Few free agent deals signed last summer were as scrutinized or as criticized as the Caps' pact with blueliner Brooks Orpik. And it's probably safe to say that three-quarters of the way through his first season in D.C., Orpik has largely been as expected, but better than feared - he's played tough minutes and hasn't drowned in them (though he's been on the ice for a ton of goals-against), provided strong leadership and even has managed the third-highest per-game point total of his career.
Over the past month, however, Orpik has raised his game quite a bit... while many of his teammates have been heading in the other direction. Here's a snapshot of the Caps' blueline over the last month at five-on-five:
Alongside partner John Carlson, Orpik has played the toughest minutes and posted the team's best relative Corsi-For percentage aside from the trio of defenders with three in the lower right corner (i.e. easier deployments) with less than 35 minutes played (Cameron Schilling, Steve Oleksy and Tim Gleason).
Over this span (during which the Caps have compiled a 9-5-0 record), Orpik has been the team's top regular defender in several five-on-five metrics (whether overall, within-1, leading or score-adjusted), including CF% and Relative CF%. Perhaps most impressively, given how the Caps have struggled while playing with the lead at times (though not at all times), Orpik has posted a 56.8 CF% when the Caps have been leading during this stretch. Here's a look at Orpik's season at five-a-side before and since February 4:
|GP||TOI||CF%||CF%Rel||FF%||iFF||On-Ice Sh%||On-Ice Sv%||PDO||GF%Rel||ZSO%|
To be sure, the samples are small, many of the relative numbers are bolstered by the pairing of Karl Alzner and Matt Niskanen dropping off quite a bit (what's up with that?), and Orpik has benefited from playing with Carlson as well as Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom. But now that we've taken as much credit as possible away from Orpik, let's also note that his increased iFF (i.e. unblocked shot attempt) rate has led to six assists (four primaries) in the last month after just eight (no primaries) over the first 51 games. Putting pucks on net has never been a big part of Orpik's game, but the results speak for themselves with goals like these ("low-to-high, get pucks through, that's how we score"):
It hasn't been a perfect month for Orpik, of course, but those months don't exist in the minutes he plays. The bottom line is that over the past month, the Caps have been a better team with Brooks Orpik on the ice than when he's been off, and if that continues for a month or three, the first year of his deal will have been a success.
(h/t war-on-ice, of course, on the stats in this post)