Getting Defensive: Washington Capitals

The last few weeks, Behind The Net has been analyzing every team’s defense corps using time on ice data. What they’ve been looking at is how much a defenseman has played at even strength, on the powerplay and shorthanded to see which defenseman is used in certain situations. It is one way to look at which players can be considered “shutdown defensemen,” “powerplay specialists” and which ones can do it all. Another thing they are looking at is how a certain player’s role changed over the course of the season due to injuries or trades. I decided to take a look at the Washington Capitals defense using their method. Of course, having 9-10 lines bunched together on one graph can make things difficult to read, so to fix that they broke down the defensemen into two groups; “Mainstays” and “Movers and Shakers.” Mainstays are ones whose roles stayed consistent all season and “movers and shakers” are ones who changed over time.

Going into this season, defense was a major concern for the Caps. Many thought they would be the first in line to sign someone like Anton Volchenkov or Dan Hamhuis last July to help gain a “shutdown defenseman” which it appeared they needed at the time. Instead, GM George McPhee elected to put trust in younger players like Karl Alzner and John Carlson to help shore up the defense. That move payed off as Alzner and Carlson saw the toughest competition on the team and were very effective in shutting them down. However, injuries plagued the Caps defense corps for most of the year. Mike Green missed time with a shoulder injury in October and had multiple concussions, Tom Poti only played in 21 games and Jeff Schultz was out for nearly the entire month of December. McPhee did take action at the beginning of December by trading for Colorado’s Scott Hannan to help give the Caps more depth and he helped give Washington a veteran, stay-at-home defenseman which they needed. Also helped keep less effective players like Brian Fahey and Tyler “C’mon Son” Sloan see limited action. However, with Green and Poti missing almost the last three months of the seasons, the Caps lacked a puck-mover on the blue line which resulted in the team trading for Dennis Wideman who gave the Caps just what they needed. Unfortunately, a horrifying case of hematoma caused him to miss the playoffs which proved to be a big loss, especially when it came to the Capitals powerplay. The good news? There’s still a lot of depth here next season but injuries seem to plague the Caps defense corps at the worst times possible (i.e. April/the playoffs). The bad news? The fact that they have seven defensemen under contract and that Karl Alzner and Scott Hannan aren’t one of them. However, I think it’s a given that they re-sign Alzner but Hannan is another story. If the team wants to keep Hannan, then I could someone like Poti traded but that’s another matter for another day. For now, let’s take a look at how each defenseman was used:

Note: I only did defenseman who played in more than 20 games. Hence why there’s no Fahey or Collins. Also for TOI, 1 = 24:00, .75 = 18:00, .50 = 12:00

Even Strength

Like I said, this is hard to read. Hence why I broke down the graphs into two different groups. However, you can see how much Carlson and Alzner’s role’s increased after Mike Green got hurt. Same can be said for Jeff Schultz and Scott Hannan. You can also see how much Dennis Wideman was playing during his brief tenure with the team.

Even Strength Mainstays

Once Poti got hurt indefinitely, Alzner and Carlson saw a huge increase in their playing time. Also it’s pretty obvious to tell that they were the only consistent defense pairing on the team. The rest of the defense bounced around a lot between pairings due to injuries. You can also see Carlson’s slight increase in playing time at the beginning of the year when Green and a couple others were hurt. Surprising that we had a rookie playing the most minutes on the team that early in the season. Schultz’s playing time seemed to bounce around a lot this year. Sometimes he was getting top pairing minutes, sometimes he was playing on the third pairing. Wonder if him having the worst corsi rating among regular defenseman has anything to do with that?

Even Strength Movers and Shakers

Not really any surprises here. Green has always played a ton of minutes and he did when he was healthy. Hannan’s ice time slowly increased throughout the season as his play improved and Wideman was given top 4 minutes as soon as he was traded for.

Powerplay

Like the first one, it’s hard to read…so let’s break this down a little. One quick note, the reason why Poti’s not on this graph is because his trendline was way too ridiculous to make sense of.

Powerplay Mainstays

Carlson was essentially the only puck-moving defenseman that was healthy all-season and he saw a huge rise in his minutes after Green’s injury. You can see his minutes took a fall when Wideman was acquired in the next graph. It appears that they tried to use Alzner in powerplay situations sometimes but ultimately, it didn’t work out as he is clearly more of a shutdown defenseman.

Powerplay Movers and Shakers

The one thing that sticks out to me here is that Jeff Schultz apparently had a lot of powerplay time at the beginning of the season. I do not remember this but it was clear that it didn’t work out since he, like Alzner, is more of a defensive-minded guy. Injuries are the reason why Green’s trendline looks like a roller coaster.

Shorthanded

Looks like something I made in art class one time. Can’t remember what the project was. Let’s move on…

Shorthanded Mainstays

It appears that Washington had a lot more penalties to kill off at the beginning of the year than they did later in the season. Schultz was trusted with a lot of that time early on but that changed once Scott Hannan came to town. Alzner also appears to have gained more of a role as time went on, though. Erskine also appeared to have more time on the PK but I do remember him getting off to a hot start.

