Just a quick item for your lunchtime perusal.

As Uncle Ted himself pointed out earlier, despite the Capitals in the top 5 in the league in goals for, they are currently are 20th in the league in goals against with 52.

That goals-against count comes despite strong numbers from the goalies. Braden Holtby is sporting a fantastic .922 save percentage, Michal Neuvirth a decent .913.

As that suggests, the Capitals are allowing lots of shots on goal. They are 25th in the league in allowing shots on goal during 5-on-5 in close-game situations.

So the Caps goalies are doing well despite getting buried in pucks, which means the problem lies elsewhere– most likely with the defense allowing all those shots. That makes this comment from Adam Oates, reported by 106.7 THE FAN’s Sky Kerstein, all the more  curious:

The question was why Dmitry Orlov, called up from Hershey last week, was not in the lineup for Tuesday’s game against Columbus.

None of this is to say Orlov getting a sweater would magically fix the team (or even improve it necessarily), but Oates’ sunny estimation of his defense’s performance seems contrary to the evidence above– some of which offered by the team’s owner. The defense seems to be playing quite poorly– as illustrated by the volume of shots the team is allowing as well as the team’s low possession rank (26th) and its apparent problems exiting the defensive zone and transitioning to offense in neutral.

Below is a player usage chart for Caps defenders who have played at least five games this season. Top left means more defensive zone starts against tougher competition; lower right means more offensive starts against weaker competition. Red means more shots go against the team; blue means more shots go towards the opponent’s net– with size representing how many shots.

usage

I don’t have any agenda in sharing that chart. I invite you to draw your own conclusions.

A final note: Elliotte Friedman’s indispensable 30 Thoughts column yesterday discussed teams interested in acquiring defenseman Ladislav Smid. Although there is some dispute, Washington was on the list. That seems apt.

UPDATE: Here is video of Adam Oates’ pregame press time.

  • http://www.russianmachineneverbreaks.com Ian Oland

    It appears that Urbom is not da bomb.

  • nogoodtrying

    SUBZERO??? NOW….PLAIN ZERO.

  • http://www.russianmachineneverbreaks.com/ Peter Hassett

    My “short item” ended up longer than I intended

  • William

    Love the word “perusal” +1. ++I couldn’t believe Edmonton dropped a GOOD defensman in Smid…They could have gotten something much better from another team. Really bad move I think on Edmonton’s part.

    Orlov needs to play dammnit.

  • http://www.russianmachineneverbreaks.com/ Peter Hassett

    EDM is a weird situation. Good coach in Eakins as far as I can tell, but MacTavish makes some odd moves. I’d have stuck with Dubnyk.

  • William

    Eh..I think getting Bryz was a good move..I just wouldn’t have dropped a very solid 2nd pair defensman in Smid.

    Smid was a very competent NHL defensman..It almost hurts me inside that they made that trade, particularly knowing we could have him!

    Edit:Vocab

  • Brouwer Rangers

    My conclusion is that John Erskine is the best defender we have. PROVE ME WRONG.

  • ACN

    I don’t disagree with you or this article. I just also don’t ever expect Oates to come out and say something specifically negative or more than just general chat, given how adamant he’s been about keeping all his player specific stuff to the room. (and maybe now even more so after the blow up over the Hertl comments.)

    Which, honestly, I’m fine with, because it’s what I expect. As long as he’s talking to the guys on improving or why he’s doing certain things (which I’d certainly hope), any time a coach or GM actually lets something juicy spill to the media or fans is just gravy.

  • http://www.russianmachineneverbreaks.com/ Peter Hassett

    That’s a totally fair point. It’s unfortunate, however, that in order to be cheerful to the press he must also make himself look like a bad coach– which I do not think he is.

  • http://www.russianmachineneverbreaks.com/ Peter Hassett
  • http://www.russianmachineneverbreaks.com Ian Oland

    Orlov has been arguably playing some of the best hockey of his career in Hershey before this never-ending call-up/scratch-a-thon. To have him sit –especially during back-to-back games — makes little to no sense.

    You also have to take into account, Dima’s in the last year of his entry-level contract. Sergei Fedorov owns his rights and can pay him in the KHL. At the very least, the Caps should be aggressive about playing him to see what they have. I am also pretty positive he’s a better player that Schmidt right now, and better than Urbom overall. The defense has not been good lately — the Green/Schmidt pairing struggles in the defensive zone — and Schmidt should have been benched Sunday after chucking the puck off the ice in Phoenix and letting them tie the game up on the resulting power play.

  • William

    How does one “retweet” on a comment section?

    My thoughts exactly.

  • Mark

    As much as I agree that the Caps give up too many shots. The blame can’t be place on defensemen alone. Defense is a team effort in this sport and all must be held accountable. If forwards can’t hold possession in the offensive zone, the result is more shots for the opponent.

    I’m not saying that the defensemen can’t improve. I’d just like to look into the reasons why this team gives up so many shots. I think we’d find that problem goes beyond just those labeled as defensemen.

  • Brouwer Rangers

    But shots, Peter. SHOTS! And zone starts and qual comp and muffin cannons!

    Who cares about goals for/against anymore?That’s so two-thousand-and-late.

  • http://www.russianmachineneverbreaks.com/ Peter Hassett

    You’re right. I am letting the tail wag the dog a bit here. The offense is on the hook for defensive involvement and the back-half of breakouts.

