When I was watching the Caps vs. the Leafs the other night, CSN showed a stat that got me thinking. In comparing two of the best offensive defensemen in the game, Green and Kaberle, the stats showed that these guys scored half their points on the power play. I began to wonder, is scoring half your total points on the PP normal for a defenseman? If it is, could this perhaps be the smoking gun in why the Capitals seem to lack offensive output from any defender not named Green? (Ignoring Poti's very nice output from just the last couple of games)
Lots more after the jump.
Whenever we, as fans, talk about the Capital's powerplay, there are always a few constants that have to enter the conversation. First, Green and Ovechkin play the point. This is important because by having a forward play a defensive position, it denies a defenseman from having the opportunity to contribute on the powerplay and hence contribute to more points from the defense. Of course, this move also undeniably contributes to our powerplay being more effective, but that really isn't the issue for this piece. The second issue that rears its head is shift length. Ovechkin and Green play on the points until either the Caps score or until the power play is over. Again, this doesn't create an opportunity for another defenseman to help the team or his own scoring stats. Could strategy then be the source of the lack of offensive production from the blue line, rather than effort or skill issues?
I spent part of a day rampaging around the internet trying to find the stats that could help me check this. Behindthenet.ca has a huge amount of stats, and some of them are even understandable to a layman, but they didn't have what I was looking for. I wanted simple, raw data stats (for a simple mind) rather than massaged stats that tell a bigger picture all on their own. So where did I find what I wanted? Where I should have started in the first place, NHL.com. They have a very nice stat section with a very easy and usable filter. Good job by whomever handles their internet content.
First, I want to say I'm not going to run a comparison against the entire league. I don't have the time. However, I will compare against the other top teams in the Eastern Conference. These teams should be representative of teams that get good contributions from their entire squad, so should provide good numbers to compare against. They may not be a true average of the NHL, but since we think that the Caps are in the upper tier of the NHL, I think they should be compared against upper tier teams instead of just a baseline average anyway.
Well, at least our eyes aren't deceiving us. Yep, Mike Green gets a ton of ice time on the PP, while other guys don't. Poti and Pothier, our other "offensive" D-men do get a little time.
In the case of Green, he has scored 23 of his 48 points on the powerplay. With one point shorthanded, that is darned near half his points. Similarly Poti, who at least gets a little time on the PP, also scores half his points on the special teams, 5 of his 10. Pothier, the only other significant power play contributor from the blue line, is lagging behind in percentage, with only 25% of his points on special teams. Of course, the true outlier is Schultz. The second leading scorer from the blue line, all 13 of his points come at full strength because he gets about zero time on the power play. BB just hasn't learned to respect the awesomeness of his 170 foot slap shot I guess.
In total, the defense has contributed 115 points, 30 of it on the PP. That is 26%.
Next lets take a look at Eastern Conference leading New Jersey.
Eh, apparently my cut and pasting of stats from NHL.com got too large to be saved as a post very quickly. Oh well, you will have to take my word on the numbers from here and check them if you see anything you disagree with.
Jersey has 4 guys who get a significant amount of PP time. Greene and Murphy over 3 minutes per game, and Martin and Oduya get around 2 minutes a game. (Eckford got over 2 minutes, but only played 2 games) I would guess this means they play 2 defensmen on a power play line, and roll 2 lines, with a bit of more time given to one line. Green has 11 of 23 points on the PP. Martin has 100% of his points on the PP, but only has 1 point. Murphy has 1 of his 2 points on the powerplay, and Oduya has only two points and both came even strength. There isn't too much scoring here to really work with, but the trend seems to be that New Jersey's blue liners get a fair amount of their opportunities to score on the PP. New Jersey's defense has only contributed 59 points total this year, and 15 total points have come from special teams, 25.4%. White and Salvador have 18 points between them, but don't get much PP time and haven't scored on the PP.
Next up is Buffalo. Like the Devils, the Sabers use 4 defensemen on their power play. Myers and Butler each average over 3 minutes a game, and Rivet plays over 2 minutes, and Sekera a minute and a half. Myers has 9 of 26 points on the PP, Butler 9 of 14, Rivet 6 of 11, and Sekera 1 of 6. Montador and Tallinder have 23 points between them, but non of them on the PP and don't get significant PP time. The defense has contributed 91 points, 25 on the power play for a percentage of 27.5.
I'm starting to see a trend here. Defensemen who play on the power play seem to roughly average 50% of their scoring on the power play. Those numbers seem to line up with Washington's production. Teams seem to score about 25% of their total blue line production on the power play, which Washington also falls in line with. Teams also seem to have a pair of defensemen that score without power play time, which Washington only has one of with Schultz. However, Washington actually gets more production from their blue line overall.
Lets see if Pittsburgh continues the trend. The Penguins significantly use 4 defensemen on the power play, with a bit more playing time for Gonchar than the 4th leading defender. Gonchar averages over 5 minutes of PP time a night, Goligoski 3:41, Letang 2:56, and Eaton 1:19. Gonchar has scored 14 of 27 points on the PP, Goligoski 8 of 22, Letang 4 of 15, and Eaton 1 of 11. Pittsburgh seems to rely a little less on the power play to get their defensive points, with the exception of Gonchar who has scored over 50% of his points on the PP. However, these numbers may be a little skewed by the fact that Pittsburgh's power play has struggled overall, so there just hasn't been as much scoring on the PP period. In all, the Penguin's defenders have produced 111 total points, of which 28 have been on the PP, for 25.2%
In conclusion, even though we as fans don't feel like our defense contributes enough offensively, the numbers tell a different story. Our defense scores as well as any squad in the East, and isn't relying upon PP goals any more than any other squad. The fact that so much of those numbers are produced by Mike Green is really more of a result of him playing so much power play time as it is of our other guys not scoring. Also, the fact that we don't use 2 defensemen on the majority of our PP also limits their individual productivity. I would imagine that our defense would show as top in the league if we counted the goals Ovechkin scores from the point on the PP as points from our defense.