With Brooks Orpik not expected to play in Game Four on Wednesday night, the Caps will be without one of the main cogs of their penalty killing unit. This is a PK unit that has played a large role in the Caps’ ability to build a 3-0 series lead over the Flyers.
Luckily for the Caps, Nate Schmidt stands at the ready, able to provide a meaningful contribution to the penalty killing unit. One positive to come from the injuries to the Caps blue line this season was players like Schmidt being given a chance to prove their worth in expanded roles. While Schmidt’s season at 5-on-5 wasn’t as strong as we expected from him, his efforts on the penalty kill leave plenty of reason to believe he’ll be up to the task to stand in for Orpik.
Since the Caps blue line has gotten healthy, Schmidt has not seen regular penalty killing duties, as shown below in the viz from Micah McCurdy:
But when he was getting time on with his team down a man, Schmidt’s numbers suggested he should be a mainstay on the penalty kill.
Here’s a look at how the Caps did in shot attempts against per 60 with each defender on the ice at 4-on-5 during the regular season:
The Caps limited opponent shot attempts against the best when Schmidt was on the ice at 4-on-5. Does this allow us to conclude he’s their best penalty killing defender? Definitely not. But it’s an encouraging sign that Schmidt is capable to doing at least a competent job while Orpik is injured.
Digging a little deeper, the rate at which the Caps allowed goals on the penalty kill with Schmidt on the ice is a little alarming.
Caps goalies stopped just 85.1 percent of the shots when Schmidt was on the ice at 4-on-5 this season. Only one other defender, Taylor Chorney, had an on-ice save percentage below 90.4 percent (88.8 percent).
It’s not as if Schmidt is allowing fewer shot attempts but that all of them are coming from the slot. His expected goal rates compared to the rest of the defenders on the team show that the team’s poor goaltending with him on the ice at 4-on-5 had a lot of bad luck baked into the results.
(Mind the y-axis here)
There’s a pretty small difference in the x-goals here among all of the defenders, further supporting that Schmidt will do just fine on the penalty kill.
No team ever wants to lose a defender who they count on to play as many critical minutes as Orpik does for the Caps. But luckily, at least on the penalty kill, they have Schmidt ready to capably fill in while number 44 recovers from injury.
All stats from Corsica
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