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A Rough March for the Capitals' Defense

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As you may have noticed, the Capitals haven't been quite the same juggernaut since the Olympics that the were prior to the mid-February break. They've won eight of 14 games, have allowed 2.85 goals against per game and have successfully killed off just 73.5% of their shorthanded opportunities.

To be certain, there's plenty of blame to go around, from the coaching staff on down. But when things go bad for this Caps team, eyes tend to turn to one of two places: the defense or the goaltending (and given that the offense has provided 3.42 goals per game during this stretch and converted 26% of its power-play opportunities, it's probably with good reason). For the moment, we're going to take a look at the blueline and what each member of that group has done since the Olympic break.

First, the raw numbers (note: obviously not every goal for which a player is on the ice is that player's fault, but the numbers can be informative nonetheless):

Player GP Total GA 5-on-5 4-on-4 4-on-5 3-on-5 3-on-4
Joe Corvo 12 18 9
7 0
Tom Poti 13 14 4
Shaone Morrisonn 11 12 10
Mike Green 14 12 9
2 1 0
Jeff Schultz 12 11 7 1 3
0 0
John Carlson 13 6 6 0 0 0
John Erskine 6
3 2
1 0
Tyler Sloan 3 1 1 0 0
0 0

[GP - games played; Total GA - goals against while the player was on the ice; X-on-X - number of Caps skaters on the ice followed by number of opposing players]

The raw numbers give you a hint of what's to come, but they're largely meaningless without rates, so without further ado...


Corvo 12 203.7 15.4 3.24
Poti 13 231.6 42.5
Morrisonn 11 175.1 25.3
Green 14 281.1 24.4 2.35
Schultz 12 217.0 24.8
2.21 7.26
Carlson 13 194.3 4.5 1.85
Erskine 6
87.2 7.5 1.38
Sloan 3 45.9 4.3
1.31 0.00

[GP - games played; ES TOI - even strength time on ice; PK TOI - penalty-killing time on ice; ESGA/60 - even strength goals against average per sixty minutes; PKGA/60 - penalty-killing goals against average per sixty minutes]

Now that there's some context, let's dig in:

  • First up, the elephant in the room, Joe Corvo's penalty killing: small minutes, lots of goals against. The Caps have allowed 13 power-play goals since Corvo was acquired from Carolina at the trade deadline and he's been on the ice for more than half of them, despite being sixth on the team in per-game shorthanded ice time. Perhaps we could chalk it up to a slow start in a new system... if he hadn't been on the ice for the last three 4-on-5 goals the Caps allowed. Corvo has also had trouble at even strength, both at five- and four-aside.
  • Tom Poti's even-strength numbers are outstanding, especially given the tough assignments he's drawn all year. On the penalty kill, however, he's struggled. Throw out the five- and four-on-three goals (for which he certainly has some culpability) and that number is still a too-high 8.47. Poti simply has trouble with the puck in penalty-killing situations and gets burned for it far too often.
  • Shaone Morrisonn has been bad (defensively, at least) at even strength, even against weak competition (again, season-long numbers there, but they're likely consistent). You could blame partnering with a rookie... but that rookie's numbers are quite good. Give Mo more penalty-killing time (the season-long numbers bear this out) and perhaps limit his minutes at even strength.
  • Mike Green and Jeff Schultz are solid, though you'd like to see better PK numbers from Sarge (and, over the course of the season, you have).
  • Tyler Sloan for Norris!
  • John Erskine has been good at even strength, but much less good on the penalty kill. The decision on whether to play Erskine or Mo really comes down to whether you want your liability at even strength or on the penalty kill, and right now the right choice is to dress Mo for his superior abilities shorthanded.
  • It'd be nice if Milan Jurcina were healthy.

Of course, the number of goals a team allows is only one part of the formula for success, so here's a quick look at the even-strength goals for since the Olympic break:

Player GP ES GF ES GA Δ/60
Corvo 12 7 11 -1.18
Poti 13 9 5
Morrisonn 11 13 10
Green 11 16 11
Schultz 12 9
8 0.28
Carlson 13 10 6
Erskine 6
1 2 -0.69
Sloan 3 2 1

[GP - games played; ES GF - even strength goals for; ES GA - even strength goals against (from above); Δ/60 - even strength goals for minus even strength goals against, per sixty minutes]

The focus of this post has been on the defensive side of things (since offense never has been and hopefully never will be an issue for this Caps team), so we won't go into much detail regarding the goals scored, but a few things merit mention here:

  • John Carlson is already one heck of a hockey player.
  • Joe Corvo, on the other hand, doesn't appear to be.
  • Where we may have questioned Erskine vs. Morrisonn above, that question is emphatically answered here.
  • Tyler Sloan for Norris!

As Bruce Boudreau readies his team for the playoffs, he's going to need his blueliners playing their best. For most of them, that means they'll need to be a lot better than they were in March.