Friday, June 23, 2017

Washington Capitals: 2016-2017 By the Tens -- Goaltenders: Philipp Grubauer

Philipp Grubauer

"All right, Mr. DeMille, I'm ready for my close-up."
-- Norma Desmond (Gloria Swanson), in “Sunset Boulevard”


Goalies are like grits.  You can’t rush them cooking them on the stove, and the “instant” variety to finish them faster pretty much sucks.  The Caps have been “cooking” Philipp Grubauer gently and with care since he was drafted in the fourth round of the 2010 draft.  He spent a final year in the Ontario Hockey League after he was selected by the Caps; played a season in the ECHL; split a year among the ECHL, AHL, and the Caps; and finally became the full-time back-up goaltender to Braden Holtby, a role he played this season as well.

His progress has been interesting, improving his save percentage on each successively higher rung of the developmental ladder -- .903 in his last season in the OHL, .916 in 69 ECHL games, .919 in 105 AHL games, and .923 in 66 games with the Caps.  That .923 career save percentage with the Caps is the second-best among 76 active goaltenders with at least 2,500 career minutes played.

This season was particularly noteworthy in Grubauer’s development.  He finished fourth among 56 goalies playing at least 1,000 minutes in save percentage (.926) and second in goals-against average (2.04).  He was fourth in that group in save percentage at even strength (.937).  Grubauer did not allow more than three goals in consecutive appearances all season (24 games), and he had only one stretch in which he allowed three goals in as many as three consecutive games (January 16-24 against Pittsburgh, Dallas, and Ottawa, over which he had a record of 1-1-1).  He did not have consecutive games this season in which his game save percentage was under .910.

Grubauer was lights out at home this season, when he got the chance.  He appeared in seven games at Verizon Center and won all five decisions with which he was credited, the only goalie in the league who played at least 250 minutes on home ice with a perfect win-loss record.  Among that same group of 60 goalies, he had the best goals-against average (0.72) and save percentage (.973).  All three of his shutouts were on home ice.

On the other hand, his road split was not especially impressive.  He had a record of 8-6-2 in 17 appearances, a goals-against average of 2.51 (21st among 64 goalies with at least 250 minute played on the road), and a save percentage of .911 (35th).


Fearless’ Take… Since the league started keeping save percentage statistics in 1982-1983, 57 Capital goalies have recorded seasons in which they logged at least 1,000 minutes of ice time.  In that group of 57 goalies, Grubauer’s .926 save percentage this season ranks first overall, as does his 2.04 goal-against average.

Cheerless’ Take… In one way, Grubauer was very consistent over the course of the season, and in another he was not.  Looking at his first dozen games and his second dozen games, he had a 2.05 goals against and a .925 save percentage in the first, and he had a 2.03 goals against and a .928 save percentage in the second.  However, he was 9-1-2 in his first dozen games, but he was only 4-5-0 (three no-decisions) in his second dozen games.

Odd Grubauer Fact… There were 25 goaltenders this season who recorded three or more shutouts, Grubauer among them with three.  Of that group, Grubauer logged almost 200 fewer minutes (1,264) than the goalie with the next lowest ice time in the group (Carter Hutton: 1,459 minutes and four shutouts).

Game to Remember… February 5th vs. Los Angeles

When the Capitals took the ice at home against the Los Angeles Kings on February 5th, they were skating the second of a back-to-back set of games, winning in Montreal the night before, 3-2.  That was a formula for giving Philipp Grubauer a start, and he made the most of the opportunity.  It was not easy, though.  The Kings were coming off a game the previous night as well, beating the Flyers in Philadelphia in overtime, 1-0, their fourth straight road win.  Grubauer stopped all 12 shots he faced in the first period as the Caps took a 2-0 lead.  He slammed the door in the second, stopping all 15 shots he faced as the Caps scored another pair of goals.  Former King Justin Williams capped the scoring in the third period, while Grubauer nailed the door shut with 11 saves on 11 shots to earn the shutout in the 5-0 win. 

The 38 shots faced in the shutout was the fourth highest shot total faced by a Caps goalie in a shutout since the 2005-2006 season.  Brent Johnson authored a 46-saqve shutout in a 1-0 win over the Ottawa Senators on April 1, 2006; Tomas Vokoun had a 42-save shutout in a 4-0 win over the Florida Panthers on February 7, 2012, and Michal Neuvirth stopped all 39 shots he faced in a 1-0 shutout over the Pittsburgh Penguins on February 21, 2011.

Game to Forget… January 16th vs. Pittsburgh

Barely 21 minutes into their January 16th contest in Pittsburgh, the Caps were coasting with a 3-0 lead, and Philipp Grubauer had a good view of it, doing baseball cap duty from the bench in favor of Braden Holtby.  Then, things fell apart…quickly.  The Penguins scored to break the shutout, scored again less than a minute later to get within a goal, then scored less than two minutes after that to tie the game.  When Pittsburgh scored a pair of goals 50 seconds apart to take a 5-3 lead, Holtby’s night was over.

Enter Grubauer.  The Caps clawed back into a tie with a pair of goals less than two minutes apart late in the second period, and they seemed to have blunted the Penguin momentum, keeping the Penguins from getting a shot on goal since Evgeni Malkin scored at the 14:37 mark to give the Pens the 5-3 lead and end Holtby’s evening.  However, 25 seconds after the Caps tied the game on a shorthanded goal by Lars Eller, Malkin struck again, scoring on the same Penguin power play on the first (and only) shot Grubauer faced in the second period to take a 6-5 lead into the third period.  It went back and forth in the third period, Sidney Crosby giving the Pens a tw-goal lead early and the Caps scoring a pair of goals five minutes apart mid-way through the third period to tie the game.  The teams split 14 goals in regulation, giving one the impression that the overtime coming up would be brief.  It was.  Conor Sheary followed up his own shot with the game-winning goal 34 seconds into the extra session, the third goal allowed by Grubauer on 11 shots in his relief of Holtby.  It was his only loss in a relief role in the regular season and the most goals he allowed in any short stint.

Postseason: 1 games, 0-0-0, 6.32, .778

With 18 minutes and change in a mop-up effort in a 6-2 loss to Pittsburgh in Game 2 of the second round, there isn't enough meat on the bone to talk about here.

