Brooks Orpik entered the season looking at a reduced role. Formerly deployed as a shutdown defender during his time in Washington, Orpik’s injuries, age, and the continued emergence of Dmitry Orlov have caused Barry Trotz and his staff to pencil in Orpik on the third defensive pairing.
Thus far, the results have been outstanding and, to many people, pleasantly surprising. There are a lot of factors that go into Orpik’s improved play this season. The veteran defender certainly deserves credit for accepting the role and seemingly simplifying his game.
Many people will point to Orpik’s sheltered minutes being a huge factor in his strong play, and it’s no doubt played a part. But not all third pairings are created equal. Orpik’s play on the third pair with Taylor Chorney this season has paled in comparison to his play on the third pair with Nate Schmidt. And Schmidt, for as much as he thrives on the Caps third pairing, as most any defender has under the Trotz regime, has shown an ability to play well in bigger roles. So, while being on the third pairing helps, this is far from the only reason Orpik and Schmidt have been such a strong pair.
One thing that seems clear is that Orpik benefits greatly from skating with Schmidt.
Orpik has skated 402:18 at 5-on-5 this season. 272:15 of this time has been with Schmidt and 130:03 has been without. Here’s how the Caps play in terms of shot attempts when Orpik is on the ice with Schmidt vs without.
When Orpik is on the ice with Schmidt, 57.8 of the overall shot attempts go in the Caps favor. When skating without Schmidt, 47.7 percent of the overall shot attempts go in the Caps favor with Orpik on the ice. This is the difference between being the best possession team in the NHL (by a wide margin), and being in the bottom seven or so teams in the entire league. In other words, the Caps go from resembling a favorite for the Stanley Cup when Orpik is on the ice with Schmidt to being a lottery team when Orpik is on the ice without Schmidt.
Shot attempts aren’t the only way to show how much better Orpik performs when he plays with Schmidt. Scoring chances show a similar story.
The difference is even bigger here. The Caps see an astounding 59.6 percent of the scoring chances when Orpik and Schmidt are on the ice together. But, take away Schmidt and put Orpik out with any other Caps defender and the team sees just 45 percent of the scoring chances.
This is not to take away credit from Orpik for his strong play. The role of the pairing also can’t be ignored. On top of these factors, there’s evidence to strongly support that Orpik really thrives when paired with the league’s most smiley defender, Nate Schmidt.
Stats via Natural Stat Trick
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