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Posted at 07:54 AM ET, 01/24/2011

Statistical analysis: Who is the Capitals' shutdown pair?

Washington's defense has been a pleasant surprise this season, allowing only 2.54 goals against (entering Saturday's game) after surrendering 2.77 goals per game last year. So when it comes to being the Capitals' "shutdown pair," who is doing most of the heavy lifting?

The defensive pairings have seen far less tinkering than the forward line combinations, so we are able to limit it to the six pairs who have spent a bulk of time together both on the penalty kill and during even strength. The definition of a "shutdown pair" is murky, so for purposes of this article I will define it as follows:

  1. They must play against the opposition's best lines as measured by Corsi, which is a proxy for puck possession. A higher Corsi number means those skaters are seeing more pucks directed at the opposition's net.
  2. They must see a majority of scoring chances go in Washington's favor when on the ice.
  3. They must keep the other team from creating scoring chances and from scoring off those chances.
  4. They must perform well on the penalty kill together.

First we'll look at even strength, and as one would expect, John Carlson and Karl Alzner lead the pairing in time on ice together, followed by Mike Green and Jeff Schultz.

Defensive pair EV TOI Scoring chance% Scoring chances against per 20 min Goals against per 20 min Avg Corsi of competition
Alzner-Carlson 483.5 54.9% 4.88 0.58 0.985
Green-Schultz 345.4 47.8% 5.50 0.87 1.183
Green-Hannan 171.9 53.3% 5.70 0.58 0.426
Carlson-Erskine 113.5 52.8% 5.99 0.53 -0.464
Erskine-Poti 97.4 44.0% 5.75 0.62 -0.079
Poti-Schultz 86.8 45.8% 5.99 1.15 2.548

As most Caps fans know, it's the youngsters (Carlson and Alzner) who are stealing the show. With more than half the scoring chances going in Washington's favor, they still manage a minuscule half a goal against per 20 minutes - against very stiff competition.

Now let's look at the penalty kill:

Dpair PK TOI PK scoring chances against per 2 min PK Goals against per 2 min
Green-Schultz 53.4 1.01 0.22
Alzner-Carlson 51.4 0.89 0.23
Green-Hannan 28.2 1.28 0.00
Carlson-Erskine 19.6 1.53 0.20
Poti-Schultz 15.2 1.19 0.26
Erskine-Poti 11.8 0.85 0.17

The pairings of Green/Schultz and Carlzner play almost half of the penalty-kill minutes for Washington, but Carlzner allows fewer chances and goals against per two minutes of penalty-kill time -- getting the nod as best pair when skating 4-on-5 or 3-on-5.

So there you have it: Carlson and Alzner see more minutes against better competition and keep those lines off the scoreboard during even strength and on the penalty kill. What was thought to be a liability coming into the season has thus far been the team's best defensive shutdown pair.

By Neil Greenberg  |  07:54 AM ET, 01/24/2011

Categories:  Statistical analysis, Statistical analysis, Statistical analysis

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