Healthy Defense, Deep Defense


The Capitals have the healthiest roster they have had all year.  For the first time they have their full set of defensemen and two NHL caliber reserves on the roster.  How will this found depth and health payoff in the playoffs for the Caps?

Alzner – Niskanen

Karl-Alzner-Washington-Capitals-close-up-practice.jpgThis has become the de facto top pairing for the Caps as they are the only line that has been together the entire year.  The pair use great positioning and good skating to play defense and their consistency acts as a calming force for the team.

Matt Niskanen is the more offensive of the two.  He consistently carries the puck through the neutral zone and uses his good shot on the power play.  While not a big hitter, Niskanen can deliver a big blow and does so when it can effect morale and game flow best.

Karl Alzner is a classic stay-at-home defenseman, almost never out of position.  Over the season he has grown and now pinches in to chase down loose pucks and score the occasional goal.

Expect this pair in almost all situations and zones of play and for them to get a ton of ice time.

Orpik – Carlson

John-Carlson-Washington-capitals.jpgAt the beginning of the year, the Caps had these two slotted as the top defensive pair.  Because of injuries, these two have not been together much of the season.

John Carlson is among one of the best defensemen in the NHL.  He carries the puck and pinches in more often than any other Capital’s defensemen, and is the best at it.  Orpik is the perfect complement to him.  Brooks is a stay-at-home defenseman who know how to cover up when Carlson is joining a rush.

In their own zone, both players are defensively responsible and aware.  Orpik is one of the best hitters in the NHL and over a series he can wear the opponent down.  Carlson doesn’t make many mistakes with outlet passes or in the zone, which is good, because Orpik doesn’t have the quickness to react and stop turnover chances.

The reconstitution of this pairing may surprise most playoff teams who are expecting just one shutdown pairing.  It means that the top two pairings can hit and wear down either of the oppositions’ top two lines.  Expect these two to make a splash when the opponent puts their second defensive pairing on the ice.  Many will be caught off guard by Carlson’s ability to join or even lead the rush.

Schmidt – Orlov / Orlov – Schmidt

Dmitry-Orlov-Washington-Capitals.jpgNate Schmidt is a great skating defenseman who is always active.  When Brooks Orpik went down to injury, Schmidt replaced him.  He exceeded expectations with his defense, and the Capitals went on a tear.  The loss of Orpik did not cause a hiccup in the season.

Dmitry Orlov is an offensively gifted defenseman who can skate, pass, and deliver lightning bolt shots.  He can hit hard as well.  As a young defenseman who missed last season, he is still learning and prone to disastrous errors.  He may be better suited to play the left side.

Caps fans should look at the bad showings of Orlov paired with Orpik less seriously.  They were clearly rehab for Orpik, and the Caps Management wanted to limit his ice time and evaluate Orpik.  Schmidt has the quickness and speed to mitigate the damage of Orlov turnovers, Orpik did and does not.

Expect Orlov and Schmidt to see a decent amount of time, though limited against the top line.  These two are among the best skaters on the team and both will pinch in and try to score.  In continued offensive zone time situations, both players have shown a propensity to effectively add offense.

Mike Weber and Taylor Chorney

taylor-chorney-washington-capitals.jpgMike Weber came over mid-season from Buffalo, via trade.  He is a big, hard-hitting player who adds a little nasty to the team.  The Caps probably got him as an insurance policy in case Orpik did not come back.  He has had some trouble in learning the system, but has played adequately in stretches.

Taylor Chorney has played well for the Caps while filling in for his injured teammates.  He usually paired with Dmitry Orlov and the two played well together.    He will fill in well if anyone needs to be replaced.

There is the possibility that these two will see time in the playoffs.  The playoffs are a grind, where endurance and health can make a difference, especially in a drawn out series.  The Caps could use these two, especially Weber, to wear down, hit, and hurt their opponents in a long series.  This could result in healthier players down the line.

The Grind

The playoffs are different from the regular season.  Each game is part of a series of up to seven games where the two teams grow a hatred for each other.  The Caps have a full set of defensemen, with two extra who could provide extra energy and depth.  The reformed second pairing gives the Caps the ability to handle the opponents top two forward lines effectively, and return fire.  This is war, and the Caps have their guns, with ammo to spare.

By Lincoln Cajulis

About Jon Sorensen

Jon has been a Caps fan since day one, attending his first game at the Capital Centre in 1974. His interest in the Caps has grown over the decades and included time as a season ticket holder. He has been a journalist covering the team for 10+ years, primarily focusing on analysis, analytics and prospect development.
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