In the end…

On almost any other team in the NHL, you could reasonably say that Philipp Grubauer has completed his apprenticeship and is ready to assume the duties of a number one goaltender in the NHL.  Unfortunately for him, former Vezina Trophy winner and two-time finalist Braden Holtby is ahead of him on the depth chart.  When Nate Schmidt was selected by the Vegas Golden Knights in the expansion draft instead of Grubauer, it left Grubauer once more on the outside looking in on a starting role in the NHL (truth be told, he'd be that in Las Vegas, too, behind Marc-Andre Fleury).  And it can become a difficult situation for the player, who has Ilya Samonsov – who might be Holtby’s successor as the franchise goaltender – a year or two away from being a credible backup.  The team has managed Grubauer with patience.  The player has approached his job patiently and professionally.  But time ticks on, and being the best backup goalie in the league might not be a title any NHL goaltender aspires to, especially when he is 25 years old and entering what might be his prime years.  Grubauer’s play in 2016-2017 argues that the time for his close-up is at hand.  But the camera is pointed at someone else for the weeks, months, and perhaps years to come.

Grade: A

Photo: Bruce Bennett/Getty Images North America

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Washington Capitals: 2016-2017 By the Tens -- Defensemen: Kevin Shattenkirk

Kevin Shattenkirk

“Life is all memory, except for the one present moment that goes by you so quickly you hardly catch it going.”
-- Tennessee Williams

Seventy-two days, 32 games, regular and postseason.  That is the “moment” spent in Washington by defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk, who played his first game with the club on February 28th and his last on May 10th.  In that brief time he became the only Capital defensemen in team history to play in fewer than 20 regular season games (19) and record more than ten points (14).  He is one of only three defensemen in team history to play in fewer than 40 regular season games and record more than ten points, Lee Norwood (34 games/18 points) and Chris Felix (35 games/13 points) being the others.  He is the only Caps defenseman in franchise history to appear in fewer than 15 career postseason games with the club (13) and record more than five points (6).

You could say he was impactful...maybe.

But if the Caps were very good before Shattenkirk arrived, it’s hard to know if they were better – or at least more successful – after he came to town.  Washington was 13-5-1 in the 19 games in which he played for the Caps down the stretch (he missed games against Anaheim and Minnesota), a 117-point pace over 82 games, 42-14-7 before he got there and in his two absences, a 118-point pace.

Fearless’ Take… There have been 133 defensemen in Capitals history to dress for ten or more games.  Kevin Shattenkirk finished the season in second place in points per game in that group (0.74, behind Larry Murphy’s 0.76).

Cheerless’ Take… The Caps were 5-2-1 in games in which Shattenkirk did not record a point, 8-3-0 in games in which he did.  Six o’ one, half dozen o’ the other.  And, they won all three games in which he did not record a shot on goal. 

Odd Shattenkirk Fact… Kevin Shattenkirk had 14 points in 19 games with the Caps.  That puts him in a tie with Roman Hamrlik and Frantisek Kucera for 76th place in franchise history scoring among defensemen.  The thing is, Hamrlik needed 72 games for his 14 points, and Kucera needed 56 games for his.

Postseason: 13 games, 1-5-6, minus-4

Up above we said that Shattenkirk was “impactful.”  Well, here is another side to that.  Only three Capital defensemen in franchise history appeared in more than 10 games in a single postseason and had a worse plus-minus than Shattenkirk – Brooks Orpik (minus-7 in 13 games this season) and Dennis Wideman (minus-7 in 14 games in 2012).  It was attributable to an horrific start to his postseason, going 0-3-3, minus-7, in his first eight games, not finishing better than even in any of them and not recording an even strength point. 

If there was a strangeness to his postseason, it was in how little the Caps’ fortunes were influenced by his performance numbers, save one.  Washington was 3-3 in games in which Shattenkirk had three or more shots on goal, 4-3 when he had fewer; 3-3 when he skated at least 18 minutes, 4-3 when he skated fewer; 3-2 when he was credited with three or more hits, 4-4 when he was credited with fewer; 3-4 when he recorded two or more blocked shots, 4-2 when he had fewer.  However, the one area that did matter – and it was really what he was brought here to provide – was scoring.  The Caps were 5-1 in games in which Shattenkirk recorded a point, 1-6 when he did not.

In the end…

One way of thinking about deadline deals (and you may think otherwise) is that everybody loses a deadline deal except the team that makes one and wins a Stanley Cup.  It’s just some teams lose less than others – making the second round is better than missing the playoffs entirely.  If you subscribe to this point of view, then the trade to secure Kevin Shattenkirk was a loser, even if perhaps a small one.  On the other hand, it was precisely the sort of deal a team makes when it is looking for that last impactful piece for a Stanley Cup run.  In that sense there is no fault in the Caps acquiring Shattenkirk.  The numbers suggest he did just about all he was expected to do, to a point.  

The fact is, he was acquired to make that deep Stanley Cup run.  But last year’s playoff run with St. Louis was repeated in an eerie sense with the Caps.  In 2016, Shattenkirk was 2-9-11 in 20 games with the Blues, but six of his points came on power plays (all assists), and he was a minus-8.  This year it was 1-5-6 in 13 games, but four of those six points came on power plays (including his only goal), and he was a minus-4.  There was an even strength element that seemed missing, last year and this, and not to single him out, because one could identify any number of players or elements of whom one could ask, “what if,” a little more production at even strength might have been the difference between a second round exit and a long postseason run.  In that respect, his “moment” in Washington, assuming he departs for free agency, might not be one to dwell on too long.

Grade: B-

Photo: Gregory Shamus/Getty Images North America



Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Washington Capitals: 2016-2017 By the Tens -- Defensemen: Nate Schmidt

Nate Schmidt

“True happiness is... to enjoy the present, without anxious dependence upon the future.”
-- Lucius Annaeus Seneca


There are few players who seem to have more fun being a hockey player than Nate Schmidt.  As it was once eloquently, if graphically put (on "The Tonight Show," of all places), he was “most likely to puke rainbows when he opens his mouth.” 



That attitude should not obscure the fact that Schmidt had a career year in 2016-2017 with the Caps, despite missing 22 games.  He scored a career high three goals, tied a career high with 14 assists, recorded a career high 17 points, was a career-best plus-22, and posted a career-high 5.0 shooting percentage.

More than any player, though, his ice time suffered with the acquisition of Kevin Shattenkirk at the trading deadline.  Starting with Shattenkirk’s first game with the Caps on February 28th, Schmidt was in the lineup only seven times in the last 21 games of the season.  Even with the limited duty, Schmidt managed to finish the season with a measure of consistency, recording points in each of his eight ten-game segments and failing to get an assist only in his seventh such segment.  He was an even or better player in each of his last seven segments and was plus-6 in his last four games of the season.

