Capitals Blueline Performance Review: Approaching The Quarter Pole

The Washington Capitals have now completed 18 games of their 2022-23 schedule, or approximately 22% of the season. As a result, it’s time that we take our first in-depth look at the performance of the Capitals defensemen so far this season.


The following review utilizes a wide range of metrics to gauge the general performance of each of the Capitals defensemen for the first quarter of 2022-23 regular season. This will include basic offensive (scoring) stats, turnovers, blocked shots, penalty stats, on-ice possession metrics, individual shot metrics and team defensive metrics.


The data and statistics used for this post are courtesy of Natural Stat TrickHockey Reference, 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 (games played, goals, assists and points per game average) for each of the Capitals defensemen so far this season. [Click to Enlarge].

To little surprise, John Carlson leads all Capitals defensmen in goals and points per game average. What is somewhat of a surprise is a lack of secondary scoring by any of the other defensemen, although that may reflect more of a defensive focus by Laviolette following injuries to key defensemen. The next quarter will hopefully shed a little more light and see a little more scoring from the backend.


We next take a look at the turnovers and turnover differential for each of the Capitals defenseman, so far this season. [Note, many of the stats in this post have been normalized per 60 minutes of ice time (TOI/60) so that we can directly compare each of the blueliners].

Lucas Johansen has played in just one game, so his per 60 average is a bit misleading, although he was decent in the one game he played. Dmitry Orlov, once again, has the best turnover differential among all of the Capitals regular blueliners, something he has been pretty good at in recent seasons.

Hits Per 60

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

Matt Irwin’s sample size is small, but when he does get in a game, he hits people, as he had a good average last season in the few games he played. Martin Fehervary continues to lead all of the regular blueliners, which is becoming somewhat expected, as Fehervary led all Capitals skaters in hits last season.

Blocks Per 60

The next graph simply plots blocks per 60 minutes of ice time for each of the Capitals blueliners.

Trevor van Riemsdyk and John Carlson continue to lead all of the blueliners in blocking shots.

Penalties Per 60

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

John Carlson leads all Capitals defensemen in net penalties per 60, meaning he is drawing .88 more penalties per 6o than he is called for. Trevor van Riemsdyk is the only Capitals defensemen getting called for more penalties than he has taken. Erik Gustafsson averaged .56 penalties taken per 60 and .56 penalties drawn per 60 for a net of 0.00.

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 at 5-on-5. [Click to enlarge].

We’ve discussed the importance of offensive zone shift starts plenty in the past, but as a refresher to those that may have missed it, the metric is a good indicator as to the role a player has on a team.

The higher the offensive zone shift start percentage, the more the player is looked to provide offense. The opposite is true for those well below 50%, and are typically your blueliners looked to provide mostly defense.

Probably the biggest surprise, at this point in the season, is Erik Gustafsson, typically on the third pair with Trevor van Riemsdyk. He is leading all Capitals defensemen with the highest offensive zone shift start percentage.

It’s clear that Martin Fehervary and Nick Jensen have become the shutdown (defensive) pairing at this point in the season. That is somewhat surprising.

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].

Four defensemen are above 50% in Corsi For (shot attempts for percentage) which is pretty solid. As far as high-danger chances, getting into the goal area, Trevor van Riemsdyk leads the way among the regular blueliners.

Van Riemsdyk is also leading all Capitals blueliners in expected goals for percentage. Simply put, he and Gustafsson have been providing offensive push.

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. Anything over 50% means the Capitals are scoring more goals than the opposition when said player is on the ice.

Expected goals against is a combination of quite a few factors, like most stats, but is also relative to defensive play, and the quality of chances yielded by each defensemen. The stat is normalized per 60 to provide a relative comparison between all defensemen.

Expected goals against minus actual goals against (xGA – GA) details the conversion rates of expected goals for each player. The stat is very dependent on the play of the goaltender, but can also shed some light on the play of individual defensemen. [Click to enlarge].

Again, most of the regular blueliners are well above 50% GF%, which is pretty good. Martin Fehervary is at 50%, with John Carlson and Erik Gustafsson bringing up the rear.

Trevor van Riemsdyk leads all Capitals blueliners with the lowest expected goals against per 60, which is somewhat surprising. Nick Jensen is a close second, which is a little more expected.

John Carlson has the worst differential among all of the Capitals blueliners, at -0.720, meaning the team is allowing more goals than expected when he is on the ice. He is the only regular defenseman with a negative differential.


The Capitals blueliners have done well, considering the injuries to key defensemen and injuries to the forwards group. Simply put, if you are not pressing to score, you are defending your own goal. The Capitals blueliners have done a good job, considering the circumstances.

Results from the first quarter of the season show that Erik Gustafsson has become the new number 2 offensive defenseman, with Dmitry Orlov, who has been mostly a defensive defensemen, at least according to Laviolette, moving more towards the middle, and expected to provide a little more scoring.

Nick Jensen and Martin Fehervary, the Capitals new second pairing since early in the season, have become the team’s new shutdown duo (defensive pairing), at least according to Laviolette.

Some of the complaints about John Carlson’s defense are substantiated by a few of the aforementioned statistics, but his offense can’t be denied. The blueliners would have a total of two goals if Carlson wasn’t on the team.

We are still less than 25% of the way through the season, so there is still plenty to be learned about this year’s blueline. We should have a much better feel at our halfway analysis, and can begin considering necessary moves (if any) required to enhance the Capitals blueline.

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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13 Responses to Capitals Blueline Performance Review: Approaching The Quarter Pole

  1. Anonymous says:

    Plenty of food for thought, here. Agree, liking Gustafsson’s offensive game, and I thought he was real solid on the power play in Carlson’s absence.

    • Jon Sorensen says:

      Yeah, it would be nice to include power play or penalty kill stats in this assessment, but not all players play special teams. I thought it would make a bit of an imbalanced assessment, but it is indeed part of a blueliners overall value.

  2. Anonymous says:

    Carlson wouldn’t be such a sore spot for so many fans if he made a third or what he makes.

  3. novafyre says:

    “that may reflect more of a defensive focus by Laviolette following injuries to key defensemen”

    I hear a lot of coaches and analysts saying that d-men need to stay home when playing against a fast team (which most Caps opponents seem to be anymore) because it’s too easy for fast forwards to get behind them. Is this what you’re referring to?

  4. Anonymous says:

    Completely thrown by the fact the third pairing is getting a majority of the offensive zone starts.

    • Jon Sorensen says:

      I was a bit surprised as well. Giving it more thought, he filled in for Carlson when he was injured, so that period may have bolstered his offensive zone shift starts a bit more.

  5. Anonymous says:

    i don’t have an issue with 74’s contract. If the Caps let him walk after the Cup the fans would have lost their minds. This guy is a top 5 offensive defenseman and even if his ability on the defensive end drops some he is well worth the money. This year he is definitely worth and from his start he is showing he’ll lead our D in offensive production and likely be top 10 in the league again. Pretty easy to sign a stout defensive defenseman (much easier to find than a Carlson). Then if you think about what the GM expected the CAP to be this year and the contract makes so much sense. Like many teams, COVID killed this team with regard to payroll.

    These fans are the same ones that ran Larry Murphy out of town so pardon me if I don’t buy into the Carlson is a terrible contract and below average player. Heck, NHL network ranked him 9th coming into this year. Let’s say they are off by a ratio of 3 (he’d be 27th is what I am trying to say), he’d still be a #1 defenseman….

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