Capital Chaos: Defining the Defense, Orlov & the New Guys

Orlov article on NBCSW today by J.J. Regan

This was my initial thoughts on it as part of an ongoing discussion on a Caps blog I frequent.

The second pair had a rough time of it last year, for sure, but I’m honestly not really that concerned with it for the coming season. Here’s part of why:

Orlov demonstrated in the past he can be a stud top pairing D with an some offense upside. At points he’s demonstrated a solid transition game and adequate passer. Some good ability to jump into the play in the o-zone. A deft shot. The ability to check. And, good positioning in his own zone. Sure, the boneheaded plays are there for him — but I do think he’s gotten better at limiting them and that he’s also not alone in making them (Carlson’s been accused of it over the course of his career plenty as well, for example). There’s still a lot of room for improvement for Orlov even from his previous apex, which is what makes me think that last season was a bit of an aberration and he should be able to bounce back. Notable too, the defense all struggled early in the season, as did the team in general, as they tried to accommodate the changes in Reirden’s approach, which I feel like I remember it being much more man coverage and less the 2-1-2 and modified right wing lock style they’d leaned on heavily for the Cup run. I also feel like I remember there being notes about how lopsided the zone starts were originally with the Carlson pairing taking a lot in the ozone to utilize his shooting and the Nisky pairing taking a lot in the dzone. As the season wore on (up till the injuries started piling up) it seemed like the responsibilities of the pairs changed (the third pair picked up a lot of the Dzone starts) and Orlov, at least, recovered somewhat, whereas Nisky still seemed a step behind – at least to my lying eyes. With a full offseason to review the tape, a full preseason to acclimate to a new partner, and whatever changes Rierden makes to compensate for the reworking of the blue line (and team defense overall) I expect Orlov to do better.

The current conclusion is that Orlov will most likely be paired with Jensen, and as has been discussed a tonne already, was a cornerstone for the Detroit blue line. However, as other commentators have noted around the internet and a bunch of my Wings fan friends and family have mentioned the Detroit system is very north south, whereas the Caps system they noted seems to have a lot more cross-over between blueliners. It’s also noteworthy that the Detroit system is “slower” and doesn’t attack off the rush nearly as much as how the Caps try and set up, due in part to a LOFT issue at forward for the Wings. So, coming over Jensen was learning a new system on the fly. Furthermore, it’s not like the Caps themselves were necessarily executing their own system flawlessly, although by the trade deadline they were better than they had been earlier in the season. And, of course, Jensen’s time skating third pair minutes to adjust to his new team mates didn’t last very long due to injuries which forced Rierden to shuffle players around to compensate, including Jensen who was then forced into starting on his off-wing at times, who was playing first-line minutes next to Carlson, etc. creating a lot of inconsistency for a guy who was still trying to learn a system and build chemistry with the team. Given a full offseason to study, a full training camp to acclimate and a much more defined role in picking up Nisky’s spot in the second pairing Jensen has all the potential to excel with the Caps and probably surpass his previous output in Detroit. And, hopefully, this happens paired with someone like Orlov in the whatever the best possible pairing combinations are for the team

That being said there’s a lot of inherent question marks to the blue line, including what’s noted above:
Kempny and Djoos are both coming off injuries
Jensen and Gudas are both essentially new additions to blue line and team in transition
Orlov will have a new partner for the first time in several years
Sieggy and Djoos will likely be the ones battling for roles and ice time

RHD: Carlson, Jensen, Gudas
LHD: Orlov, Kempny, Siegenthaler, Djoos

Maybe Carlson-Kempny isn’t a lock for the top pair if Kempny needs more time to recover, or Orlov-Jensen doesn’t mesh, or both Sieggy and Djoos have stunning camps and there isn’t a clear winner (or worse they both struggle), in which case we could possibly see a lot of potential mix and match like puzzle pieces while still creating complimenting pairs for Dmen.

Perhaps, as well, Rierden might also look back at last season’s performance as well as the changes in skillsets on the roster this season and make new determinations in how to run the defense / systems over all.

That’s where it could become very interesting and how that all plays out I think might have a bigger effect on Orlov’s performance than Orlov’s contributions independently since there’s going to be a lot of moving pieces surrounding how Orlov is ultimately going to be leveraged by the Caps this year.

