Monday, February 02, 2009

In defense of...

Every team, whether good or bad, in Canada or in the States, east coast or west coast, needs a whipping boy.

Jeff Schultz, such is your lot in life as a Washington Capital.

And it isn’t fair, not by a long shot. Young Mr. Schultz (and he is young – 22) gets more than a fair amount of grief from Caps fans – on message boards, blogs, or in the stands (we heard a lot of commentary from the stands on his play in the weekend games). Why he is the target of such invective, we’re not entirely sure. Perhaps it is this…

Schultz is seventh on the team in hits, last in hits-per-game. For a guy who is of a size roughly equivalent to Chris Pronger, that is apparently the kiss of death.

Well, gee, it’s not like Schultz doesn’t bring other things to the party. Part of defending is to try to keep shots from getting to the goaltender. That might take the form of tying up a defender in front, and it might take the form of blocking shots. With respect to the latter, Schultz has a respectable 50 blocked shots in 34 games. The number is good for fourth on the team, and on a blocked shots per game basis is ahead of Shaone Morrison, John Erskine, and Tom Poti.

Schultz doesn’t shoot a lot (with only 22 shots on goal, he probably should shoot more) from his position, but he has the best ratio of shots on goal to blocked shots – he’s getting shots through so that a play can be made.

He probably will never be an “offensive” defenseman, but he is tied for second among Capitals defensemen in assists. And, he is a plus-13 (second among defensemen) in 34 games, plus-30 for 144 career games. He’s had only nine “minus” games this year, and except for a brutal minus-4 night against San Jose has had only one other game where he was worse than a minus-1. He’s had only one “minus” game in 2009.

OK, all other things equal, one would like a player of Schultz’ size to clear-cut the terrain in front of a goaltender and punish players along the boards. And, given that he’s second in shorthanded ice time for a team that struggles on the power play, you’d like to see him improve in that regard. But he plays his position well, especially given his age and experience level – certainly more good things happen when he’s on the ice than bad things at even strength.

Schultz is going to be a good defenseman in this league. Perhaps – probably, in fact – not an all star (he’ll never score enough for that), but one who will be effective in his anonymity. He’ll be out there for a lot of time where nothing happens for the other guys, and you probably won’t even notice that it was Schultz on the ice for a lot of that.

Hits make an impression on fans. So do fights. Neither is Schultz' game. You have to watch him -- really watch him over time to see the sort of ways he can be effective. It isn't that he hasn't made and won't make mistakes. That's a rite of passage for a 22-year old defenseman in this league.

But for the time being, we think he’s coming along just fine.


JP said...

Schultz's harshest critics tend to have the shallowest understandings of the game.

Zelda said...

Well said, Peerless! I made a point of watching him during the games this weekend since there has been a lot of griping about him. He looked pretty good to me. I admit I probably have a shallow understanding of the game, but it seems a defenseman's task is pretty obvious - to keep the other side from making a goal, right? Schultz's defensive efforts over the weekend looked more error-free to me than, ahem, Mike Green's - but he is always forgiven since he's so good on offense as well. Glad you defended the defenseman, Peerless.

pepper said...

What JP said.

Mostly he's paired with a guy who is near the top of that hits list. And you can't have both D-men looking to pound an opposing forward into the boards. One of them has to carry it out.

I'll take second in +/- only to Mike Green over more hits every day.

exwhaler said...

Schultz is going to be the kind of defenseman that the Capitals wanted Morrisonn to be, and like Mo, he'll eventually learn to bring more physicality to his game. Only, he'll be a better, more consistant defender.

Bald Pollack said...

Great minds think alike.

Anonymous said...

As long as Caps fans keep calling for a big tough D man on their team, they will keep calling out Schultz.

It won't matter (much) how well he plays D, it's how he plays that bothers people. His style.

And Semin says style counts.

Just look at that hair....