Dmitry Orlov has caught a lot of heat for his defensive lapses. At the beginning of December, we detailed a game lost solely, perhaps, by Orlov’s missteps. And yet Orlov still enjoys a strong following, based partially on his talent for driving play.
That seeming contradiction — Orlov as a possession powerhouse who can’t be trusted in his own end — raised a curious thought: is Orlov a corsi-gamer? Is he what Barry Trotz would call a “businessman”?
Trotz’s thesis, as it were, goes like this: There exist players who are not strong but mask their weaknesses with low-quality offense. “They will throw pucks from anywhere to get a better Corsi,” Trotz told Barry Kevin Allen of USA Today.
I don’t think much of that notion, and I don’t think it lines up very well with Dmitry Orlov, but it does provide a path of inquiry, especially on the defensive side.
First, it’s worth noting that there has been no degradation to Orlov’s game from last season to this. He’s remarkably stable.
|Season||Caps attempts / 60||Opponent attempts / 60||Shot attempt %|
All statistics as of December 19
And Orlov outperforms his supposed betters, John Carlson and Karl Alzner, at limiting opponent shot attempts (he’s marginally better than both) and generating Caps shot attempts (he’s dramatically better than Alzner’s 53.6 per 60 minutes).
But those strong shot-attempt numbers have not led to good goal numbers, at least not recently. In opponent goal rate, only Carlson (2.3 goals per 60 minutes) is higher than Orlov (2.1). And that 2.1 is actually down from last year, in which Orlov was on ice for 2.4 opponent goals every 60 minutes.
That could be merely bad luck, but there are hints that Orlov’s ability to suppress shot attempts may not extend to scoring chances. This graph displays opponent rates per 60 minutes, with each darker shade of red representing a higher “quality” shot — from a shot attempt to scoring chance.
Note: I’m using “quality” here as a cheat. These numbers do not take into account location (aside from scoring chance) or context (such as rebounds).
While Orlov does well at limiting shot attempts (especially in proportion to his team’s offense), a disproportionate number of those opponents’ attempts are dangerous.
The following table shows us the share of the total opponent offense (shot attempts) each type of event represents.
Orlov does a decent job limiting blocked, unblocked, and on-goal shots, but too many (20 percent) are coming from the scoring chance area.
Among the 173 defensemen with at least 250 minutes this season, scoring chances represent an average of 15 percent of opponent offense, five points below Orlov.
With 21 and 20 percent, Niskanen and Orlov have the highest proportion of scoring chances to attempts in the league. Here are those same figures, but expressed as rates (per 60 minutes) rather than percentages.
Orlov allows a higher scoring chance rate than any Caps defender. Of those 173 defenders I named above, Orlov allows a higher rate of scoring chances than all but 10 players: Goligoski, Stone, Hamonic, Hutton, Schenn, Leddy, Martin, Gudbranson, Hickey, and Jokipakka.
This hadn’t always been a problem for Orlov, but since he missed the 2014-15 season due to a wrist injury, he’s let opponents feast on his goalies’ net.
Conventional wisdom suggests that shot attempts, scoring chances, and goals would appear in similar proportions for players once a large enough sample size is reached. If that’s true, recently Dmitry Orlov has been a significant outlier (ugh, apologies for the Malcolm Gladwell reference; it was not intentional).
Orlov’s problem with scoring chances and his strange opponent shot-attempt-to-goal ratio could be used as a jumping-off point to criticize his style of play. One might reasonably conclude that Orlov’s defensive play — aggressive positionally in transition and along the periphery but more prone to losing board battles — leads to more dangerous opponent shots.
This notion is possible and plausible from video and statistical analysis, but I’d urge caution. While Orlov could be depicted a corsi-gaming businessman on the defensive side of the ice (and in a manner opposite from Trotz’s definition), there is some compelling evidence working in opposition.
First, in the zero-sum nature of hockey, both sides matter. A player’s lacking defense is not an overall problem from his team unless his offense does not compensate for it. And if you measure that relationship of defense to offense as a percentage of shot attempts, the percentage of goals should not be too far off.
Data since 2008
And in the cases where the goal percentage is far from the shot-attempt percentage, that is fertile ground for further analysis. Dmitry Orlov is indeed one of those cases, but maybe not in the way you think.
Orlov’s career on-ice goal percentage has strongly outperformed his shot-attempt percentage. The Washington Capitals regularly outshoot and outscore their opponents when Orlov takes shifts.
I don’t like the way Orlov plays defense, and it’s apparent something is wrong, but defense — even for a defenseman — is only half the game. Orlov more than makes up for his (possibly dubious?) shortcomings with excellent play in transition, breakouts, neutral, zone entries, and offense. Whatever deficits he has in limiting quality opponent chances, there is no defensible argument that Dmitry Orlov hurts his team.
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