Photo: Rob Carr

We’ve assumed for so long that the problem with the Caps is lack of defensive depth. I’d wager 90% of everything written about the Caps and Wednesday’s trade deadline states that the team lacks a solid, number-four, right-shooting defenseman. It’s been pretty obvious that filling that one spot would help fill the ranks of Washington’s defense.

That makes a lot of sense. Since October, the Caps defense had essentially been Mike Green, Karl Alzner, John Carlson, and any other three guys.

But I’m not so sure anymore. Indeed, I’m starting to wonder if the Caps wouldn’t be able to succeed merely by upgrading their bottom pairing– namely John Erskine and Connor Carrick.

But first, let’s take a look at the guys who have flanked Mike Green on the second pairing: Nate Schmidt and Dmitry Orlov.



Capitals defense player usage chart by ExtraSkater

Here's Nate Schmidt's Hershey headshot, just because his smile makes me feel good

Here’s Nate Schmidt’s Hershey headshot, just because his smile makes me feel good

Orlov and Schmidt have respectively shared 387 and 232 minutes with Mike Green this season, time during which the Caps have outshot their opponents 600 to 473. Both versions of the pairing have generated a lot of offense, but defensive breakdowns have soured some on their viability. Orlov had begun to get a reputation for defensive mistakes even before his suspension for wrecking Brayden Schenn. Nate Schmidt showed a surprising amount of offensive flash (more than the touted offensive defenseman Orlov), but he was still prone to rookie mistakes and was returned to Hershey midway through December.

I’m not so sure anecdotes of mistakes here or there should shake us from trusting the genuine on-ice dominance these players have broughten.

I now think either of those players could or should occupy the fourth D-man slot. Whichever one doesn’t might make a fine stand-in for John Erskine on the bottom pair, which is where I think the real trouble is anyway.

We’ve been through this, twice: Ersk is strugglingMost of the real damage inflicted by the Caps defense is coming from the pairing of Erskine and rookie Connor Carrick.

Carrick and Erskine pull up the non-Urbom rear of the Caps defense when it comes to puck possession. Though they’re performing better together than they do apart, it’s clear that the Caps are getting shellacked when they’re on the ice.

chart_1 (7)

Despite facing weaker competition than the other two pairings (the red bar), Carrick and Erskine– Carskine (sorry)– allow more shot attempts towards the Caps net (the blue bar). Alzner and Carlson allow a similar amount of shot attempts, but they’re regularly going up against the best opponent lines in the league. Carrick and Erskine, meanwhile, are getting softer and fewer minutes– and they’re still getting clobbered.

Over his last ten games, Erskine has played about 31% of the Caps’s 5v5 minutes. (That’s more than I would’ve thought, though Carlzner’s and Greenlov’s special teams duties might explain why.) In that 31% of ice time, Erskine was on ice for a whopping 38% of the opponent’s shot attempts. That might have been okay if he generated enough offense to offset it, but he did not. 31% of the Caps shot attempts came in Erskine’s 31% of ice time: average.

Carrick is no different. Together, Carrick and Erskine rank 194th and 195th in puck possession out of 232 defensemen who have played at least 15 games. That’s bottom quintile stuff.

I’d propose that the Caps might already have their fourth defenseman– either in Schmidt (yay!) or Orlov (sure, okay, why not). Then I’d add that George McPhee would have a much easier time acquiring a left-handed, bottom-pairing defenseman who can produce and prevent better than John Erskine– not a high bar to clear. Short of a trade, Adam Oates could always just ice these pairings– already in the Caps system– and effect a big upgrade in on-ice performance:

Carlson Alzner
Green Schmidt
Orlov Hillen

That wouldn’t be so bad, would it it?

  • (And yes, I know both Orlov and Hillen shoot left.)

  • Freedoooom

    Schilling Schilling Schilling.

  • Rob W.

    Less Carrick, more Schmidt

  • Shawn Murphy

    Exactly. The best defense is a good offense pancake.

  • I hope Adam Oates doesn’t see this.

  • I’m sure he set up a Flipboard alert whenever new RMNB articles are posted.

  • Seth Winship

    I’m still gunnin for Binky’s return. I miss the Oleksy fights.

  • Dan

    Yes Schmidt > Carrick!

  • Alex Hughes

    Bring Back Brouilette

  • JH

    Why not Green / Hillen and Orlov / Schmidt?

  • Green/Schmidt have a slightly higher ceiling, and I don’t like the way either Orlov or Green choose their pinches and handle breakaways against.

  • DJ Jones

    Perhaps you have something here. I assume Wey isn’t included in this since he hasn’t seen very much ice time, but would like him to get a call

  • Loui

    You forgot the part where you compare Caps’ top pairing with top pairings of Cup contenders. Alzner and Carlson would make a fine second pairing, but the Caps aren’t going anywhere if they’re sending them out against other teams best every night.

  • Josh

    Olesky still leads the caps in +/- right? hahaha

  • /points to the door

  • That’s a good idea for analysis, but I’ve already got a reputation for being a bummer here.

  • JH

    Unless we were to say, get a tested veteran goalie like, oh, I don’t know…Jaroslav Halak?

  • johnnymorte

    First off, Oates isn’t going to cure his OCD overnight. Sounds to me like you’re settling. We deserve much better.

