Blueline Performance Review: Ranking And Grading The Washington Capitals Defensemen For The 2021-22 Season


As we continue to wrap-up our analysis of the Washington Capitals 2021-22 season, we  next take a look at the performance of the Capitals defensemen during the regular season. This post will ultimately generate team ranking and grades for each of the defensemen for their performance during the 2021-22 regular season. [You can review our grades for Capitals forwards here.]

METHODOLOGY

The analysis utilizes a wide array of metrics to gauge the general performance of each of the Capitals defensemen during the 2021-22 regular season. This will include basic offensive (scoring) stats, blocked shots, turnover and penalty stats, on-ice possession metrics, individual shot metrics and team defensive metrics to derive the final ranking and scores.

STATISTICAL EVALUATION

[The data and statistics used for this post are courtesy of Natural Stat TrickHockey Reference, NHL.com and NoVa Caps’ Advanced Analytics model. If you’d like to learn more about the statistical terms used in this post, please check out our NHL Analytics Glossary.]

Basic Scoring Stats

The first graph simply plots the basic offensive statistics for each of the Capitals defensemen during the regular season. [Click to Enlarge].

To no surprise, John Carlson led all defensemen in goals, assists and points per game average among the Capitals regular defensemen. Dmitry Orlov was second in all three categories. Martin Fehervary was third in goals and sixth in assists while Justin Schultz was third in assists and 5th in goals.

Turnovers

We next take a look at the turnovers and turnover differential for each of the Capitals defenseman this season. [Click to enlarge].

Trevor van Riemsdyk easily takes home top honors in this category, as the only Capitals defensemen in the positive, stealing 11 more pucks than he gave up. Nick Jensen and Martin Fehervary had the worst turnover differentials.

Hits Per 60

The next graph plots the hits per 60 minutes for each of the Capitals defensemen this season. [Click to enlarge].

Martin Fehervary was a hitting machine for the Capitals this season and was the leader by far, which is somewhat surprising for a rookie. Nick Jensen and Dmitry Orlov were next among the Capitals regular starters in dishing out the hits.

Penalties

Next up is penalties drawn, penalties taken and net penalty differential for each of the Capitals defensemen. [Click to enlarge].

Nick Jensen takes home top honors in this category, drawing 12 more penalties than he was called for. Trevor van Riemsdyk is second with John Carlson taking third in the category. Justin Schultz had the worst differential (-6) followed by Dmitry Orlov (-5) and Martin Fehervary (-5) among the regulars.

Offensive Zone Shift Start Percentages

Before digging into the more advanced possession metrics, it’s helpful to first understand the roles and responsibilities for each of the defensemen. One simple tool we can utilize is offensive zone shift start percentages. [Click to enlarge].

Nick Jensen and Dmitry Orlov saw the fewest offensive zone shift starts on the Capitals blueline, indicating their primary role as defensive defensemen. Schultz, Carlson, Fehervary and van Riemsdyk all saw a majority of their shift starts in the offensive zone.
These rates should be considered when assessing the following offensive and defensive metrics.

Basic Possession Metrics

The next graph begins to assess the advanced metrics related to possession and shot attempts at even strength for each of the Capitals defensemen. [Click to enlarge].

It should be mentioned right off the bat that Matt Irwin posted pretty good numbers in his small sample size. Among the regulars, Dmitry Orlov (52.02%), Justin Schultz (51.50%), Nick Jensen (51.76%) and Trevor van Riemsdyk (51.20%) all finished the season above the 50% threshold for expected goals for percentage.

The team as a whole struggled this season in the high-danger area, and that included all defensemen, who finished below 50%, with the exception of Nick Jensen (50.72%).

Basic Possession Metrics – Defense

The next set of metrics looks closer at the defensive performance of each of the Capitals defensemen. Goals for percentage (GF%) details the percentage of goals scored for the Capitals in relation to the opposition when the player is on the ice.

Expected goals against minus actual goals against (xGA – GA) details the conversion rates of expected goals for each player and expected goals against per 60 (xGA per 60) details the rated of expected goals against each defenseman. [Click to enlarge].

Nick Jensen and Dmitry Orlov had the best overall percentages, with approximately 60% of the goals scored for the Capitals when they were on the ice. That is impressive when you consider their rate of shift starts in the defensive zone.

