Photo: Nick Wass
Last summer, I asked twitter to rank Washington’s blue line. I’m sure I had a hidden agenda when I did it, but I can’t remember what it was anymore. Probably something about Nate Schmidt being awesome. Yeah. That sounds right.
Apart from injuries and a couple depth moves, the Caps’ defense has been remarkably stable this season. But in light of a few bad games for Orlov, Carlson’s re-injury, and Niskanen’s hot streak, I thought I’d try again.
The results, he said with a dramatic pause, may shock you.
The poll was taken through twitter, among people who saw my tweets and RMNB’s tweets, so be hella beware of sample bias. I asked respondents (n = like 500) to assign a rank to each Caps D man.
Here’s the top sheet as a table.
|August 20||March 6|
So our stack ranking in the preseason looked like this:
And now it looks like this:
Before I start opining, let’s visualize it. Keep in mind that lower is better.
The green circle is the player’s rank last summer, the red square is the rank as of this week. So if the red is below the green, that means the player has dropped rank in the estimation of the fans who voted.
In broad terms, these rankings describe a decline in last season’s top pairing, Brooks Orpik and John Carlson, the relative rise of Karl Alzner and Matt Niskanen, and stagnation for the bottom pairing of Nate Schmidt and Dmitry Orlov.
Exploring — or, more accurately, speculating — why these rankings have changed is more interesting.
For Brooks Orpik‘ (down 1.8), the explanation is obvious: he missed 40 games to injury and has not been particularly impressive since his return. John Carlson (down 1.3) has had similar struggles with injury but played through them, perhaps unwisely, until undergoing an operation last month.
In their absence, Matt Niskanen (up 1.1) has become a star defenseman, scoring or assisting on three game winners in the days before the second poll was taken. Karl Alzner (up 1), while sporting the team’s worst relative possession score (minus-2.9 percent), has retained an air of dependability.
And then we’re left with the supposed bottom two, Nate Schmidt (up 0.5) and Dmitry Orlov (up 0.3). Before the second poll, my hypothesis was an explosion in their popularity. I was wrong. Orlov, despite being the Caps’ best possession defenseman (plus-4.2 percent), is locked in last place. I interpret that as a reaction to some troubling recent defensive play next to his new partner, Brooks Orpik, though Orlov’s comparatively easy assignments may also be a factor. Schmidt, my admitted favorite, still seems to be unloved by general audiences.
I predict a shakeup to these rankings in coming months. The inevitable future is consensus appreciation for Nate Schmidt and Dmitry Orlov as top-pair candidates, a bounce back by John Carlson upon successful rehabilitation, and a gradual and graceful descent by Brooks Orpik into the third tier as the years accumulate.
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