A little more than a year ago, we looked back at the recently concluded season with a focus on which defensemen had skated together most frequently and which had been most productive together. For that 2007-08 campaign, the Caps' most common even strength combos on the blueline were Mike Green and Shaone Morrisonn, Tom Poti and Milan Jurcina, Green and Poti, and Jeff Schultz and Brian Pothier.
One year later that same duo - Green and Morrisonn - was still the most frequent Caps pairing, but with just 58% of the total even strength ice time they shared a season prior. That the most frequent pairing played together just over half as much as the most frequent pair from a year earlier speaks to the fact that injuries were the story of the 2008-09 Caps' defense corp, and with the injuries came instability (to get a true sense of that instability, one need look no further than the fact that Karl Alzner and Jurcina - a mid-season, 30-game rookie call-up and a bottom pairing blueliner - were second to Green and Mo in even strength ice time as a pair).
Given that Green and Morrisonn were out so often together and the 2008-09 season that the former had, it should come as no surprise that this top pairing also combined for the most points at even strength of any Caps blueline duo. But what may come as a surprise is that those 12 points were tied with the point total put up by Green and Schultz, and just two more than the Alzner-Jurcina pairing. And while the 27 goals that the Caps scored while Green and Mo were on the ice at even strength led the team's D-pairs, it was only the third best scoring rate among that group. After the jump, a look at the Goals For per sixty minutes of evens strength time for each of the blueline duos that skated more than 40 minutes together at even strength this past season (Why 40 minutes? Why not? It's about three games together for the low-minutes defensemen).
Some of these samples are quite small, of course, and favorable numbers here can be the result of which forwards are out with the defensemen (though when one considers that John Erskine had the highest 5-on-5 Quality of Teammates among these rearguards, that argument starts to take on some water).
But different defensemen have different roles, so let's take a look at the flip side of the Goals For coin - Goals Against:
Seeing minute-munching Tom Poti in four of the bottom six spots here and Jeff Schultz in three of the bottom four is a bit disheartening, but one wonders how much consistency of pairings comes into play here, especially considering how young this blueline is - each of the top-seven pairings in terms of ice time is in the top eleven in GA/60, and that includes Schultz's two most frequent pairings placing in the top five. Additionally, consider Quality of Competition and seeing Poti at the bottom and Erskine at the top, generally, is further explained. Finally, Mike Green is a much better five-on-five defenseman than he's generally given credit for being, and seems to be able to play with anyone... and at just 23-years-old.
Putting it all together, then, we can get a fairly useful plus-minus for each pairing, both raw and per sixty:
Perhaps more than anything, this reinforces how important stability is in the performance of a defense corps (you know what to do, Bob Woods). What we see at the top is a high-skill pairing followed by the three most common combinations, a veteran pairing, another high-minutes duo, and so on, while at the other end we have five of the six least familiar pairings holding five of the bottom six spots (including the bottom four). To be sure, there's a bit of "chicken-or-the-egg" at play here - do pairs stick because they're effective or are pairs effective because they've stuck? - but it's hard to deny that on a blueline that featured so many early twenty-somethings, familiarity with one's partner is a very good thing.
There's plenty to take away from this exercise, and some to leave - a goal here or a save there and maybe these tables look completely different. But with a little health and consistency, the pieces are there, they just need to be put - and kept - together.