Grading the 2019-20 Capitals’ Defensemen (So Far)

As we look back on the Capitals’ performance so far this season, hopeful that the season will pick back up in some fashion relatively soon, we next take a glance at the Caps’ defensive corps, and evaluate their performance so far. If you missed the grades for the Caps’ forward group, you can check that out here.
So far this season, the Capitals’ defensive group has come under scrutiny. There have been some really strong individual performances, but as a group, the defensemen have struggled during the 2019-20 regular season. We’ll dive into the performance of each player (logging at least 500 minutes of ice time). This excludes Brenden Dillon, since he’s only skated in 10 games so far, which isn’t a large enough sample size to adequately grade.

All statistics thanks to Natural Stat Trick and Hockey-Reference.

Defensemen

John Carlson: A+

Carlson has been far and away the best defenseman on the Capitals’ roster so far this season. Offensively, he’s in the elite tier of production for defensemen. He’s posted 15 goals (tying a career high he set back in 2017-18), and a career high 75 assists, for another career high of 75 points. Interestingly enough, he’s getting about 30 seconds less in ice time per game this season than last, and is still outperforming his offensive pace.

Carlson isn’t exactly what you’d call a shutdown defenseman, but he’s been solid enough in his own right. He’s tracking below his career pace in takeaways, but has been more physical as well, tallying more hits in 69 games than he had all last season. His shot blocking numbers are considerably down from last season, which is interesting because he’s getting a much higher percentage of defensive zone starts this season. He’s also been on the ice for 19 more goals for than goals against. His expected goals for differential is immensely improved from the last few seasons at 5.7, compared to -3.9 in 2018-19, -6.0 in 2017-18, and -2.7 in 2016-17.

Carlson’s possession metrics are on the right side of 50%, with a 52.3% Corsi For and a 52.4% Fenwick For. His possession rates are slightly better than his teammates at 5 on 5 play, with a .3% Corsi For Relative and a .7% Fenwick For Relative. One thing to keep in mind here is that the relative possession rates can vary due to the quality of opponents on-ice.

Dmitry Orlov: B-

One of the most frustrating pieces of Orlov’s game is that his talent doesn’t tend to wind up on the score sheet. He has tremendous skill with the puck, but doesn’t tend to put up impressive scoring marks over the course of his career. This is exemplified this season, where he’s only recorded 27 points in 69 games. It feels like Orlov could and should have better offensive output than that. It’s unreal to think that Orlov’s career high in points is 33, set back in 2016-17. The good news is that Orlov would have been on pace to come very close to his career high in points and overall assists if the full course of this season had played out.

Orlov’s takeaway rates are right about where he has been the past couple of seasons. He currently has 49 through 69 games this season, where he had 53 in 2018-19 and 54 in 2017-18. Orlov is currently at a 1.8 in expected goals for differential, and has been on the ice for 6 more goals for than goals against at even strength. There’s some room for improvement there, but both of those figures are better than last season’s, and last season was spent with a steady partner in Matt Niskanen.

Orlov’s possession metrics are strong as well. He’s currently at a 52.9% Corsi For and a 52.4% Fenwick For pace. Both of those rates are considerably better than the previous two seasons, and that’s a nice sign of improvement for Orlov, especially considering over 51% of his zone starts are in the defensive zone.

Michal Kempny: C-

After playing an integral role on the eventual 2018 Stanley Cup Champion team, Kempny’s past two seasons have been heavily impacted by injury. He missed all of the playoffs last season, creating a sizable void on the top pairing in his absence. He missed the first month of play this season, rehabbing from the hamstring injury that forced him to miss the 2019 playoffs. Since returning from the injury, he’s looked unlike his previous self. There’s some foot speed issues, and he’s just plain not as effective as he was last season and during the Cup run.

Offensively, there’s not much Kempny has added so far this season. He’s currently at 18 points, with 3 goals and 15 assists, most of which coming in the couple of weeks after returning from his injury. He’s leveled off pretty rapidly since.

Defensively, he’s been less physical, with 42 hits compared to 84 last season. Obviously, the 84 hits last season came through 13 more games played than he has this season, but it’s not likely that Kempny would have put up 42 more the rest of this season. Overall, his takeaway numbers are pretty low at 13, but his career high was set last year at 21. That’s not a huge part of his game.

