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The Unbearable Chorn-Ness of Pairings

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A look at the Caps’ third pair’s rough start to the season

NHL: Washington Capitals at Tampa Bay Lightning Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Three games worth of data is a tiny, tiny sample, half a playoff series for most teams (not so fast, Blue Jackets) and shorter than a Tom Wilson suspension.

And yet, it’s a big enough sample to kick confirmation bias into high gear and spot some unsurprising trends, so here’s one for you: the Washington Capitals’ third defensive pair has the potential to be among the worst duos this team has iced in recent years.

Through three games, Aaron Ness and Taylor Chorney have been on the ice together for 28 minutes at five-on-five. During that time, the Caps have managed just 40 percent of shot attempts (adjusted, as per Corsica.hockey) and have taken four penalties (all of them Ness’s). That’s... not good. How not good? Here’s every Caps defensive duo that has played 28 minutes together at fives since the start of the 2007-08 season, with this year’s pairs highlighted:

Now, it’s certainly worth noting that the Caps’ other two pairs aren’t exactly distinguishing themselves, posting Corsi-For percentages in the 46 range. But that third pair is notably woeful, placing just behind 2012-13 Jeff Schultz-Tom Poti, and ahead of legendary partnerships such as Connor Carrick and Julien Brouillette (2013-14), Roman Hamrlik and Tomas Kundratek (2011-12), Brooks Orpik and Karl Alzner (last year... and we all remember their postseason contribution), John Erskine and Tyler Sloan (2009-10), and, well, you get the point.

(Because you’re curious, dead last was the 2011-12 pair of Dmitry Orlov and Jeff Schultz, which posted a 31 percent CF in 2011-12).

So, yeah, bad.

But wait, there’s less! Barry Trotz clearly knows this isn’t a good situation, and in his one home game so far did what he could via last line change to shelter them:

It worked... sorta - the pair was (relatively) good against Montreal. Last night in Tampa? Not so much (Natural Stat Trick had them at an adjusted 26% Corsi-For, two five-on-five goals-against, two penalties taken). In two road games so far, Corsica has the pair at 35.4 percent Corsi-For and a 27 percent expected Goals-For. Of further note, having such a weak third pair puts additional stress on the top-four - last night, Ness played just 8:56 and Chorney just 10:17; by contrast, Nate Schmidt averaged north of 15.5 minutes per game from the third pair last year, and Orpik was up well over 17 minutes in a largely third-pair role.

Again, these are tiny samples. Heck, through two games, Chorney actually had the best Corsi-For percentage among the team’s blueliners, so perceptions can swing pretty quickly with a game or two’s data.

But so far, the pair of Aaron Ness and Taylor Chorney has been almost exactly what you’d have expected it to be: not nearly good enough. With promising young rearguards like Christian Djoos and Madison Bowey available, it’s time to see whether the Caps have better options in-house or whether they’re going to have to get creative in solving the third-pair problem that could be seen a mile away (ideally, something that pushes Brooks Orpik into the third pair). Until the issue is addressed, expect more of the same... and that’s not good.