Last season, the Washington Capitals’ third defensive pairing featured Mike Green and a revolving cast of players. Nate Schmidt played well alongside him until he found his way into Barry Trotz’s doghouse that eventually ended with him suffering a broken shoulder blade while on a conditioning stint in Hershey. The likes of Jack Hillen and Tim Gleason also played along Green. The truth is, many of Green’s partners last season were inadequate but were not fully exposed because Green did the heavy lifting for the pair.
This season (with Green in Detroit) the Caps have turned back to Schmidt on their third pairing, as well as Dmitry Orlov, who missed all of last season with a frustrating and lingering wrist injury. This young duo may not got the attention that some of their teammates do, but they very well could form a formidable third defensive pair for the Caps.
The chart below from War on Ice shows the eight defensemen who have skated at least 500 5v5 minutes for the Caps since the start of the 2013-14 season.
The x-axis shows each player’s relative goals for percentage. In other words, the percentage more or less of the total goals the Caps scored when that player was on the ice as opposed to on the bench. The y-axis shows each player’s relative shot attempt percentage. This is the percent of total shot attempts the Caps saw when that player was on the ice vs. on the bench.
Schmidt’s +5.70 relative goals for percentage leads the way among the group. It’s not insignificant when your team sees 5.70 percent more of the overall goals scored when you’re on the ice versus when you’re on the bench. This isn’t caused by an unsustainable on-ice shooting percentage either, as the Caps have shot a fairly sustainable 8.07 percent when Schmidt has been on the ice. Orlov hold his own here as well with a +0.82 percent relative goals for percentage.
Orlov’s position far above everyone else on the y-axis shows he has been, by far, the Caps best relative possession defender during this time. The Caps have seen 6.64 percent more of the overall shot attempts with Orlov on the ice. Schmidt is a very solid possession players as well, as his +2.66 percent shot attempt percentage ranks third to only Orlov and Green.
One cause for pause here is that both Orlov and Schmidt have spent a significant amount of their time skating with Green. Green is a very strong possession player and those who skate with him often see a boost in their possession numbers when doing so.
Here’s a look at each player’s shot attempts percentage when playing with Green and when playing without Green.
Both players see a significant drop in their shot attempt percentage when they are separated from Green.
Schmidt goes from 54.5 percent to a still respectable 50.3 percent when he’s separated from Green. Orlov goes from a sparkling 55.9 percent to a troubling 45.1 percent.
One caveat to note here is that part of the sample includes when Adam Oates was the coach of the Caps during the 2013-14 season. Adam Oates damaged the possession numbers of nearly every player he coached.
While Schmidt’s numbers remained respectable, Orlov’s fell off a cliff, which is reason to dig a little deeper. Orlov’s two most common partners after Green were Tyson Strachan and Connor Carrick. Strachen’s shot attempt percentage during his time with the Caps was 40.3 percent, while Carrick came in at 44.2 percent.
So, to say Orlov was given lackluster partners when he wasn’t skating with Green is an understatement. While he’ll still have to prove he can carry his own with Green now playing for Detroit, there’s reason to believe his poor possession numbers away from Green are far from his fault.
Last season, the Caps had the luxury of skating Green, a top four defenseman, on their third pair. This season, they are going with two young defensemen who have a lot to prove. Looking at past performances gives reason to believe that the Caps may have a solid third defensive pair with Schmidt and Orlov.