It’s interesting to note that Kempny, while not having particularly solid expected goals for differential (-1.5) has been on the ice for 18 more goals for than goals against at even strength. There’s not even much to correlate that to other than his pretty elevated PDO of 104.9 (drastically over 100 in PDO typically lends itself to more luck). His possession numbers are not strong, coming in at 49.9% Corsi For and 49.6% Fenwick For.

Radko Gudas: C-

Since acquiring Brenden Dillon at the trade deadline, Gudas been a healthy scratch more often than not. Gudas adds another level of physicality to the lineup and is a better passer and puck-mover than he gets credit for.

Gudas’ physicality is still there, racking up 164 hits in 63 game played. That’s 2.6 hits per game, but comes in slightly lower than his rate of 3.3 hits per game last season with Philadelphia. Gudas has 23 takeaways this season, which matches his total in 77 games last season. He’s also been more reliable with the puck, going from .766 giveaways per game last season to .539 this season. Gudas currently has a positive 8 5 on 5 on-ice goal differential, but is -1.8 in expected goals for differential.

Gudas’ possession numbers are decent, with a 50.4% Corsi For and a 49.4% Fenwick For. His relative possession numbers are on the negative side, but that can be more attributed to his defensive zone starts (52.9%) and the quality of opponents and teammates on the ice at the same time.

Overall, Gudas has been average on the Caps so far this year. He’s had stretches where he’s looked like a second pairing defenseman, and other times he’s looked more like a third pairing defenseman. With the Capitals’ emphasis on physicality, you’d think Gudas would be a better fit.

Jonas Siegenthaler: B-

Siegenthaler is getting his first dose of close to full-time NHL regular season play, and he has responded well to those added responsibilities. He’s been deployed as a penalty killing ace, and has had a lot of success.

He’s definitely more of the steady, stay-at-home defenseman. He’s not a flashy player. He blocks a lot of shots, registering 105 in 64 games this season. Siegenthaler doesn’t take the puck away frequently, with just 13 so far this season. This doesn’t impact his game too much, since he’s positioning himself properly. He’s a positive 7 on his 5 on 5 on-ice goals for differential, and +3.9 in expected goals for differential. These are solid numbers for a young, third pairing defenseman.

Siegenthaler doesn’t add a ton offensively, with a points per game rate of .14. The lower-end offensive skill was noted as a weakness on Siegenthaler’s scouting report, so this doesn’t come as much of a surprise. His possession metrics are solid, with a 50.7% Corsi For and a 51.9% Fenwick For. His Fenwick trends a bit higher because it doesn’t count blocked shot attempts, and as mentioned, he’s superb at shot blocking.

Nick Jensen: D+

Jensen is a smooth skating, puck moving defenseman who can be a second pairing defenseman when he’s playing his game. That includes carrying the puck out of the zone and joining the rush to create odd man rushes. The issue this season is, until the Caps’ last 10 or so games, he wasn’t playing at a top four, or even top six defenseman level. He’s never been much of an offensive dynamo, but in 88 games with the Capitals, he’s still yet to register a goal on the scoresheet.

He’s on pace to have his best year in takeaways, with 26 so far this season. His career high for takeaways came last season in combined time with Detroit and the Capitals last season at 27. Since he carries the puck a lot, he tends to have more giveaways, racking up 48 already this season, or .705 giveaways per game. That’s actually slightly better than his average giveaways per game of .719.

He’s currently at a -3 differential for 5 on 5 on-ice goal differential, which isn’t great considering he had a -1 on-ice goal differential in 60 games last season with a rebuilding Detroit team. There’s certainly room for improvement there. His expected goals for differential is -0.1, which is almost as close to even as you can get. His possession rates are decent, with a 50.4% Corsi For and a 50.2% Fenwick For.

By Justin Trudel

About Justin Trudel

Justin is a lifelong Caps fan, with some of his first memories of the sport watching the team in the USAir Arena and the 1998 Stanley Cup appearance. Now a resident of St. Augustine, FL, Justin watches the Caps from afar. Justin graduated with a Bachelor's of Science in Political Science from Towson University, and a Master's of Science in Applied Information Technology from Towson University. Justin is currently a product manager at a non-profit in Jacksonville, FL. Justin enjoys geeking out over roster construction and cap management.
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3 Responses to Grading the 2019-20 Capitals’ Defensemen (So Far)

  1. Anonymous says:

    There are 3 or 4 D in Hershey that can replace NJ if he doesnt improve sig…

  2. Anonymous says:

    Justin, can you do a secondary articles on D in Hershey and years expected from the Caps? MB next year? AA is two years? …etc

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