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The O's Have It: Maximizing Return On the Orpik Investment

The Caps are countering the 'Orpik Effect' with the 'Ovechkin Effect'... even if they don't know it.

Photo by Patrick McDermott/NHLI via Getty Images

Alex Ovechkin helps the Washington Capitals win in many ways: he scores goals, tallies assists, delivers crushing hits, blocks some shots, and most importantly (and contrary to some of the silly narratives that seem to follow him around wherever he goes), he makes those around him better. To wit, through the Christmas break, Ovechkin's top-12 five-on-five teammates saw their Corsi-For percentage get a bump when playing alongside the Great Eight (and, of course, his usual center, Nicklas Backstrom). One of Ovechkin's most-frequent on-ice teammates, Brooks Orpik, has been one of the biggest beneficiaries of the "Ovechkin Effect." (In case you're wondering, Tom Wilson, unsurprisingly, tops the list for that Ovechkin bump.)

When the Capitals signed Orpik out of Pittsburgh they did improve their defense. The team's new coaching staff likely viewed Orpik's abilities as a "defensive defensemen" as a perfect compliment to the perceived defensive deficiencies of the team generally, and specifically its superstar forward, Ovechkin. Well it's been about five months since the Caps signed Orpik and while it doesn't necessarily appear that Orpik has had a positive effect on Ovechkin's defensive numbers (or any other aspect of his game), it's a good thing the Caps keep putting those two together at five-a-side... because without Ovechkin, Orpik's numbers are unsightly (via Hockey Analysis, as of Saturday morning):

Orpik With Ovechkin Orpik Without Ovechkin Ovechkin Without Orpik
Corsi-For per 20 minutes (CF20) 20.90 15.96 19.66
Corsi-Against per 20 minutes (CA20) 18.17 18.94 16.63
Corsi-For Percentage (CF%) 53.5% 45.7% 54.2%
Goals-For Percentage (GF%) 52.9% 48.1% 50.0%
Time On Ice (TOI) 212:24 369:37 289:55

Brooks Orpik provides leadership and a hard-hitting presence to the Capitals' blue line, but don't look for him to have a positive impact on the numbers; Ovechkin is having his best puck possession season in recent memory in spite of playing so much with Orpik, not thanks to those shared minutes.

Then again, context is important here (recall Muneeb's great piece from last summer on Orpik and context). In this case, it's worth thinking about what those "without" minutes look like for each player. For Orpik, much of that time is spent in a more defensive role. Take a look:

Off Zone Starts Neu Zone Starts Def Zone Starts OZ/(OZ+DZ) OZ% NZ% DZ%
Orpik with Ovechkin 90 96 59 60.4% 36.7% 39.2% 24.1%
Orpik without Ovechkin 103 135 124 45.4% 28.5% 37.3% 34.4%
Ovechkin without Orpik 99 106 82 54.7% 34.5% 36.9% 28.6%

Moreover, Orpik's top non-first-line forward linemates are bottom-sixers Joel Ward, Eric Fehr and Jason Chimera, while Ovechkin's top non-Orpik/Carlson defenseman linemates are all stronger puck-possessors (Matt Niskanen, Mike Green and Nate Schmidt among them). Lastly, we all know how well the Caps play when trailing and how much they've struggled with leads. How have Orpik's and Ovechkin's minutes varied in those situations? Take a look (again, numbers through Friday)

% TOI Leading Caps TOI Leading TOI Leading % TOI Trailing Caps TOI Trailing TOI Trailing
Orpik 37.4% 546 204.2 36.6% 324 118.6
Ovechkin 30.5% 546 166.5 35.8% 324 116.0

Orpik and Ovechkin have played the same number of minutes for the awesome when-trailing Caps, but Orpik has skated 23% more minutes with (and no doubt contributed to) the awful when-leading Caps. Sidenote: maybe the when-leading Caps wouldn't be so terrible if they used Alex Ovechkin more.

Anyway, the impact of zone starts is open to debate (and certainly doesn't go all the way to explaining the discrepancies here), but it's clear that when he's not skating with Ovechkin, Orpik is facing tougher deployments. So there's that context.

The bottom line here is that while playing Ovechkin away from Orpik may result in better numbers for Ovechkin, that small gain would surely not outweigh the loss of possession elsewhere in the lineup (and this dovetails nicely with our assertion that the "second" line should get as many shifts as possible with Green to maximize their possession; put the third line out with Niskanen and Karl Alzner and split fourth line minutes and you've got a pretty good deployment scheme). Orpik and Ovechkin have played well when on the ice together, but the numbers make it clear that Orpik is the beneficiary of Ovechkin's play rather than the other way around.