Caps fans are long since removed from the glory days of intense Capitals
hockey. Those days were marked with gritty veterans, stylish young players and, most importantly, exceptional defense. The Capitals have begun to assemble pieces to resemble the first two. They have gritty vets in Clark
as well as young stars in Ovechkin
. But what about defense?
The days of watching Calle Johannson
, Mark Tinordi
, Sergei Gonchar
, Ken Klee
, and even Brendan Witt
anchoring our blueline are long gone. Now they are replaced by the likes of (and these are listed in order of whom they resemble) Brian Pothier
, Shaone Morrisonn
, Mike Green
, Steve Eminger
and Jamie Heward
. The lineup is younger, ownerships master plan. But is younger better? Let's look at how the Caps defensive unit has fared this year.
- The Capitals allow 3.40 goals per game (26th in the NHL)
- They allow 34.6 shots against per game (last in the league)
- They have allowed 50 first period goals (5th most in the NHL)
- As a result, they have trailed first 26 times this year (they only have a .192 win percent when trailing first, 4th worst in the league)
- Also as a result, they have trailed at the end of the 1st period 19 times (and only win .105 percent of games in that state, also 4th worst in the NHL)
- To be fair, the 1st period is their best
defensive period. They've allowed 56 goals in the 2nd period and 55 in the third (those are both 24th in the league)
- Only three of their defensemen have a positive plus/minus rating* (Bryan Muir
+8, Mike Green +3, Lawrence Nycholat
- Their highest paid defenseman, Brian Pothier, is worst on the team in plus/minus* (-9). To be fair, Pothier leads the teams defensemen in ice time (24:59 mins/game)
- However, Brian Pothier does lead the team's defensemen in blocked shots with 94. There are two other d-men with more than 50: Shaone Morrisonn and Steve Eminger. Jamie Heward is also above the league median (42) with 49 blocked shots.
- Brian Pothier is also 10th in the NHL in takeaways (30). Shaone Morrisonn is right behind him at 18th with 26 takeaways.
- The league median in takeaways is 9. Along with Morrisonn and Pothier, Mike Green (19) and Steve Eminger (11) are above that mark.
- Only 2 of their defensemen have more than 50 PIMS. One of them is John Erskine
who has only played 18 games, the other is Shaone Morrisonn.
- The league median for PIMs for d-men is 24. Every defenseman who has played 40+ games is above that mark.
* Note: The JET does not consider plus/minus to be an accurate indicator of a player's defensive prowess. In fact, he considers it to be the most useless statistic in sports. He only uses it because the NHL does not do a good job of monitoring more important aspects of defense (how many shots a defenseman blocks, how many shots the goaltender must face when a certain defenseman is on the ice, ect.)
Brian Pothier has been a good addition to this core of young defensemen. Shaone Morrisonn is proving himself to be one of the next great rising defensemen. John Erskine, before he got hurt, was an intimidating and surprising force in the defensive zone. Jamie Heward has been a calming force. Steve Eminger has been streaking hot of late. Mike Green is playing years ahead of where he should be. Lawrence Nycholat has stepped up and proven that he deserves the chance to be an every game defenseman. Jeff Schultz
has been good when called upon.
If you're a Capitals fan, you're looking at this and saying "great! We've got a core of young defensemen who are playing incredibly well! We'll be golden at the blueline for years to come."
The first problem for this defensive core is that they still do not have a clear-cut #1 bona-fide defenseman on this roster. Brian Pothier is a great puck-moving d-man, but he is not cut out to be "the guy" at the Caps blueline. Shaone Morrisonn has that potential, but he's probably a few years away. The top line is stocked full of future top-defensive players. That's great...for the future. If the Caps want to win now, they need a stabilizing force at the blueline. A solid, veteran top 4 defenseman who can eat minutes, calm the younger players and provide depth throughout the lineup so Olie Kolzig
can get an easy night now and again.
