The Caps have been making headlines for their much-improved team defense in recent weeks, with shots against down, shot blocks up and a stingy 2.00 goals-against per game rate, tied for seventh-lowest in the League. What has gotten a bit less fanfare is how the team's defensive corps has performed not just in their own zone, but in the offensive zone, as well.
This was on display again last night, with both Caps' goals coming off the stick of defensemen - John Carlson picking up his first of the year on the power play, Mike Green checking in with his third of the year. The two are pacing the rest of the team's blueliners, and are among the League leaders in scoring by defensemen (with Green's three goals tied for top spot in that department, in just five games played). That's not completely surprising, considering the type of offensive talent they each possess, but they're both well ahead of their scoring pace from the last two seasons. Last year it took Carlson almost a month (17 games, to be exact) to match this season's output of five points; as of last night, Green has six points, a mark he didn't hit until Game #11 last year.
A Thing You Should Read Right Now
A Thing You Should Read Right Now
They're not alone, either - of the seven defensemen who have dressed for the Caps so far this season, only two (Nate Schmidt and Jack Hillen) have yet to register a point. The entire defensive group has combined for 16 points through six games (including a handful of points on the still-humming power play).
That's pretty good, considering that only Calgary (20 points), San Jose (19) and Montreal (18) have gotten more production out of their defensemen so far, with three other teams (the Flyers, Devils and Lightning) tying the Caps' mark of 16 points. And only Arizona (2.80 points per game) and San Jose (2.71) have gotten a higher rate of production than the Caps' 2.67 points per game (tied with New Jersey).
Here's a look at offense from the defense around the League:
What's even more telling than how they stack up against the rest of the League, however, is how they compare to themselves - or more accurately, older versions of themselves. Barry Trotz and Todd Reirden have implemented a system that is aggressive, with defensemen encouraged to jump into the play and take that extra step if there's a chance to create a play, rather than immediately fall back at the first sign of trouble. That's a vast departure from the mentality under Adam Oates, which was much more conservative and resulted in very little offense from the defense to start the past two seasons. The Caps' D put up just nine points in the first six games of 2013-14; the year before, it was only eight.
That the Caps' defenders have almost matched their six-game output from the last two seasons combined is pretty impressive... but it gets even more impressive when you go back through franchise history. This hot start by the blueline is somewhat unprecedented in recent years, regardless of who was coaching. How unprecedented? The last time the defense combined for at least 16 points through the season's first six games was 1997-98. That ended up being a pretty good year...
All of this, of course, is subject to the same caveats that follow any observations made this early in the season - it is an incredibly small sample size, and way too early in the season to make any sweeping judgments about what this team, from the blueline on out, will be by the end of the year. And while the output has been impressive, it's worth noting that it is largely being carried by Green and Carlson, who have combined for 11 of the 16 points so far and are the only players to pick up points in multiple games (with both Brooks Orpik and Matt Niskanen earning their two points apiece in the same game).
Still, it's yet another promising sign under the new Barry Trotz-led Caps - and another example of how the team is flipping the script from previous seasons.