Sunday, May 20, 2012

2011-2012 By the Tens -- Defensemen: Dmitry Orlov

Dmitry Orlov

Theme: “Our brightest blazes of gladness are commonly kindled by unexpected sparks.”
-- Samuel Johnson

(click pic for larger image)

On October 8, 2001 – opening night of the 2011-2012 season for the Washington Capitals – defenseman Dmitry Orlov finished a plus-1 with one shot on goal… for the AHL Hershey Bears, in a 3-2 win over the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins.

Orlov, a second-round draft pick of the Capitals in 2009 was starting his first full year in hockey in North America (he signed a tryout contract with Hershey in February 2011 and played in 25 games there, including six playoff games). The expectation was that he would spend a year (or more) of apprenticeship in Hershey to grow familiar with the North American game and develop his skill set at a difficult position.

The plan took a turn when injuries hit the blue line (that is, Mike Green) and cut the defense squad to six healthy players.  The call was made for Orlov to join the team on November 20th. At the time he was showing signs of advanced development: 4-5-9, even, in 15 games, including a 1-2-3 effort against Albany in the game immediately preceding his recall.

He was thrown right into the mix. He skated just under 12 minutes in his NHL debut and recorded three hits and a blocked shot in the Caps’ 4-3 win over the Phoenix Coyotes in what would be coach Bruce Boudreau’s 200th career NHL win. But all was not gumdrops and accordions, either. He was, as one might expect, somewhat uneven in his early going. In his pre-Christmas shakedown period he was 0-5-5, minus-1, in 15 games and was averaging almost 17 minutes of ice time a game, but mixed in there were were four “plus” games and an equal number of “minus” games. While he was going through his growing pains, the Caps were just treading water at 7-7-1 over those 15 games.

It wasn’t as if his after-Christmas performance was markedly better, at least not for a time. In 22 games after the holiday he did record his first NHL goal (a game-winner in a 2-1 win over Carolina), but he was just 1-2-3, minus-4. Then came an otherwise forgettable game against San Jose on February 13th. While the Caps were skating to a 5-3 loss to the Sharks, Orlov scored his second goal of the season. It touched off a run of games in which he was 2-9-12, plus-6 over his last 23 games.

Overall, he would finish the season with 19 points in 60 games, good for third on the club in scoring. It would be the sixth highest point total for a rookie defenseman for the Caps in franchise history and the most since Mikhail Tatarinov was 8-15-23 in the 1990-1991 season. Among those top-six rookie scorers among defensemen, only Orlov and Scott Stevens finished in “plus” territory for the season (Orlov was plus-1, Stevens a plus-14 in 1982-1983; although that speaks more to the difficulties the teams of the others had).

Not that Orlov was not protected. Only John Erskine faced a lower quality of competition among Capital defensemen playing at least 20 games (numbers from And only Erskine had a larger percentage of offensive zone starts (54.9 percent) than Orlov (51.1 percent). Perhaps a good thing – only Erskine had a worse percentage spread between offensive zone starts and offensive zone finishes.

We would offer a comparison to his previous season, but there not being one in the NHL, there is not one to compare.

Odd Orlov Fact… Orlov had only three goals, but they came on only 51 shots for the season. In fact, his three goals came on his last 37 shots of the season and that percentage (8.1 percent) would have ranked ninth among league defensemen in shooting percentage over a full year.

Game to Remember… January 15, 2012. With the Capitals and the Carolina Hurricanes locked in a 1-1 tie early in the third period, Tomas Vokoun made a save on a shot from Hurricane forward Jeff Skinner. Orlov collected the long rebound and started the play the other way with a pass to Jason Chimera on the left wing. As Chimera was skating with the puck down the left side, Orlov kept going, heading down the middle to the Carolina net. Chimera fed the puck through, and Orlov appeared to try to redirect it past goalie Cam Ward. Orlov missed but stayed with the play, following up his own attempt by sneaking a shot from a very severe angle behind Ward as he was about to circle behind the net. It was his first NHL goal and a game-winner in a 2-1 Capitals win.

Game to Forget… February 12, 2012. The record will show that Brandon Prust scored a shorthanded goal for the game-winning tally in a 3-2 New York Rangers win over the Capitals at Madison Square Garden. But Orlov was on the ice for each of the first two Ranger goals, both times being this close to getting into position to sweep the puck away from danger when goalie Tomas Vokoun was down, and both times not being quite close enough.

Post Season… Orlov was a healthy scratch for all 14 games in the post-season.

In the end… Despite the ups and downs, it was a season that no one might have expected when the season began last October 8th. The plan might have been for Orlov to spend his apprenticeship in Hershey logging a lot of minutes for a contending AHL team. But circumstance led to his being called up in November, and he would never return to Hershey. He would prove to be durable (he missed one game to illness) and would show improvement over the course of the season based on his ten-game splits. But there was room for improvement. For example, his 48 giveaways in 60 games was fourth most on the team, more than Roman Hamrlik had (43) in more games (68).

