Offensive Defensemen and the Orlov Myth

Photo: Chris Gordon

First, a quick literature review.

“Orlov is a talented, smooth skating offensive defenseman who prefers to press the attack and create scoring opportunities at all times.”

 – Hockey’s Future. No date provided.

Q: The public at large in the U.S. knows only that Orlov is a D-man. Is he a “stay-at-home” defenseman or an offensive defenseman?

A: I would say it’s offensive… But we don’t know what the coach says in the locker room. He’s not a “stay-at-home” defenseman, that’s for sure. His attacking skills have actually led him to play some games as a forward. He scored twice that game.

- Evgeni Starikov, a Metallurg Novokuznetsk fan, to RMNB. January 2010.

“He loves to attack on the rush and this will lead to him earning points on a team like the Capitals (though they have become more defense-minded).”

Dobber Hockey. April 2012.

He’s a great offensive player. He’s very effective on the power play and everything. It definitely hurts when he’s not there.”

Cam Schilling to the Washington Times. December 2012.

Since even before Dmitry Orlov made his Caps debut back in 2011-12, we’ve heard that he’s an offensive defenseman, the eventual successor to Mike Green’s throne as the Caps blue liner most likely to attack.

I’m not so sure.

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orpik

The Washington Capitals’ defense was really bad last season. Adam Oates and George McPhee suited up fourteen (!) defensemen over the course of the season and got little success for their effort. Fixing the blue line was priority one in free agency for new GM Brian MacLellan, and he delivered in a big way, bringing ex-Pens Matt Niskanen and Brooks Orpik to town (as well as their former defensive coach, Todd Reirden).

The new Caps D-corps is definitely improved– but at a great cost. Orpik and Niskanen cost a combined $11.25M per season. Washington now sports the most expensive defense in the league (more than Philly once you factor in Chris Pronger’s sadly never-ending LTIR). With all that– rather pricey– new blood, let’s explore how the Caps might line up in October.

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Matt Niskanen: A Case Study in Context

Matt_Niskanen

Matt Niskanen, late of the Pittsburgh Penguins, is one of the marquee defensemen expected to go to free agency tomorrow. New Caps beat writer Alex Prewitt covered the buzz around Niskanen in the Post this morning.

A move to Washington would keep Niskanen with his old defensive coach, Todd Reirden, who coached the blueliner in Pittsburgh and can speak knowledgeably about the player to the Caps front office. And at a glance, Niskanen looks like a very strong player.

Let’s check out ExtraSkater.com, which is the best site on the internet next to the Benedict Cumberbatch Name Generator. Last year with Pittsburgh, Niskanen saw 53.4 percent of shot attempts belong to his team during 5v5– a number 7.3 percent better than when he was off the ice. In 2012-13, he had a 51.2 percent shot-attempt percentage, a 3.6 percent improvement compared to when he was on the bench.

That looks fantastic, but hold on a second.

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awards

The NHL Awards will be handed out in Vegas tonight. Alex Ovechkin will be there to collect yet another Rocket Richard Trophy for scoring the most goals during the regular season. Sidney Crosby will almost certainly win the Hart and Lindsay. If you ask me, Chara, Bergeron, and Rask should make the Norris, Selke, and Vezina a sweep for the Bruins. But we’ll see.

Thing is– the awards handed out during the televised ceremony only scratch the surface. There’s a ton of exceptional and superlative stuff that happened in the league this season. After peeking at the stats, we’re ready to hand out some more.

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“The Pittsburgh Penguins are proud to select, out of nowhere, a guy you will never hear from again.” (Photo: Bruce Bennett/Getty Images North America)

After the Pittsburgh Penguins collapsed against the New York Rangers, some readers suggested that the Caps should hire Dan Bylsma and Ray Shero, both of the Pittsburgh Penguins, should they get fired from their current jobs. In regards to Shero at least, we’re a bit leery.

Here’s one reason why.

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Caps PK

Embiggen.

If you ask the NHL, the Washington Capitals penalty kill was the 16th best in the land this season. They allowed 51 goals and escaped 82% of their shorthanded sessions unscathed, which doesn’t sound so bad. But actually the Caps PK was really, really, really, really bad. They were one of the worst ever, as far as I can tell.

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Head coach Adam Oates of the Washington Capitals is. That sentence is still correct in the present tense. I’m astonished.

This is not another article listing the problems with Adam Oates, or even the problems with George McPhee. This is an article, the last in a series, describing the Capitals on a week-to-week basis using quantified analysis. If at any point the following article reads like a hitpiece against Caps coaching or management, that’s only because the math totally hates them. It’s not me, I swear.

Also, I think Dmitry Orlov is gonna be real good someday. Let’s do the numbers one more time!

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Patrick Smith

Tuesday’s 4-1 win over the St. Louis Blues required the Washington Capitals to withstand a protracted comeback effort in the second and third periods. The effect of protecting a lead meant most Caps players got outpossessed. That’s not really surprising, and it’s totally fine considering how strong the Blues are on the puck and the game’s eventual outcome. A bit more surprising, however, was Troy Brouwer‘s shot-attempt differential that night.

In 10 minutes of 5v5 play, Brouwer was on the ice for 17 Blues shot attempts …and zero by the Capitals.

That’s like 0% possession*.

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holtby face

Photo: Bruce Bennett

Braden Holtby quietly achieved a milestone over the weekend. In Sunday’s shootout win over the New York Islanders, Holtby faced his 3000th shot. That’s a big deal. Young goalies are really hard to forecast. Half of the ones that play over ten games wash out before they hit 3000. When they finally get enough reps, we should bask in the increasing clarity.

.917 Holtby’s career save percentage
3023 Number of shots faced in career
45.5 Percentage of career shots faced under Adam Oates

He’s looking pretty good, and I think he can get better.

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Week 25 Snapshot: The Wonderful Future

Bruce Bennett

Photo: Bruce Bennett

This was the week the Capitals’ playoff hopes effectively died.

Sports Club Stats says the Caps have a 2.7% chance of making the postseason. To help you better understand the probability there, that’s the same as the chances I will NOT go to Chipotle today.

We should not be surprised by this. The Capitals were never good at even strength. In week one we said, “These numbers do not describe a good even-strength team at all.” Almost eighty games later, and that has not changed. The only teams who do worse than the Caps during 5v5 (which is how about 75% of their season has been played), are the following: the Avalanche, Oilers, Leafs, Sabres. That is poor company.

So while this season is a foregone conclusion, the Caps must now decide who they will become in the future: a bottom-five team or not.

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