A Look at The Capitals' Blueline

When Karl Alzner was recalled yesterday, he brought the total number of defensemen on the Caps' NHL roster to a whopping nine. Even with Brian Pothier out of the lineup with a rib injury and Tyler Sloan getting a lot of his minutes up front (when he gets a sweater, that is), there's a logjam on the blueline which must be resolved, especially if the Caps are going to eventually spend some of those sweet, sweet Nylander bucks on a new (to them) rearguard.

As this unit is viewed generally as the team's Achilles heel, the decision of who stays and who goes is all the more important, so let's take a look at some of the numbers through 33 games. First, stats at five-on-five, ranked by plus-minus per sixty minutes (GP - games played; QC - Quality of Competition; QT - Quality of Teammates; Pts/60 - Points per sixty minutes; GFON/60 - team goals for per sixty minutes; GAON/60 - team goals against per sixty minutes; +/-ON/60 - GFON/60 minus GAON/60; Corsi - Corsi rating; Pen+/- - Penalty plus minus per sixty minutes):

GP QC QT Pts/60 GFON/60 GAON/60 +/-ON/60 Corsi Pen+/-
Jeff Schultz 26 .040 .402 1.05 3.44 1.35 2.09 10.4 -0.1
John Erskine 21 -.078 .157 0.39 3.11 1.17 1.94 -5.0 -0.6
Brian Pothier 28 -.079 .273 0.98 3.23 1.41 1.83 -2.2 -0.5
Mike Green 32 -.013 .180 1.69 4.06 2.48 1.58 8.1 -0.2
Tom Poti 27 .139 -.200 0.56 2.93 2.37 0.56 0.3 0.0
Milan Jurcina 25 .106 -.178 0.66 2.47 2.64 -0.16 -4.8 -1.0
Tyler Sloan* 20 .009 -.310 0.77 2.06 2.32 -0.26 -13.2 -0.7
Shaone Morrisonn 24 -.017 .372 0.34 2.71 3.22 -0.51 -8.2 -0.5
Karl Alzner 5 -.028 -.380 1.68 1.68 3.35 -1.68 -23.3 -1.7

Some of these numbers are surprising - first and foremost the fact that John Erskine has the lowest GAON/60 of the group and how bad Alzner's numbers are (albeit in an extremely small sample). Some aren't as surprising - Mike Green has the highest GFON/60 and Jeff Schultz is leading the way in plus-minus, even though he's playing tough competition. In fact, Schultz has the best five-on-five plus-minus per sixty in the entire NHL among blueliners who have played at least ten games... and Erskine and Pothier round out the top three, respectively, with Green not far behind.

As for Erskine's numbers (and Pothier's, for that matter), you can see that he has been somewhat hidden (more or less tied for the weakest competition) and his Corsi shows he's been somewhat lucky to be on the right side of the plus-minus ledger. Anyway, there's plenty there for discussion in the comments, but let's move on.


Next up - just a couple of four-on-five numbers, ranked by goals against per sixty minutes (TOI/60 - time on ice per sixty minutes):

TOI/60 GAON/60
Brian Pothier 0.56 3.81
Karl Alzner
2.51 4.77
Milan Jurcina 2.40 4.99
Mike Green 2.09 5.39
Jeff Schultz 2.44 5.68
Shaone Morrisonn 1.87 6.69
Tom Poti 3.51 9.49
John Erskine 1.38 12.44
Tyler Sloan* 0.64 23.62

It's no secret that the Caps' penalty kill has struggled, and part of the reason is that a couple of their supposed defensive stalwarts - Shaone Morrisonn and Tom Poti - haven't been getting the job done. Erskine has become nearly unplayable down a man (and his minutes reflect that - only two defensemen in the League have a worse GAON/60), and no one with a decent sample size is really distinguishing himself here, save perhaps Milan Jurcina. Granted, a few saves here and there could help these numbers out, but the blueliners have to help out their netminders as well.

Finally, some general numbers, ranked by games played (TOI - time on ice per game; Hits - hits; BkS - blocked shots; TkA - takeaways; GvA - giveaways; GvA/60 - giveaways per sixty minutes of ice time T-G/60 - takeaways minus giveaways per sixty minutes of ice time):

GP TOI Hits BkS TkA GvA GvA/60 T-A/60
Mike Green 32 25:05 47 50 14 30 2.24 -1.20
Brian Pothier 28 17:47 34 40 11 14 1.45 -0.31
Tom Poti 27 21:31 10 39 16 14 1.69 0.24
Jeff Schultz 26 18:47 24 47 4 16 1.96 -1.47
Milan Jurcina 25 17:32 43 37 3 12 1.64 -1.23
Shaone Morrisonn 24 17:14 50 39 4 11 1.59 -1.01
John Erskine 21 16:44 44 22 4 19 3.24 -2.56
Tyler Sloan* 20 12:32 26 16 2 11 2.63 -2.15
Karl Alzner 5 18:12 3 6 0 1 0.66 -0.66

A few more interesting numbers here, especially those last two, which measure puck possession and protection. Sure, Green turns the puck over with maddening frequency, but not nearly as often per minute as Erskine. Add in Green's takeaways, and he looks even less bad better.

Again, there's a lot of data in these tables, but, taken together, they paint a pretty good picture of where the Caps' blueline is at the moment, and who are the likely - and deserving - candidates to go when room needs to be made.

* Sloan's statistics include time spent at forward. Simple stats via NHL.com, advanced stats via Behind the Net.

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