The defense pairing of Brooks Orpik and Dmitry Orlov has been an unmitigated disaster. Every time they're on the ice, they're yielding Grade-A chances, many of which are ending up in the back of the Caps' net, like this one from Tuesday night's game against the 'Canes:
Yes, this pairing has been terrible and has no redeeming qualities whatsoever.
Except that they're out-scoring opponents. And out-shooting opponents. And leading the way as the Caps are at a season-best in five-on-five high-danger scoring chance percentage.
Now, first a word or two of disclaimer - the sample sizes here are small and score effects are certainly at play (and inflating the numbers) as the Caps have been playing from behind far too frequently lately. Yet, Orlov and Orpik are outpacing their blueline comrades in metrics that, frankly, belie what our eyes are telling us.
First, a few high-level particulars on the Caps' defensemen at five-on-five since Orpik's return from injury on February 16 (note: Mike Weber's numbers include one game from before the Caps rescued him from Buffalo):
[Sidenote: these are war-on-ice's unadjusted numbers; as points of reference, Puckalytics has Orpik at a CF% of 52.5% in 240 minutes over the same time frame and Corsica has him at 53.1% in 251 minutes. Further, Puckalytics has Orpik's Goals-For/Goals-Against split at 14/10 and Corsica has it at 17/11... so there are some discrepancies, but nothing too dramatic.]
As you can gather from this table, pucks are flying into nets when Orpik and Orlov are on the ice. Orpik's Goals-For/60 over this span is a robust 3.91 and has propelled him to the top of the League in GF60 among blueliners with more than 200 minutes of five-on-five ice time this season... and his GA60 of 2.51 over this stretch has him in the top-10 in GA60 in that same set of peers. That 53.1 Corsi-For percentage stands out as quite impressive, score-adjust it and it drops... to a still-impressive 52.1 (Orlov's 50.4 drops to 48.9).
When the two are on the ice together at fives, the Caps have scored 14 goals and allowed 10 (per Puckalytics), playing to a 4.38 GF60 and a 3.13 GA60, rates which are absurdly high and very high, respectively. The shot rates aren't nearly as extreme - 60.1 CF60 and 56.9 CA60 - but that's a pace that's roughly equivalent to where the run-and-gun Stars are, comfortably higher than the rest of the Caps over the course of this season.
So why so many goals? On-ice shooting and save percentages that are better and worse, respectively, than we'd expect. Specifically, over these 15 games, Orpik and Orlov have an on-ice shooting percentage of 13.7 (very high) and an on-ice save percentage of .899 (very low), and the result is a lot of lamps getting lit. That's a 58.3 goals-for percentage, outpacing the duo's 51.3 Corsi-For percentage, but, again, small samples. And Orpik gets that:
"You get caught up in numbers or certain stats, it’ll drive you crazy," Orpik said. "Lot of times during the year when you think you’re playing well — and you are playing well — and for whatever reason, you’re on for more goals against. There’s other times when you’re not playing well, and you just get away with it."
What's perhaps more interesting is that the Caps' share of goals with these two on the ice should be even better than it has been, because while the Caps haven't necessarily been tilting the ice in overall shot attempts at fives, they have been when it comes to high-danger scoring chances. Take a look at the score-adjusted rolling ten-game share:
Bet you didn't see that one coming.
Overall scoring chances don't tell the same story and broader shot metrics tell a different one entirely, so it's important again to remember that we're talking about low-frequency events - over the last 15 games, the Caps' high-danger scoring chance split is 153-113, whereas their Corsi split is a much larger 690-670.
But what's driving this dramatic uptick (other than the aforementioned impact of score effects and random variance over small samples)? The percentage, of course, is made up of high-danger chances for and against, so let's take a look at each, starting with the offensive end of the rink, with rolling 15-game numbers:
There's the Orpik-Orlov pair leading the way, with big upticks in the second-pair as well. Orlov obviously stands out here, and has carried Orpik along with him.
What about on the back-end?
Pretty constant numbers here, with the big exception being Orpik, who has crease-cleared his way to the team lead... and brought Orlov with him (obviously it's not quite that simple - when the team is playing with the puck at the other end more often, it's going to reduce the chances-against, but the overall shot attempts don't necessarily look like this, so there's more to it than simple keep-away). Put it together and it looks like this:
That looks like Orpik and Orlov are... a really good pair? Huh.
Now, this is one metric and by now you know the caveats. But the results speak for themselves and the underlying numbers seem to back up what they're saying. If the pair can continue to tread water in CF% while keeping the Caps above 60% in high-danger chances, that would bode rather well for the future. Of course, this is high-risk, high-reward hockey, and one wonders how much of an appetitie Barry Trotz has for that, given the amount of "reward" he has scattered throughout the forward ranks. As Trotz said of Orlov yesterday:
"We recognize he’s a talent. We recognize that there’s things that he can do that other guys can’t do from the back end, especially with Carly out. … He can be a little bit of an adventure sometimes when he has the puck because he’s trying to force some stuff that maybe isn’t quite there. It’s just getting him to be patient and understanding the game management and situations a little bit better. I think he’s done a good job."
Orpik and Orlov are by no means an ideal pair. You'd probably like to see Orpik with a guy who can move the puck, but is a little more sound defensively... someone like John Carlson. And you'd likely prefer to partner Orlov (perhaps in a "softer minutes" role) with a guy who is a bit more mobile... someone like Nate Schmidt. But as a stopgap, this is a pair that has been better than you'd think. Every time they're on the ice, they're creating Grade-A chances, many of which are ending up in the back of the opponent's net, like this one from last Wednesday night's game against the Kings: