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More O from the D: Fact or Fiction?

A look at how the Caps’ blueliners have evolved offensively and how they compare to the rest of the League.

NHL: Washington Capitals at Vancouver Canucks Anne-Marie Sorvin-USA TODAY Sports

If you’ve followed the microphone musings of Barry Trotz over the last two years and change, you know a big part of his offensive philosophy centers around generating shots from the blue line. Or, as Trotz has colloquialized it: going “low-to-high”, which in layman’s terms simply means bringing the puck low in the zone and kicking it back to the point, from where the initial shot is taken.

After a recent Caps’ practice, Trotz told the media:

With the way teams are [defending], you have to get your [point] shots through and you have to get people to the net. We are getting pucks to the net from the point. We’ll keep using that but at the same time I’d like to see us have some more net presence.

This reinforces what Trotz has been preaching since his arrival in the nation’s capital, but he’s been particularly adamant about it in the early goings of the 2016-2017 campaign, and to the naked eye it does seem as if the Caps’ blueliners have been more than willing to fire the pill. Let’s see if the data bears that out.

Data at 5v5

Small sample size caveats apply, as they always do this time of year, but the data supports the hypothesis: four of the Caps’ six blueliners have increased their five-on-five shot-attempt rate, and three of them by a significant click.

But shots from the blueline for the sake of the shot is an empty strategy. The idea is that these shots will create scoring chances.

So, how’s that gone? Pretty well, actually:

This year’s Caps are actually generating five-on-five scoring chances at a greater rate than any of the previous six seasons. We know, however, that available data tempers the idea that rebounds and deflections are particularly prevalent following a point shot, so it would be irresponsible at best to call the relationship between scoring chances and shot attempts by blueliners causal. In fact, thanks to Corsica Hockey, we can see how the Caps’ compare to the rest of the league when it comes to generating rebounds.

You can see that Washington isn’t notably adept at creating rebounds. In fact, they’re in the bottom third of the League by this measure, and as the following graph shows, actually don’t get an inordinate amount of attempts from their defensemen when compared to the rest of the NHL.

All told, the apparent relationship between scoring chances and an increase in shot attempts from Capital blueliners is likely a glint of fool’s gold. The more likely reason for the Capitals NHL-best 56.88 score-adjusted CF% is strong play from both the forwards and defense corps in both zones— the Caps’ are generating five-on-five shot attempts at the fourth highest rate in the League (60.78 CF/60), and setting the League standard for shot suppression (46.08 CA/60).

In any event, it’s a trend worth keeping an eye on as Barry Trotz continues to urge his defensemen to fire the pill.