Capitals Defense: Individual Player Performance After 24 Games

The Washington Capitals have now played 24 games of their 56-game regular season schedule. Our last review of the Capitals’ defense was conducted back on February 12, after the first 12 games and 20+ percent of the season were complete. With 12 more games in the books, it’s a good time to revisit the performance of the the Capitals’ defense.

In this post we will assess the Capitals’ defensemen with key metrics applied to the 24 games played, and identify any notable trends or shifts in performance since the initial baseline assessment that was conducted after 12 games.


To recap the overarching process, there are a number of key metrics that are useful in assessing a defenseman’s performance. This analysis will utilize defensive and offensive statistics, including:

  • Time On Ice (TOI) and Plus/Minus
  • Giveaways/Takeaways
  • Blocked Shots/Hits
  • Penalties
  • Penalty Kill
  • Possession/Scoring Chances And Zone Starts
  • PDO (SPSV% – SH% + SV%)

The designated categories are aimed at providing a detailed breakdown of the strengths and weaknesses of each player for the wide range of game situations and statistical categories.

Before we begin, it should be noted that John Carlson, Brenden Dillon and Zdeno Chara are the only Capitals defensemen to play in every game so far. Nick Jensen (21) has played the next most games, followed by Justin Schultz (20), Dmitry Orlov (19), Trevor van Riemsdyk (7) and Jonas Siegenthaler (6).

[Data courtesy of Natural Stat Trick, MoneyPuck, Evolving Hockey and]


We begin this assessment with the basic stats for each of the Capitals defensemen. The following graph simply plots the average time on ice per game, plus/minus value and a relative value (summation) of the two stats for each player through the first 24 games of the season.

John Carlson leads all Capitals defensemen in average time on ice per game with over 24 minutes played per game (all situations). Zdeno Chara is next at just over 19 minutes per game, closely followed by Brenden Dillon at 19:13 per game.

Zdeno Chara leads all Capitals defensemen in plus/minus with a +12. Justin Schultz is second at +8, followed by Nick Jensen at +5. John Carlson has the worst plus/minus at -8, followed by Jonas Siegenthaler and Trevor van Riemsdyk, both at -3.

Zdeno Chara leads all defensemen in the resultant value (summation of the two stats) at 31.24, followed by Justin Schultz (26.81) and Nick Jensen (22.56).


The following chart plots giveaways per 60 minutes of ice time (GvA/60 – blue) and takeaways per 60 minutes of ice time (TkA/60 – orange) for each player. [Click to enlarge]

There are no Capitals defensemen with a positive takeaway/giveaway differential. This is a change from our 12-game evaluation where Brenden Dillon was the only Capitals defenseman with a positive takeaway/giveaway differential and Justin Schultz and Dmitry Orlov had an even (+0) differential after 12 games.

In the previous assessment, Nick Jensen had the most giveaways/60 minutes and greatest giveaway/takeaway differential on the Capitals, closely followed by Zdeno Chara. The two players switch places after 24 games, however their differentials have greatly improved since the last assessment.


The following graphic plots the total number of blocked shots (Bks – green), blocked shots per 60 minutes of ice time (Bks/60 – red), number of hits (Hits – yellow) and hits per 60 minutes of ice time (Hits/60 – cyan) for each player. [Click to enlarge]

Similar to the results in our 12-game assessment, Brenden Dillon continues to shine in these statistical categories, and is leading in both blocked shots (33) and hits (54). Zdeno Chara is second in both categories. Nick Jensen is now third in hits and John Carlson is now third in blocks, a slight change from our initial review.


The look at penalties focuses on the differential of penalties taken and penalties drawn for 60 minutes of ice time (Net Pen/60 – blue) and penalties per time on ice (Pim/Toi% – orange) for each player. [Click to enlarge].

Brenden Dillon continues to lead all Capitals defenseman in penalties per time on ice, followed by Zdeno Chara, Jonas Siegenthaler and Dmitry Orlov. Justin Schultz has the best differential (net). John Carlson and Nick Jensen are a close second and third.


