time of the goal against.
Basically, it’s yet another affirmation of a hockey truth that the legendary Herb Brooks forced his 1980 gold-medal winning team to follow: keep your shifts short, and your legs will be fresh when needed.
Of course, Alexander Ovechkin and Alexander Semin have both seen their shift lengths decrease, and neither are enjoying personal bests. And obviously, Ovechkin can handle shift lengths of over a minute and win the Hart trophy. In fact, if there’s an exception to the rule, it seems to be the Great 8 — Ovechkin seems to produce less offense as his shifts shorten to less-superhuman levels. But while the shorter shift/better production theory isn’t perfect, it’s an interesting conversation to have when figuring out how to jumpstart certain players or lines.
And for right now, the trio of Laich, Chimera, and Ward is keeping it short—and sweet.