What Schmidt had was an odd home-road split.  The Caps were 22-6-1 in home games in which he dressed (10-1-1 in home games he missed), while they were 17-9-5 in road games he played (6-3-1 in road games he missed).

Schmidt’s possession numbers had an odd quality to them.  His individual Corsi-for at 5-on-5 was a respectable 53.5 percent (numbers from stats.hockeyanalysis.com), but it dissolved to a point when comparing him among teammates.  He had a good possession chemistry with Brooks Orpik, with whom he spent most of his 5-on-5 ice time.  Together, they had a 56.3 percent Corsi-for at fives, but when apart, both dropped by more than seven points.  It turned out that Schmidt was worse with every other defenseman with whom he was paired than he was when apart from them.


Fearless’ Take… The Caps were 13-0-1 in games in which Nate Schmidt recorded a point.  The Caps were “only” 17-6-1 in games Schmidt recorded a point prior to this season.

Cheerless’ Take… Yeah, it’s nice that the Caps did well when he had a point, but more Nate was not necessarily better.  The Caps were 12-10-1 in games in which he skated more than 16 minutes, 6-1-1 when he skated fewer than 13 minutes.

Odd Schmidt Fact… No player for the Caps had more games of plus-3 or better in 2016-2017 than Nate Schmidt.  He had six such games.  In fact, no defenseman has had more such games in a season for the Caps since Sylvain Cote in 1993-1994 (eight games).

Game to Remember… January 5th vs. Columbus

When the Columbus Blue Jackets came to Washington for a January 5th contest, they were riding a 16-game winning streak, the second-longest in NHL history, and were looking to tie the 1992-1993 Pittsburgh Penguins for the longest winning streak in league history.  It was the Caps who came out strong to start the game, though, getting goals from Daniel Winnik (with an assist from Schmidt) and John Carlson in the first period to take a 2-0 lead.  Any thoughts the Blue Jackets had of changing the momentum were put to rest seven minutes into the second period when Schmidt took a feed from Alex Ovechkin and fired a shot on goalie Sergei Bobrovsky that was stopped.  He followed up his own shot, though, and his second chance shot got through Bobrovsky to make it a 3-0 lead.  It was the dagger in the heart of the Blue Jackets’ winning streak and for Schmidt one of three two-point games in his season. 

Game to Forget… February 19th vs. New York Rangers

The Caps lost their first game of their season series against the New York Rangers in October at Verizon Center and didn’t get a chance to even the series until February, when they visited Madison Square Garden.  It was a goalies sort of contest from the start.  Philipp Grubauer got the start and stopped 18 of 19 shots in the first period, while Henrik Lundqvist was his usual stingy self against the Caps.  Alex Ovechkin did manage to solve Lundqvist for a power play goal in the second period, leaving the teams tied going into the third.  One slip could be the difference in this game.  Unfortunately for Schmidt and the Caps, it came with less than nine minutes left off a faceoff in the Caps’ end to the right of Grubauer.  Jay Beagle won the draw from Mika Zibanejad, but Chris Kreider got inside position on Schmidt and beat him to the puck.  Kreider found Mats Zuccarello in the slot for a shot that slipped between Grubauer’s pads for the game-winning goal.  Schmidt skated one more shift after that and finished with two shot attempts (both blocked), a hit, and a takeaway in 14 minutes and change for the afternoon…and that minus-1.

Postseason: 11 games, 1-3-4, plus-6

When one considers that this was Schmidt’s second career postseason and the performance of his cohorts, he did pretty well.  He tied for second in points among Caps defensemen (1-3-4) despite missing two games in the opening round against Toronto.  He was a team-best plus-6 among all Capital skaters, and he was the only defenseman for the Caps to finish in plus territory in the second round against Pittsburgh (plus-1).  What might be the odd part of his postseason was that it was an image in negative from his regular season in terms of ice time and team success.  The Caps were 5-2 in games in which he skated more than 16:30, 1-3 in games in which he skated less.  It might be worth noting that his two lowest ice times were in Games 6 and 7 against the Penguins (11:20 and 13:10, respectively).

In the end…

Nate Schmidt is still climbing that developmental ladder that took him from being an undrafted graduate of the program at the University of Minnesota to signing with the Caps as a free agent to parts of two seasons with the Hershey Bears to all or part of four seasons with the Caps.  He still has only 200 games of regular season and 21 postseason games of experience.  But the next rung on that developmental ladder might be in steel gray and gold instead of red, white, and blue.  Schmidt might be property of the Vegas Golden Knights by the time you read this sentence, his name being prominently mentioned as a potential selection by the Golden Knights in the expansion draft.  It would be unfortunate, given that the Caps are thin on defense with the likely departures of Karl Alzner and Kevin Shattenkirk to free agency and the untested (at the NHL level) quality of defensemen in Hershey such as Madison Bowey or Christian Djoos.  But however anxious Caps fans might be about Schnidt’s future, he’s been a lot of fun to watch.

Grade: B+

Photo: Rob Carr/Getty Images North America


Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Washington Capitals: 2016-2017 By the Tens -- Defensemen: Brooks Orpik

Brooks Orpik

“In rivers, the water that you touch is the last of what has passed and the first of that which comes; so with present time.”
-- Leonardo da Vinci


Brooks Orpik resides in a rather unique neighborhood in NHL history.  He is one of two active defensemen, as of the 2016-2017 season, with at least 900 games played (901) and fewer than 200 career points (175). Nick Schultz is the other (1,069 games/175 points).  In fact, Orpik is one of only 17 defensemen in the history of the league to have that particular profile.

If you last that long in the NHL without much of an offensive profile, you can’t be accused of shirking hard work at the other end of the ice and turning that hard work into results, usually of the sort that do not get a lot of attention.  First, how sparse is that offensive profile?  In 2016-2017, Orpik did not record a goal for the fifth time in 14 seasons and for the second time in three seasons in Washington.  With 14 assists, he had fewer than 15 assists for the tenth time in his 14-year career.  And, for the 13th time in 14 seasons, he finished with fewer than 20 points (14).

On the other hand, he recorded 2.3 hits per game, putting him in the top 35 of defensemen dressing for at least 40 games this season.  He had 1.7 blocked shots per game, putting him in the top third in that defenseman group.  While this might sound a bit modest, Orpik was the seventh-oldest defenseman to dress in the league this season.  And most of the others older – Mark Streit, Andrei Markov, Brian Campbell among them – have a larger presence in the offensive end of the ice, where the wear and tear on the body is not quite as acute.

