Monday, October 26, 2009

First and Tens -- The First Ten-Game Segment: Defensemen and Goaltenders

If the last time we did this we covered the forwards, then we are left with the defensemen and goaltenders. How did they do in their respective first ten-game segments?

Brian Pothier

For Pothier, the difference in this year’s first ten games versus last year’s is being in the lineup. Last year at this time, Pothier’s career was still in doubt in the aftermath of a concussion suffered in January 2008. This year, he has been in the lineup for nine of the first ten games, registering an assist in that span while averaging 15:41 of ice time a night. If there is an odd number in Pothier’s first ten games, it is this – 12. He is averaging only 12 seconds of penalty killing time per game, by far the lowest number among defensemen (Tyler Sloan is next at 49 seconds).

Tom Poti

Health is also an ingredient in Poti’s start this year, as in “having it.” Last year, Poti played in only five of the first ten games of the season, missing five due to a groin injury. He has played in all 10 games for the Caps thus far. Here is how this year’s first ten compares to last year’s:

The number of note for Poti is the mirror image of that for Pothier – 4:49. That is the number that leads the Caps’ defensemen in penalty killing time, 1:46 more than the next highest number for the Caps (3:03 for Milan Jurcina). It is quite a turn for Poti, who was seen more as an offensive defenseman earlier in his career.

John Erskine

There is a bit of an odd consistency to Erskine’s starts last season and this. He’s missed a few games, but there is the one assist and the one fight last year and this. Here is how the two years compare…

Nothing here that leaps off the page, but for a defenseman, that’s not necessarily bad.

Milan Jurcina

Jurcina might be considered among the early leaders in the “most improved player” category…

And he’s doing it while logging more time on the ice than last year (17 minutes so far this year versus 15 in his first ten games last year). Here is your fun Jurcina number – five. Of the 29 goals surrendered by the Caps so far this year, Jurcina has been on the ice for only five of them. That is, no doubt, a function of time management, but he’s been efficient in the time he does spend on the ice, too.

Shaone Morrisonn

This is Morrisonn’s fifth full season with the Caps and in the first four he’s been rather consistent. There isn’t much difference between his performance in his first ten games (actually, he’s been in nine of the first ten so far) and last year’s…

Morrisonn can be counted on to provide between 10 and 15 points in 70-plus games and be a plus performer while skating as often as not as Mike Green’s partner at even strength. What he’s done a little more consistently versus this time last year is stay out of the penalty box. He was whistled for minors in seven of his first ten games last year, only in three of nine games so far this year… but those would be the last three games (four minors), too.

Mike Green

Green’s offensive production might be seen by some in Caps Nation as being down from last year, and the numbers point to this, at least as far as goal-scoring goes…

But that is being measured against quite a standard. Green is still on a pace for a 16-49-65 season that last year would have been second in scoring among defensemen… to Green. What seems to be the difference so far, at least in goal scoring, is shots, where he is 15 shots behind last year’s pace after ten games. Perhaps it is the violinist being picky about his bow, as Green has been finicky about his sticks. But he seems more comfortable now, which can’t be good news for goaltenders. On the other hand, Green has been on the ice for 10 of the 29 goals scored against the Caps thus far, including the two shorthanded goals allowed in the past two games.

Jeff Schultz

Every team, it seems, needs a whipping boy, and Schultz is it for Caps fans, even if they’ve had fewer opportunities to express their affection this year than last…

But still, there is Schultz… second in scoring among Caps defensemen, tied for second in plus-minus, and for all the abuse heaped upon him, he’s only been on the ice for four goals among the 19 goals scored against the Caps in games he’s played. He’s neither the next Norris winner, nor the worst defenseman in the league. He is comfortably between those two poles, which isn’t bad for a 23-year old defenseman.

Tyler Sloan

Sloan announced his presence with authority last year, splattering Calgary’s Daymond Langkow with an open-ice check on his third NHL shift, then drawing 19 minutes in penalties from Rene Bourque when Bourque decided retaliation was a good idea. Sloan hasn’t left as big an impression in three games so far this season, but it is consistent – numbers-wise – with his performance in the first ten last year…

But what might be a bit disturbing is that of the nine goals scored against the Caps in games in which Sloan has played, he’s been on the ice for four of them.

Semyon Varlamov

Varlamov started his NHL career with a bang last season, beginning with his 2-1 debut win in Montreal on December 13th. He hasn’t lost a game in regulation in the regular season yet (8-0-1). But this year’s numbers are off – a 3.25 GAA and .884 save percentage make him a “second page” goalie in the rankings of goaltenders (he is 40th in GAA and 44th in save percentage). Including playoff games, he’s allowed at least four goals in seven of his last nine appearances. He shown that he has considerable talent, and he’s shown that he can give up goals in bunches in a hurry. He needs to find a happy place of consistency.

Jose Theodore

Coming into the season having faced personal misfortune and facing a challenge from a hot new prospect, Theodore has improved his numbers significantly over his opening ten-game segment last year…

Last year, he allowed at least four goals in three of his eight appearances in this segment. This season, he has allowed as many as four goals once in seven appearances. Five times he has allowed two or fewer, and he has a save percentage of at least .919 in each of his last four appearances. But for Theodore, the question is now, as it was last year, can he consistently produce at that level?

All in all, this year’s first ten-game segment compares more than favorably with last year’s first segment. But this is an 82-game season, too, and even with that, the regular season is but prelude to the post season. That is what expectations do. We expect that the Caps will be better at the start of this year than at the start of last year. We expect that they will be better, if not in the next segment, then certainly as the year goes on, and better again in the playoffs.

But for now, this is a pretty good start, despite the usual knashing of teeth in the usual places in Capitals Nation.


reefak said...

2 of the 4 goals Juice has seen have been while he's killed penalties. Point taken on his progress though, it's a pleasant surprise.

Usually Frustrated Caps Fan said...

Re: "All in all, this year’s first ten-game segment compares more than favorably with last year’s first segment. But this is an 82-game season, too, and even with that, the regular season is but prelude to the post season. That is what expectations do. ... All in all it's a pretty good start."

While a few of the last couple of wins haven't been pretty, the Caps now have the longest in process win streak in the league going; they are on pace for a 114+ point season (wouldn't that be the best ever?) and they've done this while playing 7 of their first 10 games against 2009 playoff teams.

Higher expectations are fine, but folks need to get realistic and understand the Caps are definately not starting slow this year - the numbers don't bear that conclusion at all.