John Carlson celebrates - Derek Leung

Photo: Derek Leung

The Washington Capitals remain weak at even-strength, so they’ve been relying dearly on their electric power play to win games. The Caps have scored a respectable 42 goals at even strength, but they lead the league in power play goals with 21. I’d say those power play goals are primarily responsible for the team’s plus-10 goal differential.

The PP unit’s de facto quarterback has always been Mike Green, at least when he’s healthy. Green has played 79.5% of the Caps’ power play time, second only to Alex Ovechkin. Green had recorded 7 points, all assists, all primary, on the power play before suffering a lower-body injury in the overtime win over the Blue Jackets on November 12th. In Green’s absence, the position of PPQB1 has fallen to John Carlson. 

Unlike the goalless Green, Carlson has scored twice on the power play this season– once in Glendale and again vs St Louis. So it makes sense that reader Chris R. would ask:

A good question, and one that may be pressing as early as Wednesday night when Green may return to play the Pittsburgh Penguins.

First, let’s look at how the players differ tactically. Here’s Green at Philadelphia:

Backstrom feeds Green, whose one-timer shot comes from 47 feet out. Ray Emery (groan) saves it, but Troy Brouwer converts the rebound.

Now, Carlson vs St Louis:

In a very very similar play, Backstrom delivers an identical pass to Carlson, who also shoots a one-timer– but this time from 37 feet out– 10 feet closer than Green’s. Elliott couldn’t stop that one.

It’s not just that play, Carlson seems to regularly play the high-man spot just a bit less high than Green. That may improve the quality of his shots somewhat– though at the cost of safe passing angles to and from players along the sideboards.

While that trade-off matters, the volume of shots each player generates is much more reliable predictors of how they’ll do in the future. Put another way: While Carlson has two goals and Green is ridiculously snakebit, we should care more about who is producing more opportunities to score while a man-up.

These are individual shot rates per 60 minutes on the power play.

Unblocked On Goal
Green 25.4 14.8
Carlson 25.1 23.3

That’s wild. Both players are attempting about the same number of shots, but all but one of Carlson’s have been on target. 13 of Green’s shots have missed the net, which is either part of Adam Oates’ strategy (is he deliberately shooting wide?) or a bit embarrassing.

I don’t know if the percentage of Carlson’s shots that are on target is important or not, but I do know that he and Green are attempting at a similar rate. Those shots from the blue line– whether wide, blocked or saved– tend to create dangerous rebounds. For that reason I consider both players almost equal in this respect, with the tiebreaker going to Carlson for forcing the goalie to make more saves and actually converting twice.

But there’s one more wrinkle. In addition to being PPQB2, John Carlson has existing duties as the Capitals’ most important penalty killer (except for Braden Holtby, obvs). Carlson has been on the ice for 64.1% of Washington penalty kills, the most on the team by far.

Green, on the other hand, doesn’t really kill penalties at all.

Specialization of usage is important. Carlson is a mainstay on the league’s third-best penalty kill. Conversely, Green is a mainstay on the league’s second-best power play. So while Carlson might be able to pinch in on the power play while Green is laid up, asking him to do double duty in the long term might be counterproductive for both special teams. The marginal improvement we might see on the power play wouldn’t be worth the team’s biggest PKer having tired legs.

For now, both special teams are in the top 5 of the league. They ain’t broke, so… well, you know the rest.

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  • Pat

    When Green is playing well it isn’t even close. He is one of the best pp quarterbacks in the league. To bad he is playing like s***.

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

    Maybe at even strength. I think Green is doing okay on the PP.

  • Matt

    They should split time, at least until Green starts scoring. Also more pp time for Carly means more points for him, which means it’s more likely to see captain america on team USA.

  • Jack Conness

    I know Green has been great in the past and even has done a solid job this year but I love Carlson there. He seems a lot quicker and opens a lot more up. Teams are starting to put a man on Ovi so we need another scorer out there. Carlson is that guy. He is killer from the point and gives the D just another guy to worry about. I’d keep Carlson out there.

  • Chris Cerullo

    I believe it’s time to move more responsibility to RAHJC and take some off of Green’s shoulders. There are positives and negatives to both though. Green is better at zone entries and probably passing the puck. While IMO Carlson has the better shot suited for our power play setup which leads to him being a threat to score every time he’s out there which only benefits the entire power play.

  • Roy Schue

    If you watch the caps power play you will realize that neither Green or Carlson is the quarterback. In the caps 1-3-1 system Backstrom is at the top of the right circle. It all starts there, he can feed it to green/JC, ovie, or send it below goal line to MJ90, who then feeds it to ovie or brouwer/ward. My point is with this setup the Dman is not the QB. It is Nick Backstrom.

  • Matthew Burdash

    Carlson and no not because he’s my favorite player. If Carlson wants it he’s earned. He’s earned the right of those PP minutes with all the hard minutes he puts in on the PK. He is the most (ok 2nd…maybe 3rd…or possibly 4th) important player on the team and deserves to be rewarded. However if he would rather catch his breath were just as good with Green out there.

    However, I know it would never happen but I would love for both the be on the PP with Green in Brouwer’s spot. I don’t know if it would work but it would be amazing to see even if just once.

    Mojo/Grabo
    Backy
    Green
    Ovi
    Carlson

    Now tell me that isn’t lethal.

