The Capitals Defense: Annual Performance Review – Part 2

A few weeks go we took a first look at the Washington Capitals defense and their performance over the course of the 2020-21 regular season (here). In today’s post we’ll expand on that initial evaluation and provide additional context by assessing each player and their individual performances during the 2020-21 regular season. We’ll also add a scoring summary for all of the stats at the end of the post.

The Capitals played a total of eight defensemen, including Jonas Siegenthaler, in the abbreviated 2020-21 season. To add a little more context, the Capitals played a total of 10 defensemen in the previous three seasons, but those seasons lasted 69, 82 and 82 games, respectively.

To achieve a better understanding of how each player performed this season, we will assess a few additional statistics, including the following:

  • Zone Starts
  • Scoring
  • Takeaway/Giveaways and Turnover Differentials
  • Penalties Taken/Drawn
  • Possession/Shot Metrics
  • Goals For and Against/Expected Goals For and Against
  • Hits/Blocked Shots

This post will wrap with a scoring summary at the end. Once again, data is courtesy of MoneyPuck, Natural Stat Trick and the NHL.


The first chart simply plots the zone starts for each defenseman – offensive zone (blue), neutral zone (orange), defensive zone (red) and on the fly (cyan). [Click to enlarge]

Nothing too earth shattering here. However, the data is useful for getting an overall feel for each players designated role on the blueline. Players with greater defensive zone starts (Jensen, van Riemsdyk and Chara) were obviously considered more defensive in nature, and typically deployed with the Capitals defensive/checking lines (bottom six).

Conversely, players with greater offensive zone starts (Carlson, Orlov, Dillon and Schultz) were cconsidered offensive defensemen and deployed with the Capitals top-six forwards. Keep this in mind when we look at overall scoring metrics for the blueline.

SCORING (All Situations)

We begin our review of the Capitals defensemen on the offensive side of the game. The following table plots goals (yellow), goals per 60 minutes (purple), assists (cyan), assists per 60 minutes (green), primary assists (pink) and secondary assists (brown) for all situations. [Click to enlarge]

To no surprise, John Carlson led in goals and assists as well as goals per 60 minutes of ice time. He was tied with Justin Schultz for the team lead in assists per 60 minutes. Dmitry Orlov was a close second in every category.


Generating turnovers, or turning the puck over is also a key metric for any blueline player. The next chart shows takeaways (red), giveaways (blue) and each players turnover differential (orange).

As we noted in an earlier mid-season assessment, Dmitry Orlov led the team with the best turnover differential this season. John Carlson and Trevor van Riemsdyk were second and third on the blueline in turnover differential.


The next chart plots penalty infraction minutes (PIM – blue), PIM drawn (orange) and PIM differential (orange) for each Capitals blueliner in all situations in the regular season.

Brenden Dillon incurred the most penalty minutes, followed by Zdeno Chara and Nick Jensen. Dillon also drew the most PIM’s followed by Chara and Jensen. Justin Schultz had the best differential, while Zdeno Chara and Brenden Dillon had the worst differential.


The following graph plots the shot attempts percentages for (CF% – light blue), high-danger shot attempts for percentages (HDCF% – medium-light blue), scoring chances for percentages (SCF% – medium dark blue) and expected goals for percentages (xGF% – dark blue) for the Capitals defensemen at even strength this season. (Click to enlarge).

Zdeno Chara and Justin Schultz were the only two defensemen below 50% in shot attempt percentages. Trevor van Riemsdyk and Dmitry Orlov had the best percentages percentages this season.

Trevor van Riemsdyk, Nick Jensen and Dmitry Orlov led all Capitals defensemen in high-danger attempts and scoring chances for.

Only Justin Schultz was below 50% in expected goals for (xGF%) percentages. Trevor van Riemsdyk, Zdeno Chara and Nick Jensen had the best xGF%.


The next graph plots the goals for (orange), goals against (blue), goals for differential (red) and goals against differentials (cyan) for each of the Capitals defensemen.

Brenden Dillon was on the ice for the most goals for (51), followed by Dmitry Orlov and John Carlson. Dillon and Carlson were tied for most goals against with 40.

Brenden Dillon had the best goals for and expected goals for differential, followed by Justin Schultz and John Carlson. This means they were on the ice for more goals for than expected.

Justin Schultz had the best expected goals against and actual goals against ratio, meaning there were fewer actual goals than expected. He was followed by Dmitry Orlov, Trevor van Riemsdyk and Nick Jensen.


The next graph simply plots blocked shots (blue), blocked shots per 60 minutes (orange), hits (red) and hits per 60 minutes of ice time (cyan) for each Capitals defenseman in all situations.

John Carlson and Zdeno Chara led all defenseman in blocked shots while Brenden Dillon and Zdeno Chara led all defensemen in hits.


The following summary table simply ranks each player in each of the aforementioned statistical categories. For what it’s worth, the lowest total score indicates the best overall score, however, it should be noted that for more accurate analysis, each category would be weighted, as not all categories carry equal importance/value. The final numbers are just to provide a feel for the overall performance of each defenseman.

[Note: Lower number is best]

It could be argued that Dmitry Orlov not only had his best season with the Capitals, but was also the best defenseman for the Capitals this season, based on the outlined statistical categories.

Nick Jensen also had his best season as a Washington Capital, and was near the top of all Capitals defenseman this season. Was it being paired with Zdeno Chara? That probably had a lot to do with it, however, Jensen also thrived when he was paired with Dmitry Orlov earlier in the season.

Brenden Dillon takes a lot of heat from Capitals fans, and some of it is worthy. However, his style of play also holds value for the Capitals blueline as a whole.

We will review defensive pairings in our next end-of-season performance review of the Capitals defenseman.

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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7 Responses to The Capitals Defense: Annual Performance Review – Part 2

  1. Anonymous says:

    I hope Big Z comes back one more year

    • Anonymous says:

      Same here. A portion of his value is immeasurable, like improvement from younger blue liners.

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  5. KellyH says:

    I thought Trevor V. played strong every time he was able to get ice time. I was surprised he didn’t see the ice in the playoffs. He’s going to be a rock solid piece for us the next few years. -Was really impressed with him this season.

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