  • I read “Flappy-bird”… which makes more sense.

  • yv

    This is bad timing! GMGM probably already pressing button to finalize a deal to get good Dman, and then decided to check rmnb and suddenly seeing this article: “Thank you Peter, on a second thought we might already SC contender, no deal to you…”

  • Haha.

    I’m sure that’s exactly how it’ll go.

  • Mark Mille

    You know, I never thought about it that way. We may not.

  • jj

    Not buying it. Defense is the root of all of our problems. We need to build a championship caliber roster starting with a solid deep defense core. Lets please learn from our past failures in the playoffs.

  • DCSportsDork

    Always liked Nate “TJ Miller” Schmidt. You haven’t mentioned that Cameron Schilling has been performing well (second best +/- behind….Tyson Strachan?!?!?) in Hershey and could be the left handed bottom minutes eater. Who knows if he could play this year, but what about next year?

    Also, I think Carrick has gotten better and better every game. At the end of the day, he’s 19 years old and has already overachieved by being a 4th round pick playing in a big four nation playing in World Juniors. Let the kid slowly develop.

    Lastly, did you know….if you exclude John Erskine, Mike Green is the oldest defenseman on the team and he is only 28!!! The average age so far this season is a shockingly low 25.1!!!

  • DCSportsDork

    When I was talking average age…i meant of only amongst all Caps D-men.

  • He’s cool. I love his story. And I love how he stabilized things when he played a few weeks ago. But he is not the answer.

  • Past failures in playoffs are varied and complicated. Goaltending, systems, hot goalie, bad system.

  • I would love to go to practice and someone berate me about a post. I SAW THAT PHOTOSHOP YOU MADE OF ME WEARING ZUBAZ.

  • A_Shoe

    “Your fancy stats don’t make up for the gritty, hard-nosed playing of Good Ontario Boy John Erskine!!”
    -Don Cherry, probably

  • Haha

    I really don’t think shot-based stats are fancy. I think GVT and VUKOTA and even manually tracked microevents like zone entries are fancy.

    But for hockey, it’s just like tracking hits instead of runs.

  • Golly Girl

    So, your d-pairings would be: Carlzner, Hillov and … Gridt???

  • jj

    true, but our player personnel is almost identical, especially with the big names. I hate to always go back to this, but when we have Mike Green playing 25 minutes a game in the playoffs with no stay at home help, we will not be able to sustain in a 7 game series. Come on, you can’t really just all of sudden believe that defense isn’t a major problem with this team.

  • Graham Dumas

    But you could have changed the blog’s name to Russian Brouilette! (Someone has definitely made that joke, I can’t be the first to have thought of it. Sorry.)

  • Charlie


  • yv

    Surprises keep coming. Cant remember so active goalies market. Luongo to Panthers! So, now Thomas would be moved? Just crazy.

  • yv

    Does it mean that VAN will get now Neuvy from Caps in exchange of…?

  • RY

    No, Cats sent over Markstrom

  • A_Shoe

    I totally agree with you, but my sense of humor is only developed enough for the low-hanging fruit.

  • Dave

    CarlsonAlznerGreenSchmidtOrlovHillenI wish Hillen had been back up sooner to try this out before the deadline.

  • Dave

    hmmm… that didn’t format anything like it looked in the comment box… let me try again:

    Carlson Alzner
    Green Schmidt
    Orlov Hillen

    I wish Hillen had been back up sooner to try this out before the deadline.

  • Barrett

    I would still rather have had Andrew MacDonald to pair with Mike Green. The Flyers got him for a 3rd round pick in 2014, 2nd round pick in 2015 and and undrafted 24 year old center that has never played an NHL game. GMGM, what the hell are you doing? (sidenote: love the Dustin Penner addition)

  • Barrett

    You got your defense pairings all jacked up with lefty-righty. Adam Oates is foaming at the mouth and shaking looking at that…

    Lefties: Alzner, Orlov, Erskine, Hillen, Schilling, Brouillette

    Righties: Carlson, Green, Carrick, Schmidt, Oleksy, Strachan, Wey

  • MuzzMuzzington

    Still boggles the mind we risked him to waivers instead of overpaid and immobile Erskine.

  • MuzzMuzzington

    Apparently we are kicking the tires of Halak… ITS ALL YOUR FAULT!

  • cmdonohue

    This is a coaching issue. And no trade will resolve it, if Oates won’t trust Schmidt/will trust Erskine and Carrick. Another installment in the Oates’ Deployment Series.

  • Jimmie

    The ghost of the 2011-2012 playoffs would like to speak with you.

  • Seth Winship

    I like Erskines attitude and power. But I think he needs to play with someone who will better him instead of him being the veteran. No doubt he’s a bully, and a good one at that, but he needs a solid push to continue honing some of the weaker aspects of his game.

  • RESmith

    Those pairings will be an upgrade but still not good enough to get us past the second round. It will be like the ’98 finals all over again where the TInordi-Johansson pairing was rarely allowed to come off the ice. Except this time it would be Carlson-Alzner.

  • snow-ape

    I also want Binky to return… The only reason to keep erskine around is in the hopes we can get another defensman with a last name starting with “For”… like Forbort from the Monarchs or Fortunus for the Stars…

    I just want to read RMNB refer to that pairing as the “Foreskine pairing”… I really do.