What Orlov did this year was provide a look into the future, a look at what could become a third pair fixture next season (assuming Dennis Wideman is not resigned) and perhaps a top-four, two-way defenseman down the road. That he would have provided that glimpse this year – and in 60 games of action – was among the most unexpected happenings for the club this season.

Grade: B

2011-2012 By the Tens -- Defensemen: Roman Hamrlik

Roman Hamrlik

Theme: ”No one can avoid aging, but aging productively is something else.”
-- Katharine Graham

 (click pic for larger image)

When Roman Hamrlik was signed by the Washington Capitals, he was described thusly:

“He's got postseason experience, he's another offensive option for the blue line… Hamrlik is the kind of veteran upgrade you need to make a Cup run.”

By February, he was a healthy scratch and was being shopped in pursuit of a trade.

Then, he returned the lineup for the 13 of the last 15 games, had three assists, and was a plus-10. He followed that up by going 1-3-4, plus-8 in 14 playoff games.

If you play the game long enough, or if the season lasts long enough, you might pretty much see it all.

It was almost as if Hamrlik experienced his entire 19-year career (including this one) in the 2011-2012 season. After all, he played for a struggling team early on in his career (as the Caps were early this season), over which he was a minus-121 in his first 418 games of his career. He was a minus-12 in his first 23 games with the Caps this season.

But just as he used the experience of his later career to build a solid resume (63-227-290, plus-75 in his last nine seasons before this one), he had a solid close to this season – 1-11-12, plus-21 over his last five ten-game segments covering 42 games. By the end of the season he not only was still a Capital, he was arguably the team’s most consistent defenseman.

His experience was perhaps most telling in his home/road splits. Hamrlik was 1-6-7, plus-3 in 33 home games. Not especially noteworthy – rookie Dmitry Orlov had more points; Mike Green was almost as good at a plus-5 in barely half the home games played (17). Jeff Schultz had as many goals at home, and Schultz has as many career goals (in 373 games) as Hamrlik had in just the previous two seasons (154 games). However, while Hamrlik was not a prolific scorer on the road (1-5-6) his plus-8 was by far the best among his defenseman teammates.

The odd part about Hamrlik’s performance over the course of the year was quality of competition. It was not of particularly high quality. Among the eight defensemen playing in at least 20 games for the Caps this season, only two defensemen – Dmitry Orlov and John Erskine – faced a lower quality of competition than did Hamrlik at 5-on-5 (numbers from The comparatively easier competition no doubt influenced his having the highest relative Corsi value among this group of defensemen, although the save percentage on ice was hardly impressive (.921 – sixth among the eight defensemen).

Conversely, though, Hamrlik’s offensive zone start percentages at 5-on-5 were higher than only the “defensive” pair of Karl Alzner and John Carlson. This suggests, either by design or circumstance, a greater reliance on Hamrlik in the defensive end of the ice. He did have some relief from this burden in his relatively lower quality of competition faced, but on the other hand the quality of teammates with whom he skated was comparable. Only Erskine and Karl Alzner had lower values at 5-on-5.

Hamrlik’s was an odd mix of numbers, rather different in many ways from what he left behind in Montreal after the 2010-2011 season. Here is how those numbers compare with this past season:

Odd Hamrlik Fact… Little things. Among defensemen playing in at least half of the Caps’ games this season, Hamrlik had the most blocked shots per game, the most takeaways per game and the best takeaway-to-giveaway ratio.

Game to Remember… March 29, 2012. It was a game that would foretell the future as an example of “Hunter Hockey.” The Capitals headed to Boston in ninth place in the Eastern Conference standings, two points behind Buffalo for the last playoff spot. In what would be a hard-fought effort that was a mere warmup to the first round series they would begin just two weeks later, Hamrlik skated 24:16 (his high for ice time for the season), had three shots on goal, and led the team in blocked shots with four in a 3-2 Gimmick win at TD Garden. With the win, the Caps passed Buffalo for eighth place and remained among the playoff-eligible through the end of the regular season.

Game to Forget… November 26, 2011. A lot of Caps would like to forget this game, but for Hamrlik it might have been especially worthy of a memory lapse. In his previous game he was on the ice for three straight goals against the New York Rangers that put a game out of reach in a 6-3 loss to the Blueshirts. Against the Buffalo Sabres in this one, he was on ice for the first three Sabre goals in what would be a 5-1 blowout, leaving him with having seen six goals up close and personal in an eight goals-allowed stretch. He was a minus-6 over those two games, his worst stretch of the season.

Post Season… This is a bit of a mixed bag for Hamrlik. His top end numbers – 1-3-4, plus-8 in 14 games – look rather solid, especially since goals came at such a premium for both sides in the Caps’ playoff run. But here is the odd part of his performance. He was third among defensemen on the team in shorthanded time on ice, but it