Now, there have been some things that have hurt the Capitals and are things that a veteran defenseman could help the team improve on. These things are skills that a defensive core has to have if they want to be successful. As of right now, I don't think our defensemen can...#1 Make an Outlet Pass
The biggest and best thing that a team can do to limit shots against and keep the puck out of the net is to get the puck out of their defensive zone. This entails either simply icing the puck (now less common since new rules keep the same, tired defensemen on the ice) or getting the puck and passing it to a forward who can, presumably, take the puck out (lets face it, guys like Ovechkin, Semin and Zubrus can do that). The problem the Capitals defensemen is that they cannot get the puck and do anything with it. They bang it up the boards right to the point men waiting.
What they cannot seem to do is settle the puck in the corner and pass it to the forwards. Instead, they panick and just shoot the puck up the boards. It wouldn't be too bad if they didn't shoot it hard and the puck hit the defenseman before getting out (preventing icing). Unfortunately, the puck can never get out of the zone.#2 Positioning
I don't know if the NHL approves of or even allows man-to-man defense, but that's what the Capitals do. Rather than follow the conventional defensive strategy (near-side d-man pressures the puck, far-side d-man patrolls the crease, center moves supporting the puck, wings stay with the points) the Capitals seem to play the sort of youth soccer style defense: swarm to the puck.
Too many times I've seen the forwards below the goal line, the defensemen past the face-off dots, the center at the point or the goaltender at the blue line (okay I made up that last part). The Caps look frantic in their defensive zone. They need to play the style of defense that they (presumably) were taught since they were squirts.
The style of defense the Caps play is flawed because it typically leaves one or two fowards in a mismatch. Sometimes one or two forwards will be collapsing around the goal with no one to tie them up. Other times a man will be free in the slot. Or a point man will have a clear shooting channel. The fact is, it allows the other team to create chances that other teams wouldn't give them.
It also doesn't help the breakout passes. It's hard for a forward to catch a breakout pass when he's in the slot and its hard for a defenseman to make a breakout pass from behind the net.#3 They are Way to Agressive
This has two connotations. The first is the Capitals defensive play in the zone. As mentioned above, they tend to follow the puck, even when its in a non-threatening area (behind the net). The defensemen don't have to attack the puck when the forwards cannot get a shot. Instead of driving at a guy who has the puck directly behind the net and giving him an option, just sit back and prevent him from getting the puck from out of that area. I mean if the puck's back there, the other team can't really score.
The other meaning of the title is the fact that the players (both d-men and forwards) play the body too much. The point of hitting other players is to separate them from the puck. If the defensemen don't come away with the puck or at least knock the guy off the puck, a check is worthless. I have seen the Caps players time after time line up a guy and either miss the check (and end up hopelessly out of position) or hit the puck carrier and have that player (or another player on the team) keep the puck. The Caps need to work on playing the puck and getting it. Puck possession is half the battle. If you have the puck, the other team can't score.
Defense has been the most lacking area of the Capitals game since the season started. Tarik El-Bashir wrote in yesterday's Washington Post Article
that the Caps wanted Alex Ovechkin to step up in his defensive role. A quote from the article stated:
Everyone agrees that the 21-year-old Russian's defensive decision making is better than it was a year ago, when he won the Calder Trophy as the NHL's top rookie. But there's a reason Ovechkin has been limited to less than 19 minutes 12 times his season, less than 18 minutes on seven occasions and has a plus-minus rating of minus-6. Hanlon said he wants to play his franchise winger an average of about 24 minutes.
"If it's a 2-1 hockey game in the third period, you're not ever above the puck, ever," Hanlon said. "You can't assume someone else is going to get the puck out. If you aren't exactly where you are supposed to be, it throws everything into chaos. That's why when the game is on the line, there are certain guys who are out there. We want Ovie to be one of those guys, every single night."
So Hanlon's saying that if Ovechkin plays defense, that'll help the Caps win a Stanley Cup? Hmm...sorry Glen. If this team wants to win a Stanley Cup, they need to work on the things I mentioned above. Forget your star player being out of position. What about the other 17 guys on the team who are also all out of position. The Caps need a stabilizing force in the defensive zone. They need to stop panicking. They need to hold their positions. And they need to do it soon.
Labels: Brashear, Clark, Clymer, Eminger, Erskine, Green, Hanlon, Heward, Kolzig, Morrisonn, Muir, Nycholat, Ovechkin, Pothier, Schultz, Semin, Washington Post, Zubrus