Since this was on a Caps blog, it received the following reply that I’m copying here for context so you understand the rest of my post in response:

Good post. An Orlov lover here. A few points:
1) Interesting that Mr. Defense Rierden doesn’t seem to be a big improvement over NOT Mr. Defense, Barry Trotz.
2) Therefore, did Rierden bring Orlie down? Me thinks so. Screw the man-to-man and get back to zone.
3) Unlike last year, develop a defense where Orlov should focus on his OFFENSE (yeah, you read that correctly) and worry less about his defense.
4) If that is the case, then perhaps, Gudas is the best defensive-minded D-man. (Certainly not Carlson and, apparently, not Jensen.)
5) I’m still not convinced Jensen is top 4 caliber. If so, then tell him to stay the hell back and let Orlov improvise
6) If Jensen continues to be mediocre and Gudas is no better than a 3rd pair rightie, teach Sieg IMMEDIATELY to be the stay-at-home d-man on the right side (despite being a leftie).
7) Unless proven otherwise, keep Djoos on the 3rd line. His offense might be essential from the left side if the two new guys in the system don’t develop as expected.

I honestly think this particular poster reminds me a lot of Bobby who I used to co-author a sports blog with back in the day. They are both knee jerky in their panicky responses. I mean we used to joke about Bobby hitting the panic button all the time. They are both also emotionally tied to certain players as fan-favorites disconnected sometimes from the reality of the players performance so it can make for some uneven analysis and a lot of tangental thoughts. And, just like with Bobby, we both end up replying back and forth a lot, butting heads on some of our takes on what’s happening with the team. Don’t get me wrong, I do enjoy the banter. The following was my response to their reply to me:

  1. Not sure how you can call Trotz not Mr. Defense. His teams in Nashville were predicated on defense from the goalie through the blueline to how the forwards played. That’s how they built success as a franchise under his tenure, and featured a lot of stud dmen along the way. To the point where when Trotz came over to the Caps there was a concern initially he might stifle the creative forwards we had with his defensive systems. This didn’t really come to fruition as he found ways to leverage the top-end talent well, but he also managed to help Ovi overcome the stigma that he couldn’t play D. It was also thought that because Trotz was a D-first guy he wouldn’t be able to develop the young forward talent the team had, and while you can talk about Bura’s troubles under Trotz you can also point to how he helped finally unleash Wilson, gave Vrana an opportunity to claim a top-six role, reclaimed the career of Connolly, etc as well. But that was against the grain of his reputation which is why it stands out. Meanwhile, he did a good job with the Caps D those years too. And, now that he’s with the Isles he’s gone back to really focusing on getting the most out of inferior players by playing strong defensive systems – because let’s face it, that isles blue line was swiss cheese before Trotz got there.
  2. Did HCTR bring Orlov down? It’s going to be really hard for me to prove or disprove it one way or another with any definitive purpose. Maybe someone else who’s better with pulling advanced stats can demonstrate it better. However, from my viewpoint, some of it is on HCTR but not all of it:

a) Rierden’s System: the transition to Rierden’s system last year seemed to be rough for the whole team early on. I’m not a systems expert so it’s more parroting what I’ve read elsewhere but generally the Caps moved into more of a man-to-man style last year than what they were using before. There may have been good reason to make those changes, I’ve never really read an analysis that’s quoted Todd specifically saying he did it for any given reason. But, generally, as I understand it, a 2-1-2 or wing-lock system is very rigid, there are specific roles an responsibilities that must be adhere to, which is why these kinds of tight systems are heavily relied in by teams with lower talent levels (see this year’s Isles for example) whereas with man-coverage schemes there’s supposedly a bit more freedom for creativity that top-end talent can try and exploit so it’s possible that part of Rierden’s plan was to try and leverage some of his talent to do so. I can’t say for sure. But I can say that it’s as much on the players to perform the system as it is the coach to produce it. But it takes time to learn and adjust to something new and for Orlov, as well as a lot of the team, it did seem like the struggled to make the change, especially early on. It might have taken more out of Orlov’s numbers in making that transition to the new system than it took out of other players which is why he struggled.

