As we continue to wrap up our analysis of the Washington Capitals’ 2021-22 season, we next examine how Capitals defensemen performed during the regular season. This position will ultimately generate a team ranking and ratings for each of the defensemen for their performance during the 2021-22 regular season. [You can review our grades for Capitals forwards here.]

METHODOLOGY

The analysis uses a wide range of metrics to assess the overall performance of each of the Capitals defensemen during the 2021-22 regular season. This will include basic offensive stats (score), blocked shots, turnover and penalty stats, on-ice possession metrics, individual shot metrics, and team defensive metrics to derive the final standings and the scores.

STATISTICAL EVALUATION

[The data and statistics used for this post are courtesy of Natural Stat Trick, Hockey Reference, NHL.com and NoVa Caps’ Advanced Anlytics model. If you’d like to learn more about the statistical terms used in this post, please check out our NHL Analytics Glossary.]

Basic score stats

The first graph simply plots the base offensive stats for each of the Capitals defensemen during the regular season. [Click to Enlarge].

Unsurprisingly, John Carlson led all defensemen in goals, assists and points per game among regular Capitals defensemen. Dmitry Orlov finished second in all three categories. Martin Fehervary was third in goals and sixth in assists while Justin Schultz was third in assists and 5th in goals.

Turnover

We then look at the turnovers and turnover differential for each of the Capitals defensemen this season. [Click to enlarge].

Trevor van Riemsdyk easily takes top honors in this category, as the Capitals’ only positive defenseman, stealing 11 more pucks than he gave up. Nick Jensen and Martin Fehervary had the worst turnover differentials.

Strokes per 60

The following graph plots hits per 60 minutes for each of the Capitals defensemen this season. [Click to enlarge].

Martin Fehervary has been a hitting machine for the Capitals this season and was by far the leader, which is somewhat surprising for a rookie. Nick Jensen and Dmitry Orlov were next among the Capitals regular starters to dish out the hits.

Penalties

Then, penalties taken, penalties taken, and net penalty differential for each of the Capitals defensemen. [Click to enlarge].

Nick Jensen takes top honors in this category, taking 12 penalties more than expected. Trevor van Riemsdyk is second with John Carlson third in the category. Justin Schultz had the worst differential (-6) followed by Dmitry Orlov (-5) and Martin Fehervary (-5) among the regulars.

Offensive Zone Shift Start Percentages

Before delving into more advanced possession metrics, it helps to first understand the roles and responsibilities of each of the defenders. A simple tool we can use is Offensive Area Change Start Percentages. [Click to enlarge].

Nick Jensen and Dmitry Orlov have seen the fewest offensive zone change starts on the Capitals’ blue line, indicating their primary role as defensive backs. Schultz, Carlson, Fehervary and van Riemsdyk all saw the majority of their shifts start in the offensive zone.
These rates should be taken into account when evaluating the following offensive and defensive measures.

Basic possession metrics

The following graph begins to assess advanced metrics related to possession and even-strength shot attempts for each of the Capitals defensemen. [Click to enlarge].

It’s worth mentioning up front that Matt Irwin posted some very strong numbers in his small sample. Among the regulars, Dmitry Orlov (52.02%), Justin Schultz (51.50%), Nick Jensen (51.76%) and Trevor van Riemsdyk (51.20%) all finished the season above the threshold of the 50% expected goal percentage.

The team as a whole has struggled this season in the high danger zone, and that included all defenders, who finished below 50%, except for Nick Jensen (50.72%).

Basic Possession Metrics – Defense

The next set of metrics takes a closer look at the defensive performance of each of the Capitals’ defensemen. Goals Percentage (GF%) details the percentage of goals scored for the Capitals against the opposition when the player is on the ice.

Expected goals against minus actual goals against (xGA – GA) details the expected goal conversion rates for each player and expected goals against per 60 (xGA per 60) details the number of expected goals against each defender. [Click to enlarge].

Nick Jensen and Dmitry Orlov had the best overall percentages, with about 60% of goals scored for the Capitals while on the ice. That’s impressive considering their starting pace of change in the defensive zone.

Justin Schultz, Michal Kempny and Trevor van Riemsdyk were the only defensemen on the ice for more goals against than goals scored by the Capitals, with Justin Schultz and Trevor van Riemsdyk having the worst differentials.

RANK AND CLASSES

The following summary table simply ranks each defender into each of the aforementioned statistical categories. The lowest total score indicates the best overall score. However, it should be noted that for a more granular and detailed analysis, each category would be weighted, as not all categories have the same weight/importance. The final numbers should give an idea of ​​each defender’s overall performance against their teammates. [Click to enlarge].

Dmitry Orlov had the best overall score (56), closely followed by Nick Jensen (58). John Carlson was 3rd (66).

NARRATIVE

John Carlson – John Carlson took a lot of heat for his defensive play down the stretch, and rightly so. He looked terrible at times, especially as the season progressed. However, his best offensive performance this season saves his overall rating. The Capitals would certainly miss his score if he was traded for a more defensive defenseman. His contract is a ship’s anchor.

Nick Jensen and Dmitry Orlov – Easily the Capitals’ best defensive duo this season, with Orlov edging out Jensen for the Capitals’ best defenseman this season. Some doubted Jensen signing 2-3 years ago, myself included, but he found his game and was a constant presence with Zdeno Chara last season and Dmitry Orlov this season. In previous years, Orlov also got blasted by fans and myself, but he worked hard to become the Capitals’ best defensive back.

Martin Fehervary – Fehervary started the season strong, as one of the Capitals’ best defensemen, but fell behind as the season progressed. Fehervary played in 85 games this season (including the playoffs), which was by far the most games he played in a calendar year in his career. That and a fight with Covid are the likely reasons for his disappointing end to the season. All in all, a good season for the rookie.

Trevor Van Riemsdyk – TVR rather quietly amassed a good season and proved to be a quality discount signing by Brian MacLellan. It could be considered to provide more this coming season after the expected departures of Justin Schultz and Michal Kempny.

CLASSES

Here are the ratings for each of the Capitals defensemen for the 2021-22 season. Players who were called up for a game or two, or reserve players who saw little action received a score of 7.0.

It would be beneficial to see Martin Fehervary and John Carlson go their separate ways this season. The couple were ideal to mentor Fehervary at first, but they need to be a more effective couple. A pair of van Riemsdyk and Carlson could be the starting point, moving Fehervary to partner a new incoming veteran or perhaps a rookie, although that leaves very little experience in the pairing.

TO ADVANCE

The Capitals will look to uplift the youth in response to the expected departures of Justin Schultz and Michal Kempny and possibly Matt Irwin this offseason. It’s a lot of experience leaving the team, but it’s the right decision regarding the game and the salary cap.

There will be plenty of eyes on Lucas Johansen, Alex Alexeyev and even Tobias Geisser and Bobby Nardella in September when the Capitals open training camp. The big question, will they be ready and able to make the leap from the AHL. Ideally, Johansen and Alexeyev would make the opening night roster.

Expect the Capitals to sign a veteran defenseman to reduce experience loss and help mentor young Capitals defensemen.

By Jon Sorensen