It is tough to assess the value of a defenseman in the NHL. Most who try just use the traditional metrics available to the general public, such as plus/minus, hits, blocked shots and takeaways. These statistics give good insight into certain aspects of a player’s defensive game, but they fall short when looking to evaluate their overall defensive abilities. Nor do they give any understanding of how the defensive pairings are used.
Much like we did for the forwards last week, we now turn our attention to the blueliners, taking a look at four key advanced metrics during 5-on-5 play to see how each defensive pair has contributed to the team defensively overall:
1. Offensive zone start percentage (OZstart%), which is the percentage of faceoffs for which players are on the ice the offensive zone. Neutral zone faceoffs are not counted. This gives a sense of how the defensive pairs are being used. For example, you would expect a shutdown pair to start in the offensive zone less often than their own zone, so an OZstart% of less than 50% is common.
2. Competition played based on Corsi (Rel Corsi QoC), which indicates the quality of opponents the pair face in a game. The higher the number, the more difficult the competition faced.
3. Scoring chance percentage (SC%), which tells you which pair is driving play and helping the team spend more time in the offensive zone. The higher the better.
4. Percentage of shots that are dangerous (%DShA), which shows what percentage of shots directed at net (including goals against, saves and missed) are from the scoring chance area.
|Defensive Pair||OZstart%||Rel Corsi QoC||SC%||%DShA|
The young duo of John Carlson and Karl Alzner continues to do the heavy lifting for this team defensively. Despite typically starting in their own zone against the opposition's top line, they drive play and do a tremendous job of suppressing shots that come from the dangerous parts of the ice. That's why as a duo they have been on the ice for just 15 of the 96 total goals against.
Wideman and Erskine are given the high ground with respect to soft competition and a healthy dose of offensive zone starts, which helps them tilt the ice in Washington's favor. It also makes it easier to limit the amount of dangerous shots their netminders need to face.
Dmitry Orlov has been bounced around a bit since Dale Hunter took over behind the bench, but the numbers suggest his most ideal partner is Jeff Schultz, which shouldn't be that surprising. Jeff Schultz has seen his best games alongside offensive-minded Mike Green, who has a playing style similar to Orlov.
Speaking of Schultz, it looks like he is the odd man out these past few days, being a healthy scratch for four games in a row before getting a sweater during the Capitals' win over the Nashville Predators.
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As you can see, Schultz can play solid defense, and despite any narrative to the contrary, he doesn't adversely affect the team during even strength when he is on the ice.
Follow Neil on Twitter: @ngreenberg.