b) Nisky as a linemate: This goes back to HCTR seemingly refusing to break up the pairing when it struggled. But it also speaks to the process of Nisky’s play falling off overall. There were already issues with Nisky’s underlying numbers under Trotz the year before despite Trotz leaning on that pairing heavily on the Cup run. They became more pronounced this year and it might not have mattered who was coaching this past season there’s a pretty good chance Nisky would continue to fall off at the rate he did, and, he probably would have dragged whomever he was with down with him. So, then the question is how do you shuffle the pairings to negate some of Nisky’s falloff if your a coach? Would you break up the Carlson-Kempny pairing that was already very steady and potentially make two pairings uneven rather than one? Would you pair Seiggy or Djoos as kids with Nisky and make them drag him up and down the ice? Would you figure out a way to put the boat anchors of Nisky and Orpik together as a third pair and overplay everyone else to really, really limit their minutes? It’s possible Rierden looked at the alternatives and might have figured Orlov was mature enough to deal with the situation and in having to deal with a less than ideal version of Nisky it hurt some of Orlov’s personal numbers.

c. Reid Cashman as a Defensive coordinator. Rierden the previous year was a very accomplished defense coach paired with Trotz who was a solid defensive minded head coach. A lot of the players on the D really seemed to have very high regard for his work. Rierden this year was a rookie head coach who selected and a replacement for himself with essentially no previous experience in that role. It’s very possible this could also have affected Orlov’s play, and that of the blue line in general, since Cahsman isn’t the same kind of hands on coach as Rierden was, at least so far, compared the players talk about the kind of guy Rierden was for them

d. Orlov himself. Players have off years, it happens, even to the best of them. He’s logged a lot of heavy minutes the last few years and maybe the shortened off season did affect him this past year. It definitely seemed to hurt a few other guys. While it might be on HCTR to recognize some of this, it’s also on the player to perform too. I don’t disagree that there should be an effort to unleash Orlov in the O-zone more. He’s shown he has the ability to jump up on the play and be successful and it was being utilized at bit under Trotz when Nisky was playing better. It’s hard to really know how much though was a step back for him as a player this past season or if it was a function of other things, but remember, he was 10th on the team for points, second only to Carlson on D and not getting 1st Power Play unit time. His 3 goals was low, especially considering Nisky somehow potted 8, and you’d like to see that back up with the shot Orlov has but again, it’s not like he hasn’t shown he has the ability in the past so it’s more likely the lack of goals was an aberration probably driven by an abysmal 3% shooting.

  1. Not sure the dislike for Jensen at all. His numbers last year on Detroit were solid and even with the rough time of it for his bouncing around during his transition to the Caps lineup he still finished the year pretty strong. While he’s not a stud, he’s also not being paid like a first pairing guy either. He fits squarely in the second pairing type of performance. He’s a smooth skater. He has a really solid first pass. Has a good sense of north-south movement on the ice. To further this with some numbers and names According to Hockey-Reference, here’s what his performance last year on Detroit looked like (I didn’t know how to use the filters so some of the rank numbers would be different if you put minimums, or exclude goalies, etc. but I did limit the comparisons to only his time in Detroit for most of this)

a. Jensen was given solid minutes in Detroit
ATOI 20:48, Wings 7th — Wings D 3rd behind DeKeyser & Green — league 96th (comparable on D to: Travis Hamonic, Andy Greene, Alex Goligoski, Noah Hanifin, Jay Bouwmeester, Anton Stralman — would have been 8th on the Caps — Caps D 4th behind Carlson, Nisky & Orlov

TTOI 1248m, Wings 6th — Wings D 2nd behind Kronwall — league using only his Detroit minutes T253 comparableleague full season total minutes by Matt Grzelcyk, Victor Mete, Joel Edmundson (while his total minutes of 1588 were T89th comparable on D to Brian Dumoulin, Victor Hedman, Shea Theodore, Justin Braun, Alex Goligoski) — Detroit minutes only would have ranked 13th on the Caps while his total season was 7th behind Carlson, Nisky & Orlov on the D