  • William

    That may be partially true; the center’s job is to help out down low and breakout to the wingers. There have been times this season, and it times past, where that has been a concern. And certainly it is true that wingers need to be proactive in getting the puck out at the blue line and making good first passes, however it’s tough to say that the main problem is not the defenseman’s inability to win puck battles and move it to the forwards streaking out of the zone. But watching the games I have a hard time with the notion that the forwards are the problem here..

  • Mark

    That being said. I agree the defense has plenty of room for improvement. I would love to see Orlov in a sweater. At least give the guy a chance.

  • Jack Conness

    Gotta give Orlov a chance. And soon.

  • Mark

    That may be true in our defensive zone. I would also like to see improvements in puck retrieval in our offensive zone, so we can get multiple chances/shots per entry. Some lines are better at this than others (second line could use a lot of improvement in this area).

  • William

    Yeah absolutely correct on this. Joel Ward is very good at this. Top lines could use some improvement though. (Tends to be a one and done affair. No pun intended)

  • yv

    AO showing that he is a very (I’ll say stubbornly) conservative in changing his lines and D pairings. It took 15+ mostly losing games before he paired Ovi and Nicky last season, and Caps took off after. This year it has taken almost 10 games and 4-6 extra lost points to make obvious after first 3-4 games changes in offense.
    The only positive for Orlov, who totally deserves to play, is that he earning almost 10 times more been scratched than playing in Hershey.

  • Steve

    Any chance defensive pairing has anything to do with it? I know that’s a stretch, but there’s got to be a reason behind Oates’ decision-making in not playing Orlov. Other reasons I can only think of…trade potential? For who – no idea. Something specific Oates sees that scares him about Orlov or reveals his inexperience?

    I don’t read anything into Oates saying “defensemen are playing good”. He’s just playing the optimistic coaching angle in front of the media IMO. Also probably easier than saying “But Orlov’s actually really bad at ___”. Fantastic screen pic caption btw!

  • Matt

    I’m hoping that GMGM will make a trade for a defenceman around thanksgiving, similar to the Hannan trade a few years ago. Thanksgiving is when most GMs understand where their team stands, and sometimes make moves.

  • Ben Reed

    Doesn’t the chart suggest Schmidt is actually playing very well?? That confirms what my eyes tell me about him.

  • http://www.russianmachineneverbreaks.com/ Peter Hassett

    Yes it does– though he is getting by far the easiest deployments among D. Also worth mentioning that he didn’t play the first couple games– in which the Caps were drastically outshot.

  • Ben Reed

    Urbom seems the better candidate to sit, by far. I sense both GMGM and Oates overvalue having some element of size on the blueline, hence the inexplicable support for Erskine and now maybe Urbom.

  • http://www.russianmachineneverbreaks.com Ian Oland

    Also, lately, he’s been playing mostly with Mike Green, the best defenseman on the team. My eyes have not been so kind to him. But he’s definitely made some good plays offensively off and on and I think he might have a future in the NHL. I’m not trying to dump on him. I just think Orlov should be playing and there’s not much evidence on the ice to back up why he isn’t.

  • http://www.russianmachineneverbreaks.com/ Peter Hassett

    “Mike Green, the best defenseman on the team.”

    This guy says WHUUUUUUUUU

  • http://www.russianmachineneverbreaks.com Ian Oland

    Overall, yes, Green.

    Alzner is awesome and becoming one of the better shutdown defensemen in the league. But judging by the TOI, looks like Caps coaches agree with me http://www.nhl.com/ice/playerstats.htm?season=20132014&gameType=2&team=WSH&position=D&country=&status=&viewName=timeOnIce

  • RESmith

    Isn’t this why we signed a guy like Tyson Strachan to a two way deal? To give us a warm body only to be there if injury happens the day of a game and precisely so we don’t have to have a prospect ride the pine to fill that role? I have a hard time seeing how this can help Orlov develop.

  • SeanL

    The fans’ love affair with Orlov is bordering on baffling.

  • http://www.russianmachineneverbreaks.com/ Peter Hassett

    RMNBaffling

  • Illiad

    MG has been AWFUL this year. He looks lost half the time (often after hard hits) and he’s a turnover machine. He’s not himself. Wouldn’t be surprised if he has a concussion (a la MaJo’s terrible play at the beginning of last season).

  • Matt

    You are only referencing one column, try reading down the rest of the row. You are a high critic of Big John and have always tried to pin fault on him, but that is your right to say. But be fair and use the entire statistic if you are going to refer to a source(s).

  • ACN

    Oh, I agree– I don’t think he’s a bad coach, and I do think it’s unfortunate that sometimes what’s best for the team doesn’t always translate to what’s most interesting or useful for the media or fans to chew upon, or make’s the coach’s image look better. (And I do think keeping things close to the chest in public is generally better than being completely gregarious and/or being overtly negative to the media, rather than keeping things private and informed with the players.)

    Ultimately, of course, it’s about results. You have to think that a coach who starts getting good results consistently will eventually overcome looking like a bad coach in the media in his journey to get there.

  • http://www.russianmachineneverbreaks.com/ Peter Hassett

    Oh, I’m not leveling an argument against Erskine here. I’m just playing with the Brouwer Rangers, who are in on the joke.

    Here’s my substantive criticism of Erskine: http://www.russianmachineneverbreaks.com/2013/10/11/john-erskine-even-strength-albatross/