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:
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):
...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|
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|
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.