Assessing Capitals’ Team Roles: Some Are As Expected, But Others Are Changing

If you’ve been a regular follower of our analytics posts over the years, then you are no doubt familiar with the value and insight that the offensive zone shift start percentages stat can provide. Where a player begins a majority of their shifts on the ice says a lot about a players role on the team.

With 15 games of the Capitals 2022-23 season now in the books, it’s a good time to take our first look at the offensive zone shift start percentages for each of the Capitals skaters. While many of the percentages are as somewhat expected, there are a few interesting tidbits of insight, mostly pertaining to the Capitals newest members, but also pertaining to shifting roles for a couple of the Capitals’ veterans.

To no surprise, Alex Ovechkin has the highest offensive zone shift deployment rate of all Capitals skaters. In fact, it’s 5% higher than last season’s mark of 87% (which is a topic for another day). It’s also no surprise that Evgeny Kuznetsov is a close second in offensive zone shift start percentage. The two are paid to score, so deploying them in the offensive zone makes simple sense.

The opposite is true for Nick Dowd and Garnet Hathaway, who are paid to defend, and often tasked at stopping the opposing team’s top line. As a result, they will start a majority of their shifts in the defensive zone. Beck Malenstyn is made for defending, and made to be a 4th liner, so his rate from the few games he played is also not surprising.


I was a little surprised by Erik Gustafsson’s high offensive zone deployment rate. Gustafsson has been filling in for John Carlson in many respects, and thus that might be the cause of his high offensive zone start percentage.

I was also a bit surprised by Dmitry Orlov percentage above 50%. (He had a 35.57% offensive zone shift start percentage last season). Orlov is arguably the Capitals best defensive defenseman, but can also skate and score goals. He’s the most difficult for me. I want him on the backend, defending, but I also want to see him skating into the zone and firing more shots. His increase a shifting of roles for Orlov.

On the low end, I was a bit surprised by Aliaksei Protas’ low offensive zone shift start percentage. It’s apparent that Laviolette is looking to Protas for defense, and that confounds me a bit.

Finally, Martin Fehervary was hoping to provide more offense this season, but the drop to the second pairing has lowered his rate from last season.

[The statistics used in this post are courtesy of Natural Stat Trick. If you’d like to learn more about the statistical terms used in this post, please check out our NHL Analytics Glossary.]

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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4 Responses to Assessing Capitals’ Team Roles: Some Are As Expected, But Others Are Changing

  1. Anonymous says:

    I get that Orlov can provide offense, thus the greater offensive zone deployments, but we need better defense, first and foremost right now.

  2. Anonymous says:

    Ovi leads the team with worst +/- at -13.

  3. Jonathan says:

    Protas’ defensive zone start pct makes a lot of sense. Since Malenstyn went out, he’s caught a lot of 4th line minutes with Dowd and Hathaway, and when he’s also had a lot of 3rd line minutes with Eller, who also has a lot of defensive zone starts because of his strong defensive skills. Protas is currently better on the back end then he is on the front end, but he’s a work in progress. His offensive asset currently is when he is physically strong on the forecheck, helping to create turnovers by that and his reach, but not particularly strong on creative plays or finish unless he’s on the doorstep, which is why he ended up on the 4th line because of his strength’s and weaknesses. Protas is getting the Tom Wilson treatment. Remember how Tom would switch from 4th liner to 1st liner? Protas, like Tom, will eventually end up in the top 6 (unless he raises the 3rd line to a ghost 2nd line), but needs a couple seasons to work it out, but less seasons than it took Wilson.

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