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When the last Capitals won the President’s Trophy, their blueline at some point or another employed Mike Green, Jeff Schultz, Shaone Morrissonn, Tom Poti, Brian Pothier, John Carlson, Karl Alzner, Tyler Sloan, John Erskine, Joe Corvo, and Milan Jurcina.
That year’s defense ranked 16th in the league with 233 goals against and the team had a 78.8 % penalty kill success rate. The league average that season was 81.7 %. Every defenseman that suited up for the Caps combined to record 37 goals, 142 assists, and 179 points.
This season, the Caps have captured the team’s second-ever President’s Trophy, clinched the top playoff seed in the Eastern Conference, and won the Metropolitan Division. They’ve set a franchise record in wins with 55 wins (and counting) and are built to go far in the Stanley Cup playoffs. One of the biggest reasons why is because of their defensive corps. Back in ’09-’10, the Capitals’ Top Four consisted of Green, Schultz, Poti, and Morrissonn; Pothier also played there until he was traded. This season, the Caps’ Top Four on Opening Night was composed of Carlson, Brooks Orpik, Alzner, and Matt Niskanen. Both Orpik and Niskanen were added in the summer of 2014 to bolster a blueline that had seen the team use 14 different rear guards in a single season, by far the most in the NHL. Since then, the two have become key components of the club’s success. Niskanen’s strong two-way play has helped the club on both the penalty kill and power play, while Orpik’s physical, shutdown style was desperately needed by the team.
The Caps have youngsters Nate Schmidt and Dmitry Orlov on the rise, and have already re-upped depth defenseman Taylor Chorney (who has shown he’s fully capable of playing on a regular basis), and added rugged defenseman Mike Weber at the trade deadline. The blueline is the biggest difference between the two best teams in franchise history and here’s why: in their heartbreaking first-round loss to the Montreal Canadiens in 2010, the Caps struggled defensively, outscoring the Habs by just a 22-19 margin. This season, the Capitals rank second with 190 goals against and own a 84.8 % penalty kill percentage (fourth in the league), compared to a league average of 81.27 %. The Capitals rank third with 2.35 goals against per game and their strong defense, plus better all-around play by the forwards, is the biggest reason for that.
One of the biggest reasons the 2009-10 team was unable to go far was because the defense couldn’t stop the Canadiens’ offense. But this year’s team is much stronger in that area, and if everything goes right, the Caps could be hoisting Lord Stanley’s Cup come late June.
By Michael Fleetwood