As it was, despite averaging the lowest amount of ice time of his career (17:47) since 2007-2008, he did record more than 175 hits for the eighth time in ten seasons since the league started recording that statistic, and he recorded more than 125 blocked shots for the fifth time in those ten seasons.


Fearless’ Take… When Orpik does what Orpik does, good things generally happen.  The Caps were 10-2-2 when he recorded at least four hits; they were 14-2-2 when he recorded at least three blocked shots.  And, when he logged 20 minutes or more, the Caps were 11-1-1. 

Cheerless’ Take…  Orpik has this weird possession thing.  He skated at least 50 5-on-5 minutes with six different defensemen, which by itself suggests either he is veteran enough to pair with anyone (or the team couldn’t find a consistent partner).  But looking at Corsi-for when together and when apart (numbers from stats.hockeyanalysis.com), it’s hard to say that one or another kind of defenseman is a good or bad fit.  He was 56.3 percent Corsi-for at fives with Nate Schmidt, but 44.8 percent with Dmitry Orlov.  Those two guys are sort of up-tempo, offensively oriented defensemen.  One thing you could say though… pairing him with Karl Alzner didn’t work.  They were 37.4 percent Corsi-for playing together.

Odd Orpik Fact… No player recorded as many shots on goal this season (93) without scoring a goal as did Brooks Orpik.  Next in line was Ottawa defenseman Marc Methot, who had no goals on 69 shots.

Game to Remember… January 15th vs. Philadelphia

Brooks Orpik came into this season having faced the Philadelphia Flyers more often in the regular season (62 games) than against any other opponent.  When he took the ice against them on January 15th, it was the second time this season and 64th time in his career he faced the Orange and Black.  He skated just 16 minutes in the teams’ first meeting, a 3-2 Gimmick loss in Philadelphia on December 21st.  The return match in Washington was a different story.  The Caps used a four-goal third period to subdue the Flyers, 5-0, and Orpik contributed an assist on the fifth and final goal in the third period.  But his contributions in support of goalie Philipp Grubauer’s shutout were more at the other end of the ice.  In 21:43 of ice time, his second-heaviest workload on home ice this season, he had four hits and three blocked shots, one of only four games this season in which he had at least four hits and three blocks, and in 16:48 of ice time over the last two periods helped hold the Flyers to just 11 shots on goal (they had 24 for the game).

Game to Forget…  March 6th vs. Dallas

When you are a stay-at-home defensive defenseman, there are going to be times you get more ice time and times you get less, that that can be a function of how things go early in a game.  On March 6th, the Caps hosted the Dallas Stars, a team against which they have had a devil of a time at Verizon Center.  A team against which the Caps were winless in five straight on home ice (0-4-1).  Less than two minutes into the game, it looked like it would be 0-5-1 when Devin Shore put the Stars on top.  When Radek Faksa and Jason Spezza scored goals less than two minutes apart in the second period, it put the Caps in risk-taking mode on offense and that cut into Orpik’s ice time.  The Caps did make a game of it, getting pair of goals to draw within one, but Dallas scored an empty netter to put the game away in the last two minutes.  In the 4-2 loss, Orpik skated a season low 14:46 in ice time and had just 19 shifts, one of 12 games this season he had fewer than 20 shifts.   He sat the last 4:43 of the contest, and although he did record an assist, he had a relatively quiet two hits and one blocked shot as the Caps fell to 0-5-1 in their last six home games against Dallas.

Postseason: 13 games, 0-2-2, minus-7

The Caps had the challenge, and Brooks Orpik the misfortune, of playing speed teams in each of the first two rounds of the playoffs.  It took its toll on Orpik, who finished his postseason with his worst plus-minus in 11 trips to the playoffs.  He was a plus player in just one of 13 contests (plus-1 in the series clinching 2-1 overtime win in Game 6 against Toronto).  Perhaps reflecting the poor matchups his presence in the lineup afforded, his ice time diminished significantly as the postseason wore on.  He averaged less than 11 minutes over the last four games of the second round series against Pittsburgh.

In the end…

It might be fair to say two things about Brooks Orpik.  One the one hand, he is one of the hardest working, most diligent players there is in terms of getting himself ready to play.  What else could one conclude for a player who, playing a rugged style at a demanding position, has been able to dress for 70 or more games in nine of his 12 full seasons in the NHL?  On the other hand, Father Time is tapping him on the shoulder.  Being a warrior for more than a thousand regular season and playoff games in the NHL takes its toll, and this is what folks might have had in mind when they thought that in his five-year deal signed with the Caps in 2014, he would be much more valuable in his first two or three seasons than he might be in the last two or three years of that deal.

Orpik, should he return to the Caps next season, is at the point in his career where he still has value, if his situations are managed actively.  The postseason revealed what might be a vulnerability to younger, faster skill players whose careers stretch out before them.  The best days of Orpik’s career are likely behind him, but what a body of work he has put together.  If he should depart, it would be unfortunate that the last memory of Orpik – what literally would be his last shift as a Capital – ended in fight against the Caps most frustrating rival in a series-deciding game that even he could not prevent from ending in another loss.

Grade: C+

Photo: Drew Hallowell/Getty Images North America

Monday, June 19, 2017

Washington Capitals: 2016-2017 By the Tens -- Defensemen: Dmitry Orlov

Dmitry Orlov

“I was taught that the way of progress was neither swift nor easy.”
-- Marie Curie


How many defensemen over the past two years skated fewer than 3,000 minutes and recorded more than 60 points?  It is a short list, five in fact.  A couple of names are surprising only because of so few minutes played due to injury (John Carlson and Kris Letang), but Shayne Gostisbehere and Justin Schultz are on that list, too, a couple of solid offensive defensemen (numbers from hockey-reference.com).  The fifth name on that list is Dmitry Orlov, which might be surprising in two ways.  First, it is an accomplishment, given that he missed the entire 2014-2015 season (save for three games with the Hershey Bears) to injury.  Second, he did it as a second or third pair defenseman who did not miss a single game over those two seasons, the only player on that list to play in all 164 regular season games.

In addition to playing in all 82 games for the second time in his five-year career with the Caps, Orlov set career highs in assists (27), points (33), plus-minus (plus-30), hits (122), blocked shots (94), and he recorded his first power play goal as a Cap.  His ten-game splits, though, had a bit of an up and down quality to them.  He was out of the gate a bit slowly on offense in his first ten games, posting a pair of assists.  Then, he took off, going 4-19-23, plus-19 in his next 40 games.  It put him in the top dozen point getters among defensemen over that span and in the top six in plus-minus.  Only Dougie Hamilton in among those with more points over that span did so averaging fewer minutes per game (19:32) than Orlov (19:34).

