Capitals Defense: Reviewing Blueline Player Performance Through The First 30 Games

The Washington Capitals have now played 30 of their 82-game regular season schedule. So with more than 35% of the season now complete, it’s a good time to catch-up on how the Capitals’ blueliners have been performing through the first third of the season.

If  you have any questions or would like to learn more about any of the statistics or terms used in this post, you can always reference our NHL Analytics Glossary. [Data courtesy of Natural Stat Trick, MoneyPuck, Evolving Hockey and]


There are a number of metrics that are useful in assessing a defenseman’s overall performance. This analysis will utilize key defensive and offensive statistics, including:

  • Goals, Assists and Plus/Minus
  • Giveaways/Takeaways
  • Blocked Shots/Hits
  • Penalties
  • Shift Zone Starts
  • Possession/Scoring Chances
  • High-Danger Chances, Scoring Chances and Goals For Percentages
  • PDO (SPSV% – SH% + SV%)

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


Let’s begin the blueline player performance review by taking a quick look at the basic scoring stats for each of the Capitals’ defensemen. The following graph simply plots the goals, assists and plus/minus values for each player through the first 30 games of the season. [Click to enlarge]

First and foremost, a tip of the cap to the four defensemen who have played in all 30 games so far this season: John Carlson, Nick Jensen, Dmitry Orlov and Martin Fehervary. Extra props to the the rookie blueliner, MArtin Fehervary, as he has jumped right in this season and hasn’t missed a beat.

As a far as scoring, it’s no surprise that John Carlson currently leads all Capitals blueliners in points per game. Dmitry Orlov is second with half the points per game average of Carlson, followed by Nick Jensen.

Speaking of Mr. Jensen, how about his impressive plus/minus through 30 games. His +20 is still the best in the NHL among all defensemen. Dmitry Orlov is second on the Capitals and second in the league at +19. That’s impressive, regardless of what you think of the stat.


Takeaway/Giveaway Differential

The following graph plots the difference in takeaways and giveaways for each of the Capitals defensemen. (Total takeaways – Total giveaways).

I’m always somewhat surprised when I pull the numbers for this category, and this time is no different. Through 30 games, John Carlson and Trevor van Riemsdyk are the only Capitals defensemen with positive turnover differentials. Nick Jensen has the Capitals worst turnover differential among all defensemen at -8.

To provide additional context with regards to turnovers, 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]


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

Once again Martin Fehervary jumps off the screen. Not only does he lead the team in blocks and hits, he’s 6th in the NHL in total hits.

Martin hasn’t played a complete NHL season yet, so there is some concern as to whether he can keep up that kind of physical pace and survive the season. But if anyone can do it, Fehervary can. There isn’t a more determined and dedicated player in the league.


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].

Dmitry Orlov is serving the most penality minutes per 60 and has the second worst penalty differential among all Capitals blueliners. Dennis Cholowski holds bottom honors. Trevor van Riemsdyk has the best penalty differential followed closely by John Carlson.


Zone starts simply define the number of shifts started in each zone: offensive (red), defensive (blue) and neutral (orange). The metric is sometimes useful in assessing a coaches “trust’ in a player or can be useful in determining certain roles and responsibilities for a player.

For example, a player with a majority of offensive zone starts may indicate less confidence or “protected” starts, or could also indicate a player has a scoring role on the team. The same can be said for players who start a majority of their shifts in the defensive zone, as they are likely providing more of a defensive role for the team, or can be “trusted” in defensive situations. [Click to enlarge]

It’s no surprise that Dmitry Orlov and Nick Jensen have seen the greatest number of defensive zone starts, while John Carlson and Martin Fehervary have seen the greatest number of offensive zone starts. The numbers align with the perception that Orlov and Jensen are the defensive-focused pairing, while John Carlson and Martin Fehervary are looked to provide more of a scoring role.


The following evaluation metrics capture 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 shift start percentages (orange) for each of the Capitals defenders. [Click to enlarge]

All Capitals defensemen, with the exception of Dennis Cholowski, have basic possession metrics above 50%. Again, props to Orlov and Jensen who are posting excellent offensive numbers possession metrics while starting a majority of their shifts in the defensive zone.


The next possession metrics graph plots high-danger shot attempts percentages, goals for percentages and providers the scoring chances for each of the Capitals blueliners. [Click to enlarge]

At first glance it may appear that Matt Irwin is out of sync with the remainder of the blueline, when in fact he has been on the ice for a great amount of high-danger chances, but he has a goals for percentage less than 46%. That’s not a good mix.

The next players you might notice are Nick Jensen and Dmitry Orlov (again), who are less than 50% in high danger chances, but well above 50% in goals for percentage. As we discussed above, the pairing is looked to provide defense (majority of defensive zone starts), so the low high-danger chances percentages is somewhat expected. However, the pair has been able to defend and generate scoring, which is an outstanding mix. Props again to both players.

The remainder of the blueliners fall where you would expect them to. The top pairing of John Carlson and Martin Fehervary have the next highest goals for percentage, followed by Justin Schultz and Trevor van Riemsdyk, all above 50%, which is a solid recipe for success.

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/32 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]

Some folks give the statistic significant value while others, not so much. Regardless of your perspective, all but Matt Irwin are well over 100% (1.00). This would suggest that Irwin is due for a bit of luck while all other blueliners are due for regression.


Nick Jensen and Dmitry Orlov were first paired together early last season, and posted tremendous numbers in the few games they played together. But because there was a need for balance and help with other pairings, the duo was split up. Laviolette and the coaches decided over the summer to return to the pairing to start the season and they have picked up where they left off last season. Excellent decision by the coaches.

In addition, the pairing of John Carlson and rookie Martin Fehervary has worked very well. This may be the biggest breakthrough for the blueline this season, as Fehervary has essentially jumped right in and been solid from the start. He’s held is own and will only get better.

There really isn’t too much to be that concerned about (right now) when assessing the Capitals blueline during the first third of the season. Let’s hope they can maintain their dominant play.

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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3 Responses to Capitals Defense: Reviewing Blueline Player Performance Through The First 30 Games

  1. Anonymous says:

    great job. caps should have kept character. or signed d’angelo

  2. Anonymous says:

    Hate the man on man system. Too many breakdowns. Will continue to cost us against best teams.

  3. Anonymous says:

    the man on man system has us with one of the best goals allowed rates in the league

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