Justin Schultz, Michal Kempny and Trevor van Riemsdyk were the only defensemen to be on the ice for more goals against than more goals scored by the Capitals, with Justin Schultz and Trevor van Riemsdyk having the worst differentials.

RANK AND GRADES

The following summary table simply ranks each defenseman in each of the aforementioned statistical categories. The lowest total score indicates the best overall score. However, it should be noted that for a more granular, detailed analysis, each category would be weighted, as not all categories carry equal weight/importance. The final numbers are to provide a feel for the overall performance of each defenseman in relation to his fellow defensemen. [Click to enlarge].

Dmitry Orlov had the best overall score (56), closely followed by Nick Jensen (58). John Carlson was 3rd (66).

NARRATIVE

John Carlson – John Carlson has taken a lot of heat for his defensive play down the stretch, and rightfully so. He looked terrible at times, particularly as the season progressed. However, his top offensive performance this season saves his overall grade. The Capitals would definitely miss his scoring if he was dealt in favor of a more defensive defenseman. His contract is a boat anchor.

Nick Jensen and Dmitry Orlov – Easily the Capitals best defensive pairing this season, with Orlov edging out Jensen for Capitals’ best defenseman this season. There were some who doubted the signing of Jensen 2-3 years ago, including myself, but he has found his game and has been a steady presence with Zdeno Chara last season and Dmitry Orlov this season. Orlov also caught heat in previous years from the fan base and myself, but he has worked hard to become the Capitals best defensive defenseman.

Martin Fehervary – Fehervary started the season strong, as one of the Capitals best defensemen, but lagged as the season progressed. Fehervary played 85 games this season (including playoffs) which was by far the most games he’s played in a calendar year in his career. That and a bout with Covid are the likely reasons for his underwhelming finish to the season. All-in-all, a good season for the rookie.

Trevor van Riemsdyk – TVR rather quietly amassed a good season and has proven to be quality discount signing by Brian MacLellan. He may be looked to provide more this coming season following the expected departures of Justin Schultz and Michal Kempny.

GRADES

The following are the resultant grades for each of the Capitals defensemen for the 2021-22 season. Players who were called up for a game or two, or reserve players who saw little action were given a score of 7.0.

It would be beneficial to see Martin Fehervary and John Carlson split-up this season. The pairing was ideal to mentor Fehervary in the early going, but their needs to be a more effective pairing. A pairing of van Riemsdyk and Carlson might be the place to start, moving Fehervary to pair with a new, incoming veteran or possibly a rookie, although that leaves very little experience in the pairing.

MOVING FORWARD

The Capitals will look to elevate youth in response to the forecasted departure of Justin Schultz and Michal Kempny and possibly Matt Irwin this off-season. That’s a lot,of experience leaving the team, but is the right move with regards to play and salary cap.

There will be a lot of eyes on Lucas Johansen, Alex Alexeyev and even Tobias Geisser and Bobby Nardella in September when the Capitals open training camp. The big question, will they be ready and able to make the jump from the AHL. Ideally both Johansen and Alexeyev would make the opening night roster.

Expect the Capitals to sign a veteran defenseman to lessen the loss of experience and assist with the mentoring of the Capitals young blueliners.

Capitals Forward Grades For the 2021-22 Season

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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8 Responses to Blueline Performance Review: Ranking And Grading The Washington Capitals Defensemen For The 2021-22 Season

  1. Anonymous says:

    Solid grading. It’s easy to go hard on Carlson’s defense, but his offense is elite. Maybe should have been a forward 😂

  2. Anonymous says:

    I too would like to see the Fehervary/Carlson pairing broke up.

  3. novafyre says:

    I think that both Carlson and the Caps need a change, that they need someone who is more even and can last longer in the playoffs, and he might benefit from a change of scenery.

  4. Dave says:

    Why tippy toe around. Carlson is not and has not played as the TOP line defensive guy. Take away his power play shifts and then see how bad the numbers are as the CAPS top D.
    As much as Trevor van riemsdyk was a great signing, there can be no bigger criticism of the CAPS that the long term deal they gave Carlson. It has hurt us and will continue to hurt us for years.

  5. DWGie26 says:

    There is lots to like about JC74 from the outside. Right shot. Cup winner. Norris finalist. Great offensive numbers. Top PP Point man. Size. Would love to see someone who would want that and we get a good hockey trade. something is off in that room, and i feel like it might be JC74. Good time to change the scenery.

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