September 16, 2019

Washington Capitals Postseason Roundtable Part II: Rate the defense

As we’ve done in year’s past, District Sports Page staff and a couple friends in the industry conducted a roundtable to rate the recently completed Washington Capitals season. Obviously, with the changing of the guard over the weekend, the season was in no was satisfying of satisfactory, and our grades this season really reflect where our contributors to the roundtable sit with regards to the changes necessary to make the Caps true contenders again.

We’ll rate the offense, defense, goaltending, coaching and administration throughout the week.

Our panelists: Dave Nichols, Editor-in-Chief of District Sports Page; Katie Brown, beat writer for DSP; J.J. Regan, contributor to DSP; Sky Kerstein, 106.7 The Fan; Harry Hawkings, RochTheRed.com.

Part II: Rate the defense (with grade an explanation):

DAVE: F. The defense was an unmitigated disaster. Karl Alzner and John Carlson are a good second pairing, but nowhere near a top defensive pair in the NHL. After that, the Caps defensive corps was a crapshoot. Mike Green still has some offensive skill, and he drives play, but his allergy to defense leads to odd-man breakdowns and a large number of embarrassing goals. Dmitry Orlov has skill but very little discipline. After that, the players the Caps lined up on defense were either over the hill or much too young to be counted on for any meaningful contribution.

This team is in need of 2-3 legitimate NHL caliber defensemen. There’s no muscle. There too much undisciplined play. There’s not enough attention to their own end of the ice. Offense starts in your own end and the Caps had too hard of a time gathering the puck, let alone start breakouts the other way. Here’s hoping the new coach recognizes the strengths of his defensive corps and allows the defensemen to carry the puck again instead of passing within seconds of gaining possession of it.

KATIE: C-. The problem with the Capitals’ defense was less because of the defensemen and more about what was being asked of the defensemen. It doesn’t make sense to take puck-moving defensemen (Mike Green, Dmitry Orlov, Connor Carrick) and ask them to play in a way that contradicts their strength. The defensemen were asked to skate only five feet with the puck before passing it or dumping it into the offensive zone. That doesn’t make a lot of sense when you’re asking a player to NOT do something they do very well. During Green’s career, one of his strengths was carrying the puck into the offensive zone – Carrick and Orlov have potential to be the same type of player as Green. Why not tailor your systems to suit players’ strengths rather than ask them to do things that contradict that? Why even have those players on the roster, then?

All that aside, the Capitals did have a bit of rotten luck with injuries to Jack Hillen, John Erskine, and Mike Green that necessitated a good bit of AHL recalls. Part of that was Adam Oates’ insistence that all defense pairings consist of a right and left hand shot. An interesting thought in theory, but not so much in execution. Oates was so intent on this that there were several nightmare D pairings throughout the season. There was simply an overall lack of chemistry on the blue line.

J.J.: D+. When you look at the Caps’ roster heading into the season, it’s no surprise they struggled. The team actually planned for John Erskine to be in the top four and they pretty much got what they deserved.

Karl Alzner and John Carlson were an adequate top pair. Dmitry Orlov and Mike Green, however, both had a disappointing season frequently contributing awful turnovers and head-scratching penalties. The AHL players played like…well, AHL players. Their inclusion on the roster was more an indictment on management than it was on them, but you don’t get points in the standings for effort.

The bottom line is that the Caps just did not get it done defensively.

SKY: F.  This was the biggest issue with the team this season.  Too many puck moving defenseman, Karl Alzner was the only real defensive defenseman and he took a little step back.  They don’t have a number one defensive pairing and of course Mike Green had a very rough season, but a lot of that had to do with him not having a consistent partner and someone who really compliments him.  Dmitry Orlov and Mike Green do the same things for the most part.

HARRY: I give the defense a D-.  I find it hard to give an F to a unit that wasn’t the worst in the league, but Washington’s defense was its primary
undoing this year.  For long stretches, only three NHL-caliber defensemen dressed every night in Mike Green, John Carlson, and Karl Alzner.  When Dmitry Orlov was finally freed from the AHL, the D looked better but Dima was prone to the spectacular miscues and bad reads that young blueliners often are.  The bottom pairing, no matter who it was, was a disaster all season.

Washington was 24th in the NHL in shots allowed per game at 5v5 with the score close at 31 per 60 minutes, which contributed to their bad possession numbers.  Aside from just the volume of shots allowed, an almost comical number of defensive breakdowns and missed assignments on a nightly basis meant that the goaltenders were forced to do too much too often.  It was not a banner year for the Capitals defense.

About Dave Nichols

Dave Nichols is Editor-in-Chief of District Sports Page. He is credentialed to cover the Washington Nationals, Capitals, Wizards and Mystics. Dave also covers national college football and basketball and Major League Soccer for Associated Press and is a copy editor for the Spokesman-Review newspaper in Spokane, WA. He spent four years in radio covering the Baltimore Orioles, Washington Redskins and the University of Maryland football and basketball teams. Dave is a life-long D.C. sports fan and attended his first pro game in 1974 — the Caps’ second game in existence. You can follow him on Twitter @DaveNicholsDSP

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