Orlov cooled off after that, going 2-6-8, plus-9 over his last three ten-game segments and not recording a power play point after going 1-5-6 on the power play over his first 50 games.  Of course, part of that might be attributed to Kevin Shattenkirk assuming a heavy power play load after being acquired by the Caps from St. Louis for the home stretch of the season.

Something Orlov might have benefitted from was an up-tempo style.  It is worth noting that of the four defensemen with whom he skated at least 50 minutes at 5-on-5 this season, he was under 50 percent Corsi-for only when skating with Brooks Orpik, who is as “stay at home” as stay at home defensemen get for the Caps.  Orpik was also the only one of those four defensemen whose Corsi was better apart from Orlov than with him (numbers from stats.hockeyanalysis.com).


Fearless’ Take… Getting offensive contributions from the Dmitry Orlov had their benefits this season.  The Caps were 5-0-0 in games in which he recorded a goal and 23-4-2 in games in which he recorded a point.  And ice time had its charms as well.  Washington was 13-2-2 in games in which Orlov skated at least 21:30, but just 4-5-0 in games in which he skated 17 or fewer minutes.

Cheerless’ Take... Goals might have been one thing, but shots were another.  Launching them in volume was not much of an indicator of success.  The Caps were 7-4-3 in games in which Orlov recorded three or more shots on goal.  They were 13-3-1 in games in which he did not record a shot on goal.  And being physical didn’t help.  The Caps were just 8-6-2 in games in which Orlov was credited with three or more hits. 

Odd Orlov Fact… Dmitry Orlov is one of five defensemen in Caps history to skate in 82 or more games at least twice in his career.  Karl Alzner (6), John Carlson (4), Calle Johansson (3), and Matt Niskanen (2) are the others.

Game to Remember… January 23rd vs. Carolina

January 23rd was a homecoming of sorts for the Caps, who were back at Verizon Center after a 2-0-1 road trip to three cities that have not been kind to them over the years – Pittsburgh (the overtime loss), St. Louis, and Dallas.  Their home contest against the Carolina Hurricanes did not provide the stiffest competition, but it was their only home game before setting out on another three-game road trip.  It started as if it was the “trap” game it could have been when Jordan Staal scored less than five minutes into the contest on a power play.  Less than six minutes later, the Caps had their first power play of the game.  In the Carolina zone, Dmitry Orlov pulled the puck from along the right wing wall back to the middle before giving it up to Nate Schmidt at the right point.  Schmidt worked it down to Andre Burakovsky in the corner, and Burakovsky sent it behind the net to Evgeny Kuznetsov in the opposite corner.  Kuznetsov spied Orlov at the top of the left wing circle and fed him for a one-timer that beat goalie Cam Ward cleanly on the blocker side to make it 1-1, 11:49 into the game. 

Justin Williams added a goal to put the Caps up, 2-1, at the first intermission, and mid-way through the second period, Orlov struck again to give the Caps more breathing room. Burakovsky started the play by darting down the right wing wall with the puck, then reversing course.  He found Brett Connolly at the opposite faceoff circle, and Connolly laid off the puck to Orlov stepping into the play.  His one-timer beat a screened Ward low on the right side, and it was 3-1.  The Caps would pour it on from there, taking a 6-1 decision.  For Orlov, it was two goals on two shots (for good measure, he added four blocked shots at the other end).  It was his first and only two-goal game of the season and his second career two-goal game, the other coming in a 5-4 overtime loss to the Philadelphia Flyers on March 2, 2014.

Game to Forget… December 1st vs. New York Islanders

The Caps opened December at home after a poor effort in Toronto against the Maple Leafs five days earlier, a 4-2 loss.  The fog through which the Caps played that game followed them back home against the Islanders.  The teams played to a scoreless tie through two periods, but early in the third, the Islanders struck.  Casey Cizikas caught Orlov flat-footed at the red line and pushed the puck ahead to Shane Prince, who broke in on goalie Braden Holtby and beat him over his glove to give the Islanders the lead at the 3:15 mark. 

On his next shift, Orlov had another good look at a goal in the wrong net.  Taking a pass from John Carlson in the corner to Holtby’s left, he tried to thread a pass into the middle to Justin Williams, but it was picked off by John Tavares.  Holtby did his best to stymie the scrum that ensued at the top of his crease, but Brock Nelson batted in a loose puck to make it 2-0 off Orlov’s giveaway.  Orlov skated only two shifts after that in what would be a 3-0 loss.

Postseason: 13 games, 0-3-3, minus-1

Dmitry Orlov’s postseason started well enough.  He had two assists in the first four games against Toronto in the opening round and ten shots on goal, while averaging more than 25 minutes per game.  And then…almost nothing.  Over his last nine games of the postseason he recorded just one assist and totaled 11 shots.  It got worse with the passage of time, Orlov skating fewer than 20 minutes in his last six games after not skating fewer than 20 minutes in any of his first seven games.  And, in one of the stranger profiles in numbers, he did not record a blocked shot in five of his last six games after being credited with 17 in his first seven games.

In the end…

Dmitry Orlov was the 20th defenseman selected in the 2012 draft and lost a full season of his development to injury.  Even with that, he is tenth among defensemen in his draft class in games played (283), tenth in goals scored (20), ninth in points (93), and second in plus-minus (plus-43).  The 13 games he played in the postseason, just his second trip to the playoffs, gives him just 24 career games in the postseason.  He is still very much a work in progress, despite the fact that he will be 26 years old when the puck drops on the 2017-2018 season.  There are still elements of his game that need work; he does, for example, remain susceptible to the ghastly turnover that results in a scoring chance, but those instances are fewer.  He has shown glimpses of being a very good offensive contributor with a shot from the blue line that has to be respected.  He can be a solid top-four defenseman for the Capitals for years to come, even if his progress to that role has been neither swift, nor easy.

Grade: B

Photo: Getty Images North America


Washington Capitals: 2016-2017 By the Tens -- Defensemen: Matt Niskanen

Matt Niskanen

“Quiet minds cannot be perplexed or frightened but go on in fortune or misfortune at their own private pace, like a clock during a thunderstorm.”
-- Robert Louis Stevenson


Few defensemen have been as durable and productive over the past three seasons as Matt Niskanen.  In his three years with the Capitals, Niskanen is one of six NHL defensemen to have appeared in at least 240 games, logged at least 5,500 minutes, and recorded at least 100 points (he has 242 games, 5,585 minutes, and 102 points).  And quite a list it is, too.  Niskanen accomplished the feat as an example of consistency.  Although he missed four games in 2016-2017 (his first games missed as a Capital), he recorded five goals (compared to five and four in his previous two seasons) and 39 points (an improvement over the 31 and 32 in his first two seasons with the club).

