(Unless otherwise stated, all stats in this article come from Natural Stat Trick).
The Caps season so far could be characterized as “A Tale of Two Position Groups”. It was the most stable of times, it was the most chaotic of times. The forward group has just one of it’s opening night lines still intact. But on the other side of the equation we have the D-pairings, which haven’t changed since about the middle of training camp. So, let’s check in on them, see how they’re doing. Spoiler alert, it’s mostly good. But good is fun. Let’s have some fun shall we!
Fehervary and Carlson took a little time to gel together. In the first two weeks of the season, they had a very mediocre 47% adjusted xGF%, and while their actual goals for% was objectively good, it was the worst of the three main D pairings by a decent amount, and likely had more to do with the fact that they play significant with the white hot first line. For example Carlson has played 44% of his 5v5 ice time with Ovechkin (per HockeyViz.com). Hard not to have a good GF% playing with the best goal scorer in NHL history.
Since their somewhat rocky start though, they have really come together and become, to put it bluntly, analytics dream boats. In the Month of November they are rocking an absurdly good 64% adjusted xGF% together. And I’m going to go out on a limb and suggest that the reason that they work so well together is the same reason that Kempny worked so well with Carlson back in 2018. Below are Carlson’s Offensive impact, and Fehervary’s defensive impact, respectively.
Fehervary’s defensive responsibility makes up for Carlson’s general lack thereof, and Carlson is, obviously, an elite offensive forward. This combination makes them perfect for each other in theory, and clearly, it’s working out in practice. Like Kempny, Fehervary has some offensive prowess despite being a solid D-Man, as you can see below.
In summary, these two are great on their own, and together, are better than the sum of their parts. They are very well balanced, doing a good job a both ends of the ice, not sacrificing defense for the sake of offense (which has been an issue with Carlson in the past), while still making use of Carlson’s talents in the attacking zone.
These two have been solid together, particularly as a pair of shutdown defensemen. The opposition is getting almost no shots against them. Together they average just 1.95 xGA/60 this season, the best of the three pairs. And well, just take a look at their heat map from HockeyViz. Remember, blue is good.
They are doing a phenomenal job of keeping pucks away from the Caps young goaltenders, which has led to them allowing just .98 Goals Against/60, which is top ten among D-Pairings with at least 75 minutes of ice time together, according to MoneyPuck.com.
On top of completely locking down the defensive zone, they have been incredibly lucky in the offensive zone, out scoring their expected goals by a whopping 1.67 Goals per hour. Is that ridiculous pace sustainable? I’m going to go ahead and say no, probably not. But it’s also not just pure dumb luck either. I mean, just watch this elite pass from Jensen to spring Eller for a goal.
Passing through your teammates legs while in a phonebooth trying to keep everybody onsides is talent, not pure luck. So while I do expect their scoring to regress a little closer to the mean, I think it will still stay pretty high.
All in all, Orlov-Jensen have been a solid defensive pair, who’s best trait has been keeping opponents to the outside, and limiting their quality chances, while sneaking in some nifty offensive plays as well.
You might be surprised to learn that these two have the best Corsi% of the three defensive pairs. While Orlov and Jensen have done well to suppress the quality of opposing shots, Schultz and van Riemsdyk have excelled at limiting the quantity of opposition shots.
Overall they’ve done a very good job of limiting shots. There is a little cause for concern here with that big blotch of red near the crease, meaning that when they are giving up shots, they are allowing the opposition to get in tight and get some close shots. They are allowing more xGA/60 than the other two pairings despite allowing fewer shot attempts.
In contrast with Carlson and Fehervary these two have actually regressed since a hot start to the season, dropping from a wild 61% Corsi% in October to a measly 48% in November. Schultz has noticeably been struggling since around the middle of last season, but van Riemsdyk has not been great the last few games either. According to NHL.com, his Giveaways have gone up over time which is not great.
Still, hopefully this is just a minor speedbump and the two will return to their strong early form.
The Caps have an overall strong defensive core, which is helpful when your offense is all over the place in terms of personnel. All six have effectively kept things tight defensively without being afraid to pinch and make plays in the offensive zone either. Let’s hope that continues this weekend as the Caps face the weaker half of their west coast swing against a struggling Sharks team and an expansion team that actually looks like an expansion team.