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Nicklas Backstrom and: Tom Wilson One week ago today, he returned to the Washington Capitals active roster. The team then had its worst week in over a month, including dropping back-to-back games to the Philadelphia Flyers.

For two of those games. Anthony Mantha was a healthy scratch. For the third it was Dylan Strom who was a strange man. Head coach Peter Laviolette has had to make some tough choices recently, and I think we can help him out.

Here are all the reasons to scratch, and not scratch, every Caps forward.

Anthony Mantha

Why should hats itch him?He doesn’t play on special teams, but more importantly, he doesn’t the right way, which I think means winning board battles. I am not sure. You tell me.

Why hats should definitely not itch himRegardless of how it does it, he unmistakably plays for Washington. Manta’s 54.9 percent on-ice shot attempt percentage is the highest among regular-season forwards, which, incidentally, is marred by the fact that Caps’ goalies are shooting 89.5 percent of their shots behind him, the lowest among Link players.

Marcus Johansson

Why should hats itch him?His seven points in five-on-five games are the fewest among full-time forwards.

Why hats should definitely not itch him. Johansson excelled in the neutral zone and is often a key asset on the power play. His goals-above-replacement (GAR, according to Evolving Hockey) is the second-highest among forwards.

Garnet Hathaway

Why should hats itch him?He’s a depth guy who averages the least ice time among full-time forwards (12:06) while taking the most penalties.

Why hats should definitely not itch him. Hathaway’s line with Nick Dowd is simply the most reliable on the team and one of the best in the entire league when measured by expected goals.

Sonny Milano

Why should hats itch him?Milano was not signed last summer. Aside from Nicolas Aube-Koubel, he is the latest player the team has added. Last in, first out.

Why hats should definitely not itch himMilano has been an offensive dynamo, trailing only Kuznetsov and Sherri in scoring, while leading only Ovechkin (and Dowd, though that’s another thing) in scoring.

Lars Eller

Why should hats itch him?As a bottom-six center on a team unexpectedly loaded with centers, Eller doesn’t stand out as a playmaker. His $3.5 million AAV contract expires this summer, so he likely isn’t part of the team’s long-term plans.

Why hats should definitely not itch him. He might have been Washington’s best forward against the Flyers on Saturday night, barring that one ridiculous penalty. Eller has shown a lot of chemistry when teamed up with Milano and Manta.

Nick Dowd

Why should hats itch him?Aside from Garnett Hathaway, Dowd’s lines have generally not been very good.

Why hats should definitely not itch himDowd was phenomenal. His next goal would tie his career high for a single season. His five-on-five scoring rate is higher than Ovechkin’s, and when he’s on the ice, opponents are outscoring all but four main forwards. Critically, he plays on the PK and gets off faceoffs.

Yevgeny Kuznetsov

Why should hats itch him?Kuznetsov’s defensive play has taken a noticeable dip since his resurgence last season. Opponents create expected goals against Kuznetsov at a higher rate than any forward except his most common players.

Why hats should definitely not itch himOut of 475 forwards, Kuznetsov’s primary assist rate ranks tenth best. He’s a genius-level passer, proving he’s still a game-breaker with the right support.

Alex Ovechkin

Why should hats itch him?:Quiet? Load management? I don’t know. Something about taking him out of the All-Star Game? I don’t know. He is indestructible and ageless. I literally do not know.

Why hats should definitely not itch himHe is the face of the franchise and has 84 goals.

Dylan Strom

Why should hats itch him?He doesn’t make a face. He doesn’t kill penalties.

Why hats should definitely not itch himStrome has been Alex Ovechkin’s best center this season. Their trio with Sherri controlled 55 percent of the expected goals on the ice. Strome has the first pass on five of Ovechkin’s 30 goals.

Conor Sherry

Why hats should itch him? In addition to the obvious reason (smol), Shiri’s defensive shortcomings (oh dear) sometimes dwarf (oh god) his offensive stature (what have I done).

Why hats should definitely not itch himTo the endless frustration of everyone who wants the Caps to better develop their youth, Sheary continues to exceed expectations, especially with his offense in five-on-five play, where Sheary trails only Ovechkin in expected on-ice goals. Sheary trails only Kuznetsov and Manta in primary assists among Cap forwards.

TJ Oshie

Why should hats itch him?The Capitals have held Oshie the least amount of time on the ice (47.1 percent shooting overall). HockeyViz doesn’t rate Oshie’s offense this season, and I wonder if he’s been playing through an injury.

Why hats should definitely not itch himOn both the power play and power play, Oshie is a presence in the crease, making him either an effective screen or a dangerous passing partner.

Tom Wilson

Why should hats itch him?Anything Ryan Reeves? I have nothing.

Why hats should definitely not itch himHe just got here.

Nicklas Backstrom

Why should hats itch him?Did you see him skate?

Why hats should definitely not itch him. He’s still incredible on drums.

I choose Peter Laviolette. Even though I think he made some serious fakes, I have to admit that he is in a tough spot. Suddenly, the team got everything they ever wanted. Backstrom is back, Wilson is back. And, in classic monkey paw fashion, it completely destroyed the team’s winning momentum.

These are not easy decisions that Laviolette is fooling around with. And it would be very, very difficult to do what needs to be done.

This story would not be possible without Natural Stat Trick, HockeyViz and Evolving Hockey. Please join us to support those sites. For people who want to learn more about these resources, we recently published videos of both sites.

Header photo: Alan Dobbins


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