Shorthanded Movers and Shakers

The importance of Wideman and Hannan are well-documented here as both got a lot of time on the penalty kill when they were acquired. It also helped decreased Mike Green’s minutes on the penalty kill too. I’m assuming it would have had a greater affect on Poti’s minutes with how much time he spent on the PK earlier in the season….

Since we’re eliminated, I thought it would be a good idea to compare these graphs to how each defenseman was used in the playoffs. Gives you an idea of how much affect the injuries had.

Playoffs Even Strength

Overtime games skew the numbers a lot and you can see when some players got hurt. Green got knocked out of game 5 against New York and didn’t play game 4 against Tampa Bay. Carlson was injured in game 1 against Tampa and Erskine apparently got hurt in game 2. Schultz’s playoff trendline mirrors his during the regular season with it bouncing all over the place. Alzner’s, Carlson’s and Hannan’s also do that but they at least are in the top 4 with every game, from the looks of it. We also played game 4 against Tampa with essentially 5 defensemen since Sean Collins barely played any minutes in that game.

Playoffs Powerplay

Well, this somewhat shows why our powerplay struggled so much against Tampa. We ran a powerplay unit with Mike Green + 4 forwards for the most part and sometimes even ran a 5 forward powerplay. We know that Carlson has an offensive upside but didn’t use him as such during the playoffs, especially against New York. Think having Wideman healthy would have took less of a burden off Mike Green? Absolutely. I’m not going to be using injuries as an excuse for failure, though.

Playoffs Shorthanded

Conversely, Carlson was the most used penalty killer against Tampa Bay. One would think that someone like Scott Hannan would have that role like he did against New York, where the team was extremely undisciplined. Also, while Alzner is defensive minded and played well at even strength, you can see that he wasn’t played as much on the penalty kill compared to others. He was on ice for the least amount of shots per 60 minutes on the penalty kill, though. The decreased minutes might have something to do with that.

Combinations: Data taken from Dobber Hockey’s line combination tool.

Frequency Strength Line Combination
27.35% EV 27 ALZNER,KARL – 74 CARLSON,JOHN
12.88% EV 52 GREEN,MIKE – 55 SCHULTZ,JEFF
6.3% EV 4 ERSKINE,JOHN – 89 SLOAN,TYLER
6.29% EV 4 ERSKINE,JOHN – 23 HANNAN,SCOTT
6.24% EV 23 HANNAN,SCOTT – 55 SCHULTZ,JEFF
4.88% EV 52 GREEN,MIKE – 23 HANNAN,SCOTT
3.55% EV 74 CARLSON,JOHN – 4 ERSKINE,JOHN
3.27% EV 55 SCHULTZ,JEFF – 6 WIDEMAN,DENNIS
Frequency Strength Line Combination
33.93% PP 52 GREEN,MIKE
20.09% PP 74 CARLSON,JOHN
9.96% PP 74 CARLSON,JOHN – 52 GREEN,MIKE
7.87% PP 6 WIDEMAN,DENNIS
7.01% PP 27 ALZNER,KARL – 74 CARLSON,JOHN
Frequency Strength Line Combination
21.97% SH 27 ALZNER,KARL – 74 CARLSON,JOHN
14.22% SH 52 GREEN,MIKE – 55 SCHULTZ,JEFF
6.35% SH 23 HANNAN,SCOTT – 6 WIDEMAN,DENNIS
6.35% SH 52 GREEN,MIKE – 23 HANNAN,SCOTT

Playoffs:

Frequency Strength Line Combination
30.76% EV 27 ALZNER,KARL – 74 CARLSON,JOHN
18.87% EV 23 HANNAN,SCOTT – 55 SCHULTZ,JEFF
11.69% EV 4 ERSKINE,JOHN – 52 GREEN,MIKE
11.39% EV 4 ERSKINE,JOHN – 23 HANNAN,SCOTT
11.24% EV 52 GREEN,MIKE – 55 SCHULTZ,JEFF
Frequency Strength Line Combination
42.71% PP 52 GREEN,MIKE
19.6% PP 74 CARLSON,JOHN
15.08% PP 74 CARLSON,JOHN – 52 GREEN,MIKE
Frequency Strength Line Combination
30.14% SH 27 ALZNER,KARL – 74 CARLSON,JOHN
27.4% SH 23 HANNAN,SCOTT – 55 SCHULTZ,JEFF
15.07% SH 52 GREEN,MIKE – 23 HANNAN,SCOTT

The conclusion I’ve drawn from this is that the key pieces of this defense are Green, Alzner and Carlson and I could see Wideman having a huge impact next season, as well. GMGM has an interesting decision on what he will do with Hannan, though but I think he ends up walking. Poti, Erskine and Schultz were recently given extensions so I don’t see any of those three leaving. Even with them staying, this is still a solid defense corps but it would be nice to have another guy like Hannan here. Of course, if Schultz rebounds from a tough season then that may not be neccessary. That’s a big if, though.

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