Amid the seemingly endless talk regarding the possibility that the Caps might trade Mike Green this summer - talk that has somehow morphed from "gee, the Caps sure do have a lot of NHL-caliber defensemen who get paid commensurately" and "Green would be a fit in Detroit" to an Internet fait accompli (which is to say, nothing), despite no real reason to think the Caps (or the Wings) have interest in such a move - one throwaway line in one column has stuck with me a bit, and it's not even really about a potential transaction:
Green and Orlov struggled as a pair last season
That's from CSN Washington's Chuck Gormley, who was wondering aloud last week, "Does Mike Green still fit in Capitals puzzle?"
It's a fair question, of course, and one that's been on all of our minds since the moment the world found out that the Caps had inked Matt Niskanen to a seven-year, $40.25-million dollar three weeks ago. Heck, here was our knee-jerk reaction, before the deal was even announced by the team:
Orpik at $5.5 + Niskanen at a lot = Bye bye, Mike Green?— JapersRink (@JapersRink) July 1, 2014
What's not quite on-point, however, is this notion that Green and Dmitry Orlov "struggled as a pair last season." To be sure, they made their share of mental mistakes, and there was a stretch of a few games over which they made a couple of lowlight-reel mistakes that undoubtedly stick in people's minds (just ask Jeff Schultz how that goes).
But as my buddy's Marine Corps Drill Instructor used to tell him, "You can build a thousand bridges, but screw one sheep and no one knows you as a bridge-builder any more." Well, Green and Orlov built a lot of bridges last year. In fact, when they were on the ice together at five-on-five, roughly 56% of the shots attempted (a.k.a. Corsi) were fired at the opponents' net. That's impressive. That's nearly Duncan Keith-Brent Seabrook. That's better than Zdeno Chara-Dougie Hamilton. And that's for an abysmal puck-possession team.
That last piece is key - Green and Orlov were able to play keep-away on a team that didn't play keep-away. In fact, as a pair, Green and Orlov had just about the highest relative Corsi in the League. Take a look at how they stacked up to some other blueline combos (hover over bubbles for specifics):
Now, obviously Green and Orlov weren't getting the tough assignments that some of their counterparts were, but they outperformed their teammates (in Corsi-For percentage) by more than any other pair in our group outside of the Calgary duo (sidenote: Mark Giordano deserved more Norris votes than he got). In other words, they improved their team by this metric more than just about anyone.
Of course, there's more to hockey than racking up Corsi events, as the League still insists on counting "goals" and such in determining winners. And to that end, Green and Orlov were middling - a 48.8 goals-for percentage (which still outpaced the team's 46.5% otherwise), 21 goals-for, 22 -against. Part of the reason their goals-for didn't keep pace with their Corsi-for was the goaltending behind them - Green and Orlov had an ugly .908 on-ice save-percentage at fives, while their teammates received .933 goaltending (of note, the 7.2 on-ice shooting percentage that Green and Orlov got was the same as the Caps got with one or neither of them on the ice). And it's probably not a stretch to say that the pair did indeed contribute to that low number (though not nearly as much as you might think).
But the bottom line is that when Mike Green and Dmitry Orlov were on the ice together, the Caps controlled the puck at a Chicago/Los Angeles level (ignoring obvious context); without them, they were terrible in that regard. Over time, dominant puck-possession will result in favorable goal totals. So to say that "Green and Orlov struggled as a pair last season" is just... wrong. The Caps were a much better team when the two were on the ice together, and if every pair had "struggled" like that, the Caps would've been a playoff team.