The Washington Capitals held an optional practice in front of a full house, Saturday. Half the team, including Head Coach Barry Trotz, was not on the ice. Everyone was energized and in high spirits from the 6-0 shutout against the Chicago Blackhawks the night before.
Instead of a puck, Daniel Winnik started the warm-up with a perforated practice golf ball. Later Braden Holtby and Nate Schmidt shared a silly moment after Schmidt and Dmitry Orlov put a shot past the netminder. Holtbeast playfully slashed Schmidt’s legs, whose dramatics ensued for a fun set of images. Holtby’s face after his payback was priceless.
Post-practice Matt Niskanen even tried to hide from the camera and we shared a laugh. It was a great welcome back to the hockey grind. Enjoy these snaps from the morning practice.
Taylor Chorney scored on Sunday night to give the Capitals a win over the Ottawa Senators. The game-winner was a great release from far out to become Chorney’s first goal of the season.
That performance gives Barry Trotz a conundrum: When the Caps host the Maple Leafs on Tuesday, should Chorney get another sweater, or should he play Sunday’s healthy scratch, Nate Schmidt, instead?
Another way to ask that question would be this: Should the Capitals ice one of the league’s worst defensive pairs or one of the best?
Brooks Orpik entered the season looking at a reduced role. Formerly deployed as a shutdown defender during his time in Washington, Orpik’s injuries, age, and the continued emergence of Dmitry Orlov have caused Barry Trotz and his staff to pencil in Orpik on the third defensive pairing.
Thus far, the results have been outstanding and, to many people, pleasantly surprising. There are a lot of factors that go into Orpik’s improved play this season. The veteran defender certainly deserves credit for accepting the role and seemingly simplifying his game.
Many people will point to Orpik’s sheltered minutes being a huge factor in his strong play, and it’s no doubt played a part. But not all third pairings are created equal. Orpik’s play on the third pair with Taylor Chorney this season has paled in comparison to his play on the third pair with Nate Schmidt. And Schmidt, for as much as he thrives on the Caps third pairing, as most any defender has under the Trotz regime, has shown an ability to play well in bigger roles. So, while being on the third pairing helps, this is far from the only reason Orpik and Schmidt have been such a strong pair.
One thing that seems clear is that Orpik benefits greatly from skating with Schmidt.
Peter introduced the weekly snapshot during the 2013 season. The snapshot is a weekly look at Caps players in a few key statistical areas. Looking at these numbers can help us not only analyze what has happened but also allow us to take a more educated guess as to what is going to happen in the future.
People have told me they feel intimidated by advanced stats or think they aren’t good at math, and so they’ve never tried to understand them. Here’s the good news: the stats are really easy to understand and use elementary school-level math.
Through the first nine games of the season, defensemen for the Capitals have accrued 15 assists. That comes to 38 percent of the total number of assists for the entire team. All six d-men who have suited up for the Caps have gotten at least two assists; only six forwards can say that. Even Karl Alzner has gotten on the scoreboard, recording the only two goals scored by Capitals defensemen this season.
This has all been by design (minus Alzner scoring). Washington’s defensemen have been more active in the Capitals offensive game on the rush and in the zone. Barry Trotz has been stressing the need to work the puck from high-to-low in the offensive zone for his entire tenure in Washington, and he — along with assistant coach Todd Rierden — doubled down on that point in training camp.
Here are the three things I’ve noticed that have made the Caps defensemen more productive this season.
Lars Eller has scored his first goal as a Washington Capital. Early in the first period of Saturday’s game against the New York Rangers, Eller made a savvy deflection to beat Lundqvist.
The goal is noteworthy because it gives the Caps the lead and because it’s Eller’s first goal since joining Washington this summer, but mostly because — check out the great play by Brooks Orpik!
According to Tarik El-Bashir and Isabelle Khurshudyan, veteran defenseman Brooks Orpik was one of nine Caps players who failed the team’s initial skate test during the first day of training camp. Orpik could not beat the required skate times of 38, 41, and 41 seconds.
Other notable players who failed the test on Friday include Brett Connolly, Jakub Vrana, Garrett Pilon, and Jonas Siegenthaler.
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