Niskanen’s consistency extended into his segment to segment production in ten-game pieces.  In eight ten-game splits (12 games for the last one), he recorded between four and eight points, but in five of them he recorded four or five points.  He was a “minus” player in just one of those ten-game splits (minus-2 in Games 11-20).

In 2016-2017, Niskanen was one of two defensemen for the Caps to average at least 1:30 per game on both special teams, averaging 1:47 per game in power play time and 2:35 in shorthanded ice time (John Carlson was the other).  It was entirely consistent with his per game averages over his three seasons with the Caps – 1:45 in power play ice time and 2:34 in power play ice time per game.

Where Niskanen’s performance numbers were down was in his shifts per game.  With 26.0 shifts per game this season he averaged the fewest in any of his three years with the Caps, although it was still the eighth-highest number of shifts per game for Caps defensemen over the last three seasons.  And those shifts were a reflection of the team’s success.  Washington was 34-6-8 in the 48 games in which he skated 26 or more shifts, 21-13-0 in the games in which he skated 25 or fewer shifts.  As far as ice time was concerned, 21 minutes was a reasonable threshold as an indicator of wins and losses.  The Caps were 45-9-7 in games in which he logged more than 21 minutes, 10-10-1 in games he logged fewer than 21 minutes or did not dress.


Fearless’ Take… Niskanen has been one of the most durable and productive defensemen of the last decade.  He is one of only 11 defensemen over the last ten seasons have appeared in at least 700 games and recorded at least 250 points.

Cheerless’ Take… Matt Niskanen has played a lot of games, logged a lot of minutes, and even has a fair number of points, but as a Capital, efficiency hasn’t been his thing.  This was the third straight year of declining shooting percentage – 3.2 percent after 3.4 percent and 3.3 percent in his first two years in Washington – after posting consecutive years of 6.0 percent or better with Pittsburgh.  Maybe they just have better setter-uppers.  And this year’s shooting percentage happened as he had his highest shot total (154) with the Caps after a 117-shot year in his first season in Washington followed by a 150-shot season.

Odd Niskanen Fact… Matt Niskanen was born in Virginia, Minnesota, “Queen City of the North” (no, there is no “Minnesota, Virginia”), the birthplace of no fewer than eight pro hockey players (three of them named “Carlson,” two named “Cullen”), not bad for a town with a population under 9,000.  And on ice, the Caps did not lose a game in regulation this season in which Niskanen had a multi-point game (9-0-1, the only loss that weird 8-7 overtime loss to Pittsburgh on January 16th).

Game to Remember… January 15th vs Philadelphia

There are games where just about everything goes right for a team and for a player, and it is memorable when one of those times is against a hated rival.  Such was the case on January 15th when the Caps hosted the Flyers in a Sunday afternoon game televised nationally.  It didn’t start that way for the Caps as they and their guests played to a scoreless first period and almost half of a second period without a score.  Nine minutes into the second period, though, Andre Burakovsky scored an unassisted power play goal.  That was the lead the Caps took to the third period, but it did not take Justin Williams long to add to it with a goal with just 1:36 gone.

And then, Niskanen dropped the hammer with a pair of goals barely two minutes apart.  The first came off a sloppy Flyer turnover at the Capitals’ blue line that allowed Nicklas Backstrom to break free.  Reaching the Flyer zone, he fed Alex Ovechkin for what seemed sure to be a one-timer from the left wing circle.  However, Ovechkin spied Niskanen filling in down the middle and fed him for a tap in from the top of the crease to make it 3-0…


Just over two minutes later, Tom Wilson did some of the heavy lifting, carrying the puck down the left wing in the Flyer end and circling around the net.  When he popped out the other side to goalie Steve Mason’s left, he slid the puck out to Niskanen, who stepped into a one-timer from the right point that Masonn misplayed off the top of his glove and into the net to make it 4-0, 5:47 into the third period and sealing the deal in a 5-0 win.  It was one of two two-goal performances for Niskanen this season, and he finished the contest with a season-best plus-4.  It was the second time in his career that Niskanen that Niskanen had a plus-4 game, the other coming in his rookie season with the Dallas Stars in a 6-3 win over the Nashville Predators on February 23, 2008.

Game to Forget…  December 7th vs. Boston

Matt Niskanen appeared in each of the Caps’ first 24 games of the season, extending his consecutive games streak with the club to 188 games.  Taking the ice for consecutive game 189 against the Boston Bruins should have been unremarkable, and it was.  It was the cutting short of his evening that was remarkable.  Niskanen last seven shifts into the game and was already a plus-2 form a pair of Justin Williams goals in the first eight minutes of the contest.  But with less than five minutes in the first period, niskanen was chasing a puck to the end boards and looked to be losing his footing when Patrice Bergeron did the rest, cross-checking Niskanen into the end wall head first.  That ended Niskanen’s participation in that contest, a 4-3 overtime Caps win as it turned out, and he missed the road trip to Buffalo that followed and what would be his first missed game as a Capital. 

Postseason: 13 games, 1-3-4, even

Matt Niskanen had a postseason bordering on the bizarre for the Caps.  The team split the four games in which he had points and lost the only game in which he had a goal.  Then there was the night he skated just 2:09 against the Penguins, in Game 3 when Sidney Crosby sustained what appeared to be a concussion when he was charging to the net, was hit by Alex Ovechkin’s stick, then cross-checked in the head as Crosby was stumbling forward.  Niskanen earned a major penalty for cross-checking and a game misconduct for his infraction, forcing the Caps to play with five defensemen for more than two full periods in what would eventually be a 3-2 overtime win.  That goal he scored – in a Game 2 loss to the Penguins – was his first postseason goal with the Caps.  Then there was the physical play.  His 45 credited hits for the postseason was the third-most in Caps history since hits became a statistic in the 2005-2006 season.  As it was, only four defensemen had more credited hits for the entire postseason, and of that group, only Edmonton’s Matt Benning played in fewer games (12).  At the other end, he tied with John Carlson and Nate Schmidt for second-most points among Caps defensemen in the postseason.

