Our first question (for Rob) this week asks about the team's fourth top-four defenseman (and while the question is a bit aged, it's still plenty relevant):
It would be tough sell to say that Dmitry Orlov isn't a top-four defenseman at this point, at least for this Capitals team. By even-strength time on ice per game, he's second on the team only to Mike Green, with whom he skates the vast majority of his shifts. Of course, someone has to be the fourth defenseman for the Caps, as we've discussed since before the season started. Whether or not that someone can hold down the position and be a positive contributor while playing it has been the big question.
As far as results, it's again hard to argue against Orlov. He leads all Caps defensemen in Corsi-for and Fenwick-for percentage. His Corsi-for and Fenwick-for are also the best relative to his teammates, with nobody else really close. Adam Oates has talked about wanting more consistency from Orlov defensively, but he's a young player and bumps in the road are be expected to some degree. But even with his youthful inconsistency, Orlov's possession results are clearly a big positive for a team that has struggled in that regard. Moreover, over the last several games we've also seen Orlov get more confident moving the puck up ice (or maybe he's gotten a bit more freedom from his head coach). The breakout has been a concern all year, but Orlov is quickly becoming one of the best Capitals defenders at getting pucks out and up.
One area of concern, given his skill set, defensive partner, and ice time, would be his lack of even-strength assists. He has less total ice time this season than the other regular defenders, but it would be nice to see Orlov with a higher Individual Points Percentage at fives than, say, Karl Alzner. Then again, by Individual Goal Percentage he's once again the team's top defender on the strength of his only goal this season, so maybe the sample sizes need to even out a bit. His team-worst on-ice shooting percentage of 4.8% is likely to increase, which should help his box car numbers, as well.
Orlov isn't perfect, but at this point he's been the best option the team has used at the 4D spot. We'll likely still have to live with some growing pains, but so far it's safe to say that Orlov is - or at least should be - the guy for that spot for the foreseeable future. John Erskine is a known quantity, Nate Schmidt has been in Hershey and Alexander Urbom was just waived so it looks like the coaching staff is content with Orlov in the top four. For now. We think.
Our second question asks about "the most exciting play in hockey" and whether or not we might want to allow teams to opt out of it:
@JapersRink had discussion with brother in law. Wanted to hear your thoughts. If you get PS, should you be allowed to decline and take PP?
— Jake Nazar (@JakeNazar365) January 3, 2014
On the first question, I'm a pretty solid "no." A penalty shot is "designed to restore a scoring opportunity which was lost as a result of a foul being committed by the offending team" in those situations detailed in the rule (most commonly "when a player, in the neutral or attacking zone, in control of the puck (or who could have obtained possession and control of the puck) and having no other opponent to pass than the goalkeeper, is tripped or otherwise fouled from behind, thus preventing a reasonable scoring opportunity", but there are other circumstances that invoke this make-whole remedy). Essentially, a team/player is denied a scoring chance of a specific nature, so the rules provide that team/player with as good a chance as the game provides for - a one-on-one with the opponent's goalie. To me, that sounds like enough reparative justice, regardless of whether or not the shooter converts on his chance (the rulebook does provide for goals to be awarded in some extreme situations, too, where a mere chance isn't restorative enough).
As to the second question, I'd have no problem with that rule change, given the subjective and close nature on many (most?) penalty shot determinations - why not let the victim choose the sentence here? Further, it would be very interesting to see what choices teams might make (and the fallout from making those calls). Take the Caps, for example (gee, why?). We all know that Alex Ovechkin is now 0-for-2 in penalty shots this season and just 2-for-9 in his career. Still, that's 22.2%, which is just a hair under the Caps' power-play efficiency on the season and better than it's been over the past seven games. And if we use shootout attempts to increase our one-on-one sample size, the Caps' captain is 25-for-79 in his career, a 31.6% mark that comfortably tops the team's 2013-14 power-play rate... but Ovi's just 2-for-11 in the shootout this year. And it's not just Ovechkin - nearly all Caps with more than a couple of shootout attempts have converted them more regularly than the team's very good power play.
The decision to decline a penalty shot in favor of a power play would depend on a number of factors, from shooter to game situation to opposing goalie and penalty kill to "gut feelings"... and it would add a layer of intrigue to the games and second-guessing to coaching decisions, so I'm all for it.
If you've got something on your mind, go ahead and ask it here on the site, on Twitter (use #JapersMailbag), via email or on Facebook, and we'll try to get to them. There are always a lot of question marks around this team... so let's talk about as many of them as we can.