Coming into the 2019-20 regular season, Nick Jensen was the presumptive choice for a role in the top four defensive group, paired with Dmitry Orlov. Now with eight games of the season (10%) in the books, we’ve already seen significant shuffling of the defensive pairings, partly due to performance, partly due to the various injuries and roster moves required to address salary cap constraints. In this piece, we’ll take a look at the play of Nick Jensen and Radko Gudas, and who we can expect to take the reins on the second pairing with Dmitry Orlov.
First things first, let’s take a look at a few of the metrics accounting for 60 minute rates at 5-on-5 play, since the time on ice Gudas and Jensen have had with Orlov are quite a bit different. (statistics provided by Natural Stat Trick):
One thing to point out here is that the sample size for the pairing of Orlov – Gudas is much lower than what we’ve seen so far out of the Orlov – Jensen pairing.
That being said, there are a few statistical trends we can point out, such as the Orlov – Gudas pairing being much more effective at generating high danger chances per 60 minutes, and suppressing those high danger chances.
Realistically, possession numbers and those high danger rates could be inflated a bit with more offensive zone starts, but overall, the Orlov – Gudas pairing is statistically superior so far, albeit with less ice time.
There’s a picture to be painted here, though. Let’s compare the overall on-ice rates for key metrics between Gudas and Jensen (statistics provided by Natural Stat Trick):
Although Jensen has more average ice time per game played, Gudas leads Jensen in every important statistical area outlined above. The difference in offensive zone starts and defensive zone starts per sixty minutes are not large enough to quantify or explain the difference in these metrics. Long story short, Gudas is the superior player thus far into the season.
Additionally, when you look at the on-ice expected goals differential that Charting Hockey prepared using evolving-hockey.com’s data, there’s more evidence that Gudas is the better player:
Additionally, when you look at Corsi differential that Charting Hockey prepared using evolving-hockey.com’s data, Gudas also comes out ahead of Jensen:
And again, when looking at expected goals differential vs actual that Charting Hockey prepared using evolving-hockey.com’s data:
At the end of the day here, based on the aforementioned metrics, Gudas has been the better player so far this season. That being said, it is still very early in the season, and a lot could change between now and April.
Right now, it looks like Gudas is the best fit on the second pairing due to his superior analytical performance, and the performance of the pairing of Orlov and Gudas in limited ice time so far this season.
It’s to be assumed that there will be a lot clearer of a picture regarding how the Caps’ defensive pairings shake out when Michal Kempny returns from his hamstring injury. The Caps could surely do much worse than Jensen on the third pairing, but he’ll certainly need to improve as the season goes on. Depending on how the defensemen outside of John Carlson and Dmitry Orlov perform this season, we could see some moves made this season to bring in reinforcements.
By Justin Trudel