In the end…

Matt Niskanen is among the better two-way defensemen in the NHL, but this season he appeared to display an edgier side to his play.  It was not unwelcome.  The Caps were 11-3-0 in games in which he was charged at least two minutes in penalties; they were 14-4-3 in games in which he was credited with three or more hits.  His postseason was an improvement on 2016, scoring-wise (he was 0-3-3 in 12 games in the 2016 postseason), and he did it while averaging his fewest minutes in the postseason as a Capital (22:38, although that early exit against the Penguins in Game 3 depressed that number).  Niskanen took care of business more consistently than perhaps any other defenseman, if not any other player, over the course of the season.  He rarely had what could be called a poor game, even in the postseason (save for that whole Crosby cross-check thing).  In a way, he was the defense equivalent of Nicklas Backstrom, a player to plays at his own pace and to the extent he can from his position bends the game to that pace.  It was a solid overall year for Niskanen.

Grade: B

Photo: Patrick Smith/Getty Images North America

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Washington Capitals: 2016-2017 By the Tens -- Defensemen: Taylor Chorney

Taylor Chorney

“The world is all gates, all opportunities, strings of tension waiting to be struck.”
-- Ralph Waldo Emerson


Being the seventh defenseman in a sport where generally six play on any given night means one does a lot of waiting and playing on a lot of short notice. For the Washington Capitals, that role has been Taylor Chorney’s for the past two years. Last season, it meant getting into a career high 55 games in the regular season (largely due to an injury to Brooks Orpik) and another seven games in the postseason. This season, his participation numbers were more modest, more in line with his role. This season, his participation was limited to 18 games, which is still the second highest number of games in which he participated in a season since 2009-2010, when Chorney dressed for 42 games with the Edmonton Oilers.

As one might expect from a player in a seventh defenseman role, the opportunities were brief and sporadic for Chorney. Seven times he played in what was essentially a one-off, dressing for an evening and then returning to the press box. His longest stretch of games this season came in Games 44-49, a six-game stretch in late January.

The odd part about Chorney this year (and last year as well, and we’ll get to that) is that while you will find few fans who will think, “hey, let’s get that guy in the lineup,” he was not a liability where it counted.  Washington was 13-3-2 in games in which he dressed this season, 42-16-6 when he did not.  Eighteen games is a relatively small sample of games from which to draw conclusions about his value as a defenseman, even as a coincidental good luck charm, but a 128-point pace in games in which he played is not something one should return to customer service because the style points weren’t here (the Caps had a 115-point pace with Chorney in the press box). 

And what makes the coincidence of his presence in the lineup and wins a bit stranger is that a more energetic performance in the offensive end was not tied to success as far as wins and losses.  The Caps were just 3-0-2 in games in which he recorded a point, 10-3-0 when he did not.  They were 9-2-2 in games in which he recorded a shot on goal, 3-1-1 in games in which he did not… little difference there in standings points pace.


Fearless’ Take… This idea of “More Chorney, More Wins” is not exactly unexplored territory for Chorney, either, at least with the Caps.  In 73 career games with the team, Washington is 53-13-7; again, a 127-point pace per 82 games.

Cheerless’ Take… Yeah cuz, well, there is something for staying in your lane, too.  The Caps were 5-3-0 in games in which he skated more than 14 minutes.  Not bad, all things considered.  But they were 8-0-2 in games in which he skated less than 14 minutes.

Odd Chorney Fact… Taylor Chorney was an "even" or better player in 17 of 18 appearances this season.

Game to Remember… January 1st vs. Ottawa

New Year’s Day is a time for new starts, for new directions.  For Taylor Chorney it would be something not experienced in 2,147 days and 83 NHL games.  It came early in the third period of what was a 1-1 game between the Capitals and the Ottawa Senators.  The Caps had the shock troops on the ice – the fourth line of Jay Beagle, Tom Wilson, and Daniel Winnik along with the third defensive pair of Brooks Orpik and Chorney – applying pressure in the Senator end.  Winnik fought off Curtis Lazar in the right wing corner and freed the puck to Wilson in the faceoff circle.  Wilson backhanded it to Chorney at the right point, who fed in across in turn to Orpik at the left point.  Orpik sent a return pass to Chorney, who one-timed the puck through a maze of bodies and past goalie Mike Condon’s right shoulder into the back of the net at the 2:43 mark.  The Caps had a 2-1 lead that they would hang onto for the last 17 minutes and change for the win.  For Chorney it was his first goal of the season, on the only shot on goal he recorded for the game, and it was his second career game-winning goal, his first since potting one in a 4-1 Edmonton Oiler win over the Dallas Stars on February 15, 2011.

Game to forget… January 24th vs. Ottawa

In an 82-game regular season there will be games in which a mass loss of memory is helpful.  The January 24th meeting of the Caps and the Senators qualifies.  The Caps fell behind 1:46 into the game on a shorthanded Senators goal and were down a pair of goals before the game was five minutes old.  When the Senators scored a power play goal less than 12 minutes into the second period to take a 3-0 lead, the competitive portion of the game was all but over.  The Caps did try to get their scorers onto the ice for more chances to claw into the lead, and that meant less ice time for players like Chorney.  He skated a team low among defensemen of 18 shifts and did not record a single shot attempt in his 14:04 of ice time.  He was not on ice for any of the three goals against, but it was a very quiet night in a very forgettable game all around as the Caps dropped a 3-0 decision in Ottawa.

Postseason: did not play

In the end…

Taylor Chorney had a rather strange 2016-2017 season.  The 18 games played makes for a small population of games from which to see consistency among his numbers, but the team’s success with him in the lineup was inconsistent with his possession numbers.  He skated with nine defensemen this season at 5-on-5, and eight of them had better possession numbers apart from Chorney than alongside him (numbers from stats.hockeyanalysis.com), John Carlson being the lone exception, but he skated just 2:27 in 5-on-5 ice time with Chorney.  But winning cures a lot of ills, and the Caps did their share of winning with Chorney in the lineup.  That is not to say that Chorney was a key contributor – how many seventh defensemen are?  But he was not the liability he could have been in that role, either.  Everyone has a role to play, some large and some small, and when the opportunities came from time to time in Chorney’s modest role with the club, the results were about as good as could be hoped for.

