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Japers' Rink Mailbag: Carlzner and Orpikanen, Worries, Cloning and More

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Mixing up the top-four defensemen, concerns, sweaters ads, clones, driving directions and more in this week's edition of "you ask, we answer."

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A mid-August 'Bag is usually a pretty sad 'Bag... but not this time around! Let's do this:

The reality is that Brooks Orpik will be in the top pair and there’s really no reason to think that’s going to change, barring injury. Despite Orpik and John Carlson posting a 49.7 Corsi-For percentage together - and Carlson posting a 59.1 CF% while skating without Orpik (granted, there's some context missing there) - Orpik almost certainly met or exceeded the expectations that were placed upon him when he signed that big deal to come to Washington last summer. So there's that.

But it's an interesting question, and one I had thought about earlier in the summer. In fact, I'd started writing a post on the case for reuniting Carlson and Karl Alzner, but didn’t get very far because the numbers don’t really support it. Here’s what I mean (stats from last season, via HockeyAnalysis): 

Carlzpikanen2
Now, there’s obviously a huge sample size disparity here, and I’ve gotta think that "Carlzner" and "Orpikanen" would bump their respective numbers up a bit as that sample expanded. However... from 2011-15, Carlzner has a CF of just 46.9% in nearly 2,000 minutes (after a strong 2010-11 in which they were 51.8% in 1059 minutes). Yes, Hunter and Oates, tough deployments, etc., but it sure does seem that they had something good early on that has since disappeared.

So the top-four seems pretty set for now. But if there's going to be a shake-up, it's worth noting that Carlson and Nate Schmidt posted a 57.7 CF% in 74 minutes last year and in 87 minutes the year before, Schmidt was Carlson's best partner by CF% (49.7%). Now, that's not going to be a pair that Barry Trotz entrusts with the toughest minutes, but if Alzner and Matt Niskanen can play those, Carlson-Schmidt handle the next biggest workload and Dmitry Orlov and Orpik form a third-pairing, that doesn't look so bad, does it?

Third-line center (really, the bottom-six) and depth on the blueline, certainly beyond the top-six, are concerns, and health is always important. But my biggest worry is more general - that the Caps' systems and approach aren't necessarily maximizing the skill on the roster and/or may be a bit outdated. We've talked a lot on this site about the advantages of carrying pucks into the zone versus dumping them in, for example, or not sitting back with leads, or not giving too many minutes to less-skilled players and so on.

So I guess my biggest worry is that the Caps might not be doing all that they can to get the most out of the roster they've assembled (or aren't assembling the best roster they can). Because easily identifiable roster holes can be patched up; suboptimal philosophies are a tougher problem to address.

Hold on a moment - I'm savoring this visual.

Okay, I'm done.

Of the guys currently on the roster, it's easy to imagine Alex Ovechkin handing the Cup off to an older guy like Orpik or Brooks Laich (or Jason Chimera). But given how often he's taken a sweet dish from Nicklas Backstrom (more on that in a moment), I'd say that'd be a great time to return the favor. Backstrom from Ovechkin, in a poetic turn.

We'll have much more on these two when our annual Top-25 Under 25 posts (spoiler alert: both Andre Burakovsky and Evgeny Kuznetsov place near the top of the list), but let's be realistic here - Ovechkin is a generational (or even more rare) goal-scoring talent, and Backstrom a phenomenal set-up man, and their symbiotic relationship is unmatched in the sport. You won't find a duo that has combined for more goals - if you threw out every Ovechkin goal from last season on which Backstrom didn't pick up an assist, Ovi still would've finished ninth in the League with 33 goals (and you can tack on nine Backstrom tallies on which Ovechkin had an assist). That's some serious synergy.

In fact, Muneeb ran the numbers for us, and there hasn't been a more frequent goal-scoring combination over the past one, five or eight seasons than Ovechkin-from-Backstrom (regular season, includes primary and secondary assists):

8 from 19

Burakovsky from Kuznetsov? It's happened twice, both on the power play. And that brings us to another important point - there's a good chance that the second power play unit will be the only time the two regularly share the ice, given that the organization seems to see both as centers (for now).

So all in all, Burakovsky and Kuznetsov are nice young players with bright futures... but Ovi and Nick, they ain't.

Pray for a big rebound year from Laich - he's your best bet at third-line left wing.

So Adidas will be the NHL's new uniform producer and there's speculation that "[m]oving to a new jersey supplier may be a natural transition for the NHL to begin introducing on-jersey advertising." To be honest, I'm not bothered by either - Reebok revamped uniforms last time around and while they weren't the most aesthetically pleasing (seriously with that piping?), the game continued on relatively unscathed, the sport's classic sweaters still readily identifiable. It's hard to imagine Adidas doing much worse than that (though they might try).

As for advertising and protesting the inevitable (and it is inevitable), fans all have a say in the matter - their dollars. Don't like it, don't buy it, and if there are enough of you, you'll be heard. But to me, all of this is invasive but tolerable, just like ads on the boards, the ice, the glass, the telecasts and so on.

Wow. It would be pretty sweet to role out a top-nine of Ovechkin-Backstrom-T.J. Oshie, Ovechkin-Kuznetsov- Justin Williams and Ovechkin-Burakovsky-Marcus Johansson. Or, hell, move one of your Ovechkins back to right wing and rock Ovechkin-Backstrom-Ovechkin when you need a goal.

But his cap hit is huge, he does the most damage on the power play where there isn't really room for another Ovi (though you'd make room... maybe in the Johansson spot down low) and his best years are almost certainly behind him, so I'm going to stick with the one Ovi I've got and keep trying to build around him. Besides, cloning doesn't always work out the way you'd hope it would...

When news of John Carlson's new digs broke the other day (to the extent that housing news is ever "breaking"), many locals wondered why someone who would have to spend so much time in Ballston and downtown would buy a house in what's basically southwest Bethesda. (Well, besides the obvious "because Maryland is the best.") Luckily, Emily chimed in with a nice route to beat those traffic blues a bit. It's basically this (less than a half-hour, depending on traffic/time of day):

Driving Directions

You're welcome.

***

Agree? Disagree?

If you've got something on your mind, go ahead and ask it here on the site, on Twitter (use #JapersMailbag), via email or on Facebook, and we'll try to get to them. As always, there are always a lot of question marks around this team... so let's talk about as many of them as we can.