Photo: Rafael Suanes
For the past eight games, the Caps have been without blue-line regulars Brooks Orpik (who has missed the past 28 games) and John Carlson. While there’s some gray area as to whether this duo was being used as the team’s first or second defensive pair when both were healthy this season, they were unquestionably a heavily relied upon top-four pairing.
Since Carlson and Orpik have both been out, Dmitry Orlov and Nate Schmidt have been reunited as defensive partners on the Caps second pairing. This duo was fantastic for the team as the third pairing before Orpik got injured. While Schmidt has been playing in the top-four since Orpik went down, this is Orlov’s first time in the top-four this season and the first chance this duo has had to prove whether they can thrive in a larger role.
While small sample size warnings apply (eight games), so far the pairing has shown they are more than capable of not only handling, but also excelling in, a top-four role.
It should come as no surprise that the pair has posted great possession numbers. Both players are known as being strong possession players, and it’s encouraging news for the Caps that their shot-attempt percentages have more than held up, so far they have improved, as Orlov and Schmidt slid up the depth chart. Here are their shot attempt percentages in the eight games they’ve been on the second pairing together:
|Shot Attempt %||Relative Shot Attempt %|
A fair caveat here is that Barry Trotz has been relying heavily on Karl Alzner and Matt Niskanen when it comes to the toughest assignments, both in terms of zone starts and quality of competition. But this is just context, this doesn’t discredit the pairs’ dominant possession, and the amount it impacts the possession is debatable.
Micah McCurdy, among others, has show that zone starts have very little effect on possession and impact of quality of competition is questionable as well. I’ll concede that the sample size lends itself to quality of competition and zone starts playing a role in the possession numbers more so than over the course of an entire season, but not so much that it makes their play less than impressive.
In order to get a better feel for how Orlov and Schmidt have fared as top-four defenders, we’ll look at how they compare to the top 120 defenders, in terms of time on ice, around the league. One-hundred-twenty is the sample size chosen because this will give us approximately all the top-four defenders around the league (3o times four).
Note that the numbers for Orlov and Schmidt are from their eight game sample on the second pairing and the numbers for the rest of the players are for the 2015-16 season. All numbers are 5v5 only.
|Orlov (Rank)||Schmidt (Rank)|
|TOI/G||19.0 (8th)||18.7 (11th)|
|Shot Attempt %||56.7 (5th)||57.2 (4th)|
|Relative Shot Attempt %||+3.3 (25th)||+4.1 (21st)|
|Scoring Chance %||57.4 (3rd-tied)||58.3 (2nd)|
|Goals For %||50 (60th)||77.8 (1st)|
|Shot Attempts Against/60||46.9 (16th)||44.9 (11th)|
|Quality of Competition %||17.1 (105th)||17.1 (105th)|
|Quality of Teammate %||16.3 (101st)||16.4 (92nd)|
In many of the categories, the eight-game samples of Schmidt and Orlov would put them in elite company around the league if they were able to maintain this over an entire season. While they have performed admirably, we should all guard against leaping to that drastic of a conclusion.
It is fair to say that through eight games the duo has performed extremely well, even relative to all top-four defenders around the league. But the sample is too small say anything beyond that. Yet.
While some may point to the relatively easy competition they’ve faced as a second pairing, it’s important to note they’ve had an equally weak quality of teammate.
The Caps have continued rolling despite missing two key members of their blue line. The success of Orlov and Schmidt on the second pairing has played a key role. While there’s no guarantee this duo will continue to be so successful in their current role, the first eight games, combined with their previous track records, gives plenty of reason for optimism.
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