O from the D is MIA

Jonathan Daniel

The Caps are struggling to put the puck in the net at times, starting with - and partly because of - the defense.

Through the season’s first twelve games, the Caps have at times struggled offensively and find themselves around the middle of the pack in total goals and goals-per-game. It’s not wholly surprising considering the team’s dismal puck possession numbers; after all, it’s pretty hard to score goals if you spend most of the time chasing the puck. It hasn’t gone unnoticed by the team, as they strive to be (and on paper at least, should be) a strong puck possession team – and it starts with the defensemen, who have been tasked with a more active role in the offensive zone in order to make Adam Oates’s system work the way it should.

So far, it doesn’t seem to be working all that well.

While the involvement of the defense in starting the play doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll end up on the scoresheet, odds are that they would be picking up points fairly frequently, and to date that hasn’t been the case.

First, let's look at the basic numbers for the Caps' blueliners:

Player GP G A PTS ESG ESA ESP PPG PPA PPP
Mike Green 12 0 7 7 0 2 2 0 5 5
Steven Oleksy 10 0 3 3 0 3 3 0 0 0
John Carlson 12 0 2 2 0 2 2 0 0 0
Nate Schmidt 8 0 2 2 0 2 2 0 0 0
Karl Alzner 12 0 1 1 0 1 1 0 0 0
Connor Carrick 3 1 0 1 1 0 1 0 0 0
John Erskine 7 0 1 1 0 1 1 0 0 0
Jack Hillen 2 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
Alexander Urbom 6 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
TOTAL 1 16 17 1 11 12 0 5 5


Somewhat top-heavy, to say the least, with Mike Green carrying the bulk of the overall defensive point-production (and yet struggling at five-on-five, a not unfamiliar position for him to be in). In the twelve games the Caps have played this season, the defense has racked up a grand total of 17 points, 16 of which were assists (the lone goal coming courtesy of Connor Carrick, who is no longer on the NHL roster). That's the fourth-lowest total in the League, with only six teams overall getting fewer points from their blue line than the Caps.

Here's how the League shapes up when it comes to points-per-game from the defense (data includes all games through October 31):

Tm GP G A PTS G/G A/G P/G
PHX 14 12 28 40 0.86 2.00 2.86
CHI 13 5 30 35 0.38 2.31 2.69
OTT 12 8 24 32 0.67 2.00 2.67
STL 10 3 23 26 0.30 2.30 2.60
CGY 12 5 23 28 0.42 1.92 2.33
VAN 15 6 29 35 0.40 1.93 2.33
SJS 13 8 22 30 0.62 1.69 2.31
MTL 13 4 25 29 0.31 1.92 2.23
TBL 12 4 22 26 0.33 1.83 2.17
CBJ 11 4 19 23 0.36 1.73 2.09
BOS 12 9 16 25 0.75 1.33 2.08
MIN 13 5 22 27 0.38 1.69 2.08
TOR 14 3 26 29 0.21 1.86 2.07
PIT 13 6 19 25 0.46 1.46 1.92
WPG 14 3 23 26 0.21 1.64 1.86
CAR 12 5 16 21 0.42 1.33 1.75
COL 11 5 13 18 0.45 1.18 1.64
NJD 12 3 16 19 0.25 1.33 1.58
LAK 14 9 13 22 0.64 0.93 1.57
DET 13 2 18 20 0.15 1.38 1.54
NYI 12 2 16 18 0.25 1.25 1.50
WSH 12 1 16 17 0.08 1.33 1.42
ANA 14 0 18 18 0.00 1.29 1.29
EDM 14 5 13 18 0.36 0.93 1.29
PHI 11 4 10 14 0.36 0.91 1.27
NSH 13 6 10 16 0.46 0.77 1.23
DAL 12 7 7 14 0.58 0.58 1.17
FLA 12 2 10 12 0.17 0.83 1.00
NYR 12 4 8 12 0.33 0.67 1.00
BUF 15 3 11 14 0.20 0.73 0.93


...and there are the Caps, in the bottom-third of the League.