  • Roy Schue

    Nice suggestion. Greens shot would be lethal from down there. It ramps up in a hurry on goalies when he is in close

  • Joben

    This will probably be controversial but GMGM should think about shopping Green around. Sure he’s a mainstay, good offensive defenseman and a fan favorite, but his value diminishes every time he’s out for a “lower body contusion.” If the Caps want a shot at raising the Cup at some point in the future, they need some solid defense, and right now all they have is mediocrity in that respect. Mike Green is still very valuable and could be traded to a team who’s looking for their own PPQB1 for a really good defenseman. This way, our goalies aren’t facing 30+ shots a night.

  • bskillet

    mediocrity? Carlson and Alzner are very consistent and solid at the blue line, we have a few good looking youngsters that hopefully continue to play well. I think we’re ok but I agree, shopping Green isn’t a bad idea but definitely need more then they would probably get. He’s worth more then a couple minors and a draft pick. With Green on IR it seems we’ll have plenty of time to see how John QB’s the PP, so far so good.

  • Steve

    Use them both. Change it up every few pps or so and go with whoever is working best that night. I also wouldn’t mind seeing Ovi move around a little more on the pkers that are riding up in his junk really hard. Sneak around the net or swap spots with the Green or Carlson on the point in the 2nd half of the pp. Also I wish backie would stop looking to pass 99% of the time and just fricken rip it bardown every once in awhile like I know he can.

  • Freedoooom

    The guy who’s lead defense man in goal scoring four times.

    Serious amnesia, Green will do something like 7 goals in the next 15 games thing and everyone will get amnesia again.

  • Matt Lauer

    i like the way you think.

  • Joben

    Carlson and Alzner are good, it’s the others that can be shaky. The defense is slowly improving, but I don’t really see our current roster of blueliners being able to have nearly the same caliber of defense as say the Blackhawks or the Bruins.

  • Shaun Phillips

    Glad to finally see some statistical backing for what I’m always yelling at the tv “Greeny get it on net!” Despite that, I’m still in favor of green as PPQB1. He is better at entering the zone (IMO vastly underrated part of a PP) and moving the puck. And while all that extra ice-time might not hurt now, it might catch up with JC come playoff time.

  • Rick

    Green needs to watch from the bench. At this point in the season, he is just another forward….who’s goalless.
    For the money he is paid, not a good return on investment thus far. Although his presence does clear some free space from time to time. But the results of Carlson scoring a goal are more preferred.

  • JessHughes

    Both are playing extremely well on the PP, but I give the edge to JC, as he is not a defensive liability, as is Green. When the PP is working, it’s phenomenal, but when it’s not, we give up a lot of SH opportunities as the price to pay for having the amazing Ovi on the 1-3-1. With Ovi and MoJo on the PP, as they should be, someone capable of backchecking should be involved. Go CAPS!!!

  • Clint Petty

    You gotta keep putting Green out there. Once he gets his first, things will start happening. He’s always been a notoriously streaky shooter, but when he’s hot he sets records for goals scored in consecutive games. He’s got the name Game Over Green for a reason.

    Carlson has been great and has found the net a few times, but Green needs the coach’s confidence in him. Oates’ encouragement to Ovi has really helped Ovi’s overall play and I hope that Oates shows Green that same level of trust and encouragement. That might be all he needs to start another streak.

    I wouldn’t want to overwork Carlson by having him on both top special teams units and then being exhausted on his defensive assignments against usually the opponent’s top scoring lines.

    Goals for Green. If you shoot it, they will come.

  • Benjamin Scarbro

    “If it ain’t broke… it can’t get better!” – The Oates philosophy of line changes, or lack thereof.

  • Clifford Snarlington

    Competitive sports are a results driven business, since Carlson is producing this isn’t even really a conversation. Green is a great player of course, and if Carlson should start to falter (or worse, get injured) then Green should have another shot, but.. yeah. Points win games, not “nice tries”.

  • DC Hockey Nut

    The way I look at it is this: Green is better at feeding Ovie, Carlson is more dangerous himself. Against teams that squid themselves onto Ovie while we’re on the PP, put Carlson out there. If they give Ovie more space, put Greener out there.

  • MuzzMuzzington

    I has to be Carlson. Green is too slow, indecisive, and deliberate with the puck all at the same time. Winds up to let off a clapper, except he hesitates for a few seconds, then misses the net after all the defenders have shifted back into position. Carlson is more effective because he just unleashes the fury whenever he gets the chance OR he makes a quick pass to Ovi in the Ovi spot.

    All that great progress Green made last season towards getting rid of the puck quickly has disappeared for some reason. Hopefully it was just his injury.

  • Myan

    Even when Green is scoring goals, I’ve never been a big fan. Sure, it’s nice to have a defenseman who can score goals but we have that now with Carlson. I’ve always thought that we could shop Green around and try to free up 6 million of cap room. Our mantra has always been “we must keep Ovi, Backstrom, and Green together…this is the core of our team.” Clearly, this investment has not been paying dividends as we keep having these early playoff exits. I feel like it’s time to lock down Carlson as our defensive “star” and try to use Green’s 6 million a year elsewhere. It’s a bit ridiculous to put 6 million a year into a defenseman who is shaky defensively and SOMETIMES scores you a goal. I’d rather have another Alzner…solid defensively who takes shots that create scoring opportunities and all for a bargain price of 1.4 million a year.

  • Joben

    After tonight (11/20), it’s confirmed. Our defense is beyond mediocre. It’s bleeding awful.