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Following the acquisition of Brenden Dillon from the San Jose Sharks on February 18, Washington Capitals Head Coach Todd Reirden has been tinkering with different combinations of defensive pairings. This is often a challenging undertaking, since the proper balance of chemistry and skill sets are limited by the players on the roster, and the ability to play either on the left or right side.
In this piece, NoVa Caps takes a look at what defensive pairings may be the most effective down the stretch. First, it’s important to set some context and look at the performance at five-on-five play of the defensive pairings that have been used most recently, with statistics since the Dillon acquisition (statistics thanks to Natural Stat Trick):
There’s a few things to unpack. The Dillon-John Carlson pairing have been effective in essentially every metric other than Goals For percentage. PDO was included here to put a little context behind the Goals For percentage. Since that pairing has had a .946 rating, there’s just a bit of bad luck there that’s bringing the Goals For percentage down. This is mainly due to a low On-Ice Save percentage of 86.84% while they’re on the ice. That’s not a maintainable rate, especially since the Dillon-Carlson pairing has only given up five High Danger Goals Against on 23 High Danger chances against.
The Dmitry Orlov-Nick Jensen pairing has been pretty effective, as well. The possession metrics during five-on-five play is on the right side of 50%, so there’s not much to complain about there. They’ve been on the ice for six Goals For versus two Goals Against while on the ice together at five-on-five play, which is solid.
The Michal Kempny-Jonas Siegenthaler pairing was constructed more recently than the other two pairings, which is indicated in their low time on ice since February 18. They’ve been on the ice for four Goals For and zero Goals Against. That’s a good sign, but sample size will likely catch up with them. Their possession metrics, especially Fenwick For, are strong. PDO will play a decent part in displaying their luck so far as a pairing: their on-ice Save Percentage is 100% and their on-ice Shooting Percentage is 26.67%. Both of those are not maintainable, but with their possession metrics, one shouldn’t see too much of a drop off.
Realistically, these may be the pairings that Reirden and the Capitals stick with the rest of the season. Fans will likely see some tinkering depending on the situation, such as the event the Caps are trailing in a game. There’s also been a pairing of Orlov and Carlson put together when the Caps are in need of a goal, and it’s expected that this trend continues. For reference’s sake, here’s what Carlson and Orlov have looked like at five-on-five play together since February 18, as well as all season (also thanks to Natural StatTrick):
Lately, this pairing hasn’t been nearly as effective as earlier this season. A lot of this is the amount of ice time they’ve seen together. They have largely comparable skill sets, so there’s a lot of risk/reward in how they play together. There’s been a lot more of the “risk” part of that as of late, which is indicative of the low possession metrics and the non-existent offensive production. These numbers should probably start trending towards the larger sample size as they get more time on ice together.
Ultimately, based off of the performance of these pairings so far, it’s probably best for them to stay this way. Additionally, the pairings will want to normalize a bit so that more chemistry between these pairings continue to develop down the stretch towards a playoff berth. The first and second pairings are getting more of the lion’s share of work, but seem to be effective at the moment. Jensen’s recent play has instilled a bit more confidence in the second pairing, so their ice time is relatively secure for the foreseeable future.
The third pairing is strong with limited five-on-five ice time, but have performed well in small sample sizes. The interesting piece will be if there’s an injury or suspension on the back end, and where Radko Gudas, or even Martin Fehervary enter the lineup. There will likely be some shuffling depending on who exits the lineup, but for now, this is probably as stable as it’s going to get for Reirden and his team.
By Justin Trudel