Of course, it's not like the team has jumped out of the gate as an offensive juggernaut overall. So how is the defensive production trending with the team's overall production? Well, if you figure that the defense makes up a third of the team's skaters on the ice at any given time (and considering that their primary role is not offensive production) you'd probably want to see the blue line chipping in with anywhere from a quarter to a third of the points produced overall. Here's the League-wide picture (and check out the pretty chart over at NHL.com):

Tm GP G A PTS Total Team Points % of Total Points
OTT 12 8 24 32 98 32.65%
MIN 13 5 22 27 83 32.53%
PHX 14 12 28 40 127 31.50%
VAN 15 6 29 35 113 30.97%
CAR 12 5 16 21 69 30.43%
CHI 13 5 30 35 116 30.17%
MTL 13 4 25 29 97 29.90%
CBJ 11 4 19 23 78 29.49%
WPG 14 3 23 26 89 29.21%
CGY 12 5 23 28 99 28.28%
NJD 12 3 16 19 69 27.54%
BOS 12 9 16 25 92 27.17%
STL 10 3 23 26 100 26.00%
DET 13 2 18 20 78 25.64%
PHI 11 4 10 14 56 25.00%
LAK 14 9 13 22 89 24.72%
TBL 12 4 22 26 109 23.85%
TOR 14 3 26 29 122 23.77%
BUF 15 3 11 14 61 22.95%
PIT 13 6 19 25 109 22.94%
NSH 13 6 10 16 71 22.54%
SJS 13 8 22 30 136 22.06%
NYR 12 4 8 12 56 21.43%
EDM 14 5 13 18 93 19.35%
COL 11 5 13 18 94 19.15%
WSH 12 1 16 17 90 18.89%
FLA 12 2 10 12 65 18.46%
NYI 12 2 16 18 100 18.00%
DAL 12 7 7 14 84 16.67%
ANA 14 0 18 18 112 16.07%

Yup, there are those pesky Caps again, near the bottom with just under 19% of the team's production so far.

While not the biggest difference-maker, it is worth noting that a lot of team's blueliners are able to beef up their numbers because their team uses two defensemen on a regular basis on the power play, whereas the Caps usually only use one (and he plays almost the whole time). So the news does get slightly better when comparing overall production to even-strength production, an area which had been plaguing the Caps earlier this season. Just over 70% of the points from the blue line have been at even strength, with the five power-play points all belonging to Mike Green - that puts them right back in the middle of the pack:

Tm GP PTS Defense ES Pts % of Pts at ES
ANA 14 18 15 83.33%
FLA 12 12 10 83.33%
VAN 15 35 29 82.86%
PHI 11 14 11 78.57%
NYI 12 18 14 77.78%
COL 11 18 14 77.78%
PIT 13 25 19 76.00%
CHI 13 35 26 74.29%
EDM 14 18 13 72.22%
OTT 12 32 23 71.88%
CAR 12 21 15 71.43%
BUF 15 14 10 71.43%
WSH 12 17 12 70.59%
DET 13 20 14 70.00%
TBL 12 26 18 69.23%
LAK 14 22 15 68.18%
WPG 14 26 17 65.38%
CBJ 11 23 15 65.22%
DAL 12 14 9 64.29%
BOS 12 25 16 64.00%
SJS 13 30 19 63.33%
PHX 14 40 25 62.50%
CGY 12 28 17 60.71%
MTL 13 29 17 58.62%
NYR 12 12 7 58.33%
TOR 14 29 16 55.17%
NJD 12 19 10 52.63%
MIN 13 27 14 51.85%
STL 10 26 13 50.00%
NSH 13 16 8 50.00%


But even here, just 12 even-strength points for the defense is not nearly good enough, and puts the Caps on almost equal footing with such offensively explosive teams as the Devils, the Rangers and Buffalo.

So what conclusions can we draw from all of this?

For one thing, it's clear that while some of the defense may be trying to step it up offensively (Karl Alzner comes to mind as someone who has been more active in the offensive zone), the results just aren't there... yet. And obviously some of this is on the shoulders of the forwards, because most defensemen are going to rack up points on assists, not goals, and that means someone needs to be putting the puck in the net.

But the bigger issue here may be one of personnel vs. system - in other words, Adam Oates's system depends on the defensemen being able to make the simple plays, get the puck into the zone, start the rush, etc. It's a system in which guys like Mike Green and John Carlson should thrive, and even they're not; so what chance does someone like John Erskine have?

Fact is, If the current crop of blueliners isn't up to that task, it won't just be their individual numbers that can't improve - it'll be the team's performance as a whole. And that's exactly what we're seeing.

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