Grade: B

Photo: Elsa/Getty Images North America

Monday, June 12, 2017

Washington Capitals: 2016-2017 By the Tens -- Defensemen: John Carlson

John Carlson

“The only sin is mediocrity.”
― Martha Graham


For five seasons, John Carlson was the rare defenseman in the NHL, an “iron man.”  He appeared in all 376 scheduled regular season games over the 2010-2015 period as well as all 44 postseason games the Caps played.  Then, in 2015-2016, the injury bug hit, and Carlson missed 26 regular season games to a broken foot.  It was an unfortunate circumstance, given that even with the games missed he finished 8-31-39, plus-16, which translates to an 82-game pace of 12-45-57, plus-23, all of which would have been career bests.

One might have thought a healthy Carlson in 2016-2017 would challenge, if not improve on that pace.  At 27 years old, he was entering his prime years of production, and he had already demonstrated himself capable of a defenseman who could be a 50-point or better player (he was 12-43-55, plus-11, in 82 games in 2014-2015).  As it turned out, he was not healthy (at least not so as to be able to play in all 82 games), and he could not improve on his 2015-2016 pace (he finished on a 10-32-42, plus-8 pace).

It was not a case where injury depressed Carlson’s performance significantly, either.  In the six ten-game splits in which he played in all ten games, he ranged between four and eight points, the 8-point split being one in which he scored almost half of his nine goals for the season – four in a seven-game stretch in late-December and early-January.

What ended up being particularly disappointing in the context of the latter part of the season was that Carlson managed one point over seven games in late-march and early-April before sitting out the last four games of the regular season to rest his lower body injury before the postseason.  The odd part of that whole sequence of games is that between his absences for injury (six games in January and those last four games of the season), he topped 20 minutes per game in ice time and averaged 22:42, tops on the team.  If he was nursing an injury through that stretch, he was not getting much by way of relief in his workload.

As it was, Carlson’s production mattered.  The Caps were 25-2-3 in games in which he recorded a point.  They were 7-1-2 in games in which he recorded at least five shots on goal.  However, he certainly had a home lean to his numbers, going 5-19-24, plus-15 in 38 home games, but just 4-9-13, minus-8 in 34 road games.


Fearless’ Take… In some respects, this might have been something of an off-year for John Carlson, but he finished it as one of six defensemen who, over the past seven years, appeared in at least 500 games, averaged at least a half point per game, and had an aggregate plus-minus of plus-40 or better.  Even with the hiccup in his high end numbers, he was one of 18 defensemen to appear in at least 70 games, average more than half point per game this season. 

Cheerless’ Take… About that ice time thing.  It’s not as if more Carlson was better.  In 19 games in which he logged more than 24 minutes, the Caps were 11-5-3; they were 37-12-4 in games he logged fewer than 24 minutes

Odd Carlson Fact… Even with the injury problems of the last two seasons, Carlson cobbled together 30-plus point seasons in each.  He is now tied with Larry Murphy for fifth in 30-plus-point seasons (six) in Capitals history.

Game to remember… February 9th vs. Detroit

The start of the new year was good to the Caps.  When the calendar rolled over into the new year, Washington posted an excellent January, going 12-2-1.  The success carried over into February, in which the Caps started the month with four straight wins heading into a home contest against the Detroit Red Wings.  It looked good early for the Caps when Marcus Johansson scored in the sixth minute to open the scoring.  The Red Wings were not going quietly, though, and got two goals from Andreas Athanasiou less than three minutes apart to take the lead.  Brett Connolly tied the game late in the period to tie the contest going into the first intermission.  Washington took a lead in the second period on a goal by T.J. Oshie, John Carlson getting one of the assists.  Detroit clawed back into a tie early in the second period on a Henrik Zetterberg goal. 

Less than three minutes later, though, Oshie stripped Danny Dekeyser of the puck in the faceoff circle to the left of the Red Wing net and fed Carlson for a one-timer that beat Petr Mrazek to give the Caps a lead they would not relinquish.  For Carlson, it was the game-winning goal in a 6-3 win and a game in which he finished plus-4, his best rating in any game of the season and one of just three instances in the regular season in which a Caps defenseman finished a game plus-4 (Karl Alzner and Matt Niskanen had the others).

Game to forget… January 15th vs. Philadelphia

The Philadelphia Flyers have not been an accommodating opponent for John Carlson.  He came into the season never having recorded a goal against the Flyers in 25 career regular season games.  That streak extended to 26 games in the teams’ first meeting of the year, a 3-2 Gimmick win for the Flyers on December 21st.  Carlson barely had a chance to break that streak when the teams met for the second time this season on January 15th.  Carlson skated just nine shifts, all in the first period, unable to return for the balance of the contest with a lower-body injury.  Carlson had no marks on his score sheet line in 6:38 of ice time, his lowest of the season (he would miss the next six games).  It was a piece of misfortune entirely forgotten in what would be a 5-0 Caps win, Philipp Grubauer’s second career shutout, and a game in which the Caps vaulted the top spot in the league’s standings.  They would not trail any team in standings points from that point until the end of the season.

Postseason: 13 games, 2-2-4, plus-1

John Carlson led the Caps in goals in the postseason and was second only to Kevin Shattenkirk in points.  That should not be considered as evidence of prolific output.  Carlson had two goals and two assists in 13 games.  It was a far cry from the five goals and 12 points he had in 12 games of the 2016 postseason.  Like several Caps, his was a case of “what if he had one more point?”  Washington was 3-1 in games in which he recorded a point, 4-5 when he didn’t, 1-4 in the second round series against Pittsburgh.  The telling number for Carlson in the playoffs, though was this: “one.”  He had one even strength point in the Pittsburgh series (an assist in the 4-2 Game 5 win).  He had only one even strength point in the Toronto series, too, but when you win such thing can be forgotten.

In the end…

John Carlson’s 2016-2017 season went a bit sideways, a ho-hum first half followed by a second half dotted with injuries.  When you consider the bold (ok, deranged) prognostication one noteworthy prognosticator had for Carlson, it was an especially disappointing result.  That’s not his fault, though.  Some folks are just plain dumb when prognostifying.  Still, it was something of an odd year.  Carlson finished first or second in goals, assists, and points among Capital defensemen.  He led the defense in average ice time, shots on goal, game-winning goals, power play goals, and power play points. But two things stood out on the other side of the ledger.  He was sixth on the team in SAT (49.55 percent) and seventh in plus-minus.  Consider that Taylor Chorney was a plus-8 in 18 games; Carlson was plus-7 in 72 games.  Whatever one thinks of plus-minus, finishing seventh among defensemen with a plus-7 on a squad that had five defensemen finish plus-20 or better is not a good finish.  Injuries might have dragged his performance down, but it did not prevent what looked to be a disappointing overall season.

Grade: B-

Photo: Maddie Meyer/Getty Images North America