b. Jensen wasn’t necessarily getting easy minutes:
DzS% 55.2, for Wings 10th — for Wings D 3th behind Ericsson, DeKeyser (4th if you include the kids Sulak & Hicketts who both were at the bottom of ice time) — league T342 comparable on D to: Dan Hamhuis, Travis Sanheim, Johnny Boychuk, Caleb Jones, Marco Scandella, Zach Bogosian, Brian Dumoulin — would have been 9th on the Caps — Caps D 4th behind Nisky, Orpik and Seiggy

c. Jensen was holding his own on a team that overall struggled
CF% 49.7 on Wings 5th — Wings D 2nd barely behind Hronek — league T422 comparable on D to: Jeremy Lauzon, Slater Koekkoek, Juuso Valimaki, Justin Braun, Aaron Ekblad, Brandon Montour, John Moore, David Savard, Sean Walker, Ryan Graves, Dennis Cholowski — would have been 13th on the Caps — Caps D 4th behind Carlson, Kempny, Djoos

FF% 49.9 on Wings 5th — Wings D 2nd barely behind Green — league T411 comparable on D to: Aaron Ekblad, Ryan McDonagh, William Borgen, Marcus Pettersson, Oscar Fantenberg, Andrej Sekera, Michael Stone, Troy Stecher, Dan Hamhuis, Sean Walker, Travis Sanheim, Jacob Trouba — would have been T10th on the Caps — Caps D T3 with Seiggy behind Carlson and Kempny

d. for some additional contributions that one might find interesting about Jenson
Takeaways: 21, Wings 8th, Wings D 1st
Blocks: 79, Wings 4th, Wings D 3rd (behind DeKeyser & Kronwall)
Hits: 61 wings 15th, Wings D 5th (behind Ericsson, Kronwall DeKeyser & Hronek)

Jensen’s numbers the previous season in Detroit are very comparable. He’s been a consistent contributor in the role Detroit was using him for. His time with the Caps was influenced by all of the factors previously mentioned.

  1. Seiggy on the third pairing with Orpik I believe was playing on his off-wing already. Djoos was as well during his time with Orpik. The addition of Gudas allows both, I believe, to play to their on-wing which I think is preferable overall. Gudas is also an improvement defensively over Orpik which should also help both guys excel a bit more. We’ll have to see how the chemistry comes together in camp between the three of them, how Reirden and Cashman want to leverage the different skill sets, etc. to really get a feel for how that bottom pairing might come together. Each of the three brings something different to the table and there’s lots of ways to potentially put those puzzle pieces together but we don’t have nearly enough info where we’re at now to do anything other than speculate. There’s certainly no indication for a need to panic with suggestions he should be turned around to his off wing and moved back up a pair.
  • Like I mentioned before, maybe not clearly enough, because there’s a LOT of ifs in the lineup there’s a LOT of different ways the pairings could go, just because the foregon conclusion seems to be
    Carlson – Kempny
    Jenson – Orlov
    Gudas – Seiggy/Djoos

  • it doesn’t mean there isn’t flexibility to do try things like
    Carlson with either Seiggy (seemed to work at the end of last year) or Orlov (had mixed results in the past, but both players have matured a lot since then) or Djoos (intuitively doesn’t seem good, but who knows)

    Jensen with Djoos (seems to keep the kind of balance in complimenting skill sets) or Seiggy (could be interesting as I don’t think they’re ) or Kempny (seems a little redundant style wise but who knows)

    Gudas – we already know about Seiggy or Djoos here, but Kempny could make an interesting partner if necessary (especially if he’s not fully recovered from the injury) and although you might not want Orlov having to drag Gudas up and down the ice he’s already done something similar with Nisky so, again, who knows

    The key with some of these more experimental pairings is to also consider the ice time. You’re not going to probably have a first pairing skating huge minutes if your lineup looks like this, but then again, you’re bottom pair can probably take on more than maybe what the Caps bottom has been skating, meaning if you got stuck with something like Carlson-Seiggy + Gudas-Orlov + Jensen+Kempny you might be thinking more like 2A+2B+2C rather than 1+2+3 for pairings, not dissimilar to the flexibility the Caps technically have in their top-six forwards being somewhat interchangeable if necessary. It’s not ideal but it’s potentially a lot more viable than expecting Seiggy to move up a pairing on his off wing, for example.

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