Penalty Kill numbers are more of a key metric for a few specific Capitals defensemen. The chart below plots power play goals allowed per 60 minutes of ice time (Pp Ga/60 – orange) and short handed time on ice per game played (Sh Toi/GP – Red). New in this assessment is the difference, simply calculated by dividing Sh Toi% by Pp Ga/60 (Diff – blue) for each player. [Click to enlarge]

Nick Jensen takes this evaluation category. He has the highest short-handed TOI% (50.10) but has the second-lowest Pp Ga/60 and highest differential value of 9.58. Brenden Dillon is second-best in this category with the lowest Pp Ga/60 and the second-highest differential value. Zdeno Chara has the second-highest Sh Toi% and second-highest Pp Ga/60.


The following evaluation metric captures possession, scoring chances and shooting metrics for each defenseman. It includes ‘shots for’ (CF% – blue), ‘scoring chances for’ percentage (Scf% – red), ‘expected goals for’ percentage (xGF% – cyan) and offensive zone start percentages (green) for each of the Capitals defenders. [Click to enlarge]

Nick Jensen takes this category as well. Two weeks ago we wrote about the emergence of Nick Jensen, and Jensen continues to standout in several key statistical categories. He has the highest expected goals for (xGF%) at 54.91% and the second highest scoring chances for (SCG%), all while having the lowest offensive zone starts percentage.

Coach Laviolette told 106.7 The Fan on Monday “he’s been playing great” said Laviolette. “Jens has been a rock for us back there, I think. His defense has been really good, he’s used his speed, he’s used his ability to make plays, to defend, he’s been terrific on the penalty kill, been a great pair with Zdeno, they seem to have a little bit of chemistry together.”

Zdeno Chara has the third lowest offensive zone starts percentage but has the 4th best xGF%.

PDO (SPSV% – SH% + SV%)

Players PDO (called SPSV% by the NHL) is the summation of a players shooting percentage and save percentage while the player is on the ice, multiplied by 100. The sum is also used separately to see if a player should expect a regression or improvement in the coming games.

The combined SPSV% of all players/31 NHL teams will always equal 100%, therefore values over 100 likely indicate “lucky” play or players that will potentially see a regression in the near future. Conversely, players under 100 are deemed “unlucky” and will potentially see an improvement in the near future. [Click to enlarge]

Brenden Dillon, John Carlson, Justin Schultz, Nick Jensen and Zdeno Chara all have PDO values over 100 and could see a regression in the coming games.


The Capitals defense and designated pairings have found some sense of normalcy in the last 12 games, as there has been relatively little adjustment to the starters or pairings. In addition, the team has settled into Laviolette’s new system. As a result, this 12-game analysis provides a much better overall feel for the status of the Capitals blueline.

Player Trends

The following table lists three key statistical categories for each player at the 12 and 24-game marks of the season. Each statistical category includes a differential (Diff) which details the trends for each player over the last 12 games.

Nick Jensen and Dmitry Orlov show the greatest improvement over the last 12 games, however, John Carlson has also shown solid improvement across all three statistical categories. Zdeno Chara continues his positive play and has increased his numbers in xGF% and SCF%. Justin Schultz, who got off to a blazing-hot start has shown some recent cooling.

Blueline Trends

Despite the Capitals winning at least one standings point in each and every game in January, the underlying statistics were not nearly as positive. February started in opposite fashion, as the team lost their first four games of the month, however, the underlying stats showed the team was improving.

Back on February 8th following a 7-4 loss to the Flyers, their third consecutive loss, coach Laviolette echoed much the same, saying that while the final results were not desirable, he is seeing improvement in his team.

“I think that the process is important right now. I think how we play the game and the eye ball test and the numbers and everything that backs up a game, I think that it’s important,” said Laviolette.

“I looked at the last couple of games, and while they’re not perfect, there are things that I see that I like, there are things that we are working on, for me, that are taking positive steps in the right direction. We lost the game last night and yet we won game one (Buffalo) and I liked last night better than I liked game one.”

The improvement in many of the key statistical areas over the last 12 games is very apparent. The return of players from absences and injuries, the steadying of the lineup and full implementation of Laviolette’s overarching system has allowed the team to begin gaining a cohesive and consistent style of play, and the results are starting to show.

We will revisit the aforementioned metrics in another dozen or so games to determine the latest trends since the 24-game mark.

[Data courtesy of Natural Stat Trick, MoneyPuck, Evolving Hockey and]

By Jon Sorensen

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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