The 2020-21 season saw Washington Capitals defenseman Dmitry Orlov prove once again that he is a reliable Top 4, even top pairing blueliner, in today’s NHL. After being a part of the Capitals’ best defensive pairing during their Stanley Cup run in 2018 with Matt Niskanen, Orlov’s play trailed off for a couple of seasons. The 2018-19 season was difficult for him, likely due to Niskanen’s struggles that resulted in him being traded the following offseason for Radko Gudas.
Orlov has shown flashes of brilliance in the past. He is one of the best open ice hitters in the game, moves the puck up and down the rink effectively, and can play a shutdown role. Overall, Orlov proved himself as perhaps the Capitals’ best overall defenseman this season. Let’s take a look at Orlov’s season by the numbers.
If you missed the post examining Justin Schultz’s performance during the 2021 regular season, game score is a metric that Dom Luszczyszyn (now with The Athletic) created to measure the performance of a player in any given game. Here’s the stats that Luszczyszyn uses in calculating game score:
- Primary Assists
- Secondary Assists
- Shots on Goal
- Blocked Shots
- Penalty Differential
- 5-on-5 Corsi Differential
- 5-on-5 Goal Differential (you can read more about the Game Score metric’s method here).
Now, let’s see Schultz’s game scores game-by-game through the 2020-21 regular season (click to enlarge):
The dotted line moving through the center of the line graph here is the trend line of Orlov’s game scores. Seemingly opposite to Schultz’, Orlov started off slow as a result of time on the COVID-19 protocol, but really ramped up his overall quality of play during five-on-five play as the season went on. Overall, Orlov had far more very good showings than poor ones, and that’s what you need from a top pairing defenseman, especially one that’s relied upon heavily. Here are Orlov’s game scores by opponent:
Orlov feasted on games against the New York Rangers and the New Jersey Devils this season. In eight games against the Devils, he posted three goals and two assists. In eight games against the Rangers, he had one goal and five assists. Since game scores are highly impacted by goal scoring and assists, it’s no surprise that Orlov’s game scores peaked in games against those two divisional foes.
Now, a look at Orlov’s possession rates by game (click to enlarge):
Historically, Orlov has been a strong possession player over the course of his career. This year was no different, finishing the season with a 52.5 Corsi For Percentage, and a 2.6 Corsi For Percentage relative to his teammates. This means that the Capitals’ possession marks were 2.6 percentage points higher when he was on the ice relative to his teammates. This is solid considering he did draw a fair share of high quality competition, but his offensive zone start percentage was really high at 58.3%.
Expected Goals For Percentage
Above is a moving average of Orlov’s Expected Goals For Percentage over the course of the season. The trend line is also positive for Orlov, who finished with an Expected Goals For Percentage of 51.96%. Interestingly enough, Orlov’s actual Goals For Percentage far outpaced expectations, finishing with a 59.49 Goals For Percentage (47 goals for and 32 goals against during five-on-five play).
Rate Adjusted Plus-Minus (RAPM)
Here’s a good view of the quality of player that Orlov is, courtesy of JFreshHockey:
Orlov posted elite marks in Expected Goals For, Expected Goal Differential, Finishing Percentage, and Goals For per sixty minutes of play. Orlov can stand to improve his discipline on taking penalties, as well as potentially generating more primary assists, but that’s nitpicking, especially since the bulk of his ice time was with more offensive defensemen like John Carlson and Justin Schultz.
Here’s another view of RAPM via Evolving Hockey:
Overall, everything is above the replacement level board for Orlov during five-on-five play. His struggle in xGA/60 mirrors what JFresh’s graphic showed above; he could stand to improve a bit in Expected Goals Against, but that could be due to his partner in his defensive pairing and other players on the ice.
Orlov’s power play RAPM rates on the right side of the above graphic can be disregarded. Orlov only received about 35 minutes on the power play this season after Justin Schultz was acquired to quarterback the second power play unit.
Orlov is one of, if not the best, all around defensemen on the Capitals’ roster currently. He’ll most certainly be one of the three defensemen protected in the Expansion Draft, and has another two seasons under contract with the Capitals. Orlov is a solid veteran defenseman who can thrive in top pairing minutes, as we’ve seen in the 2018 Stanley Cup run.
Overall, Orlov will be leaned upon next season even more, due to some expected turnover on the back-end with Zdeno Chara unlikely to re-sign and Martin Fehervary entering the fold. Expect Head Coach Peter Laviolette to lean on Orlov more in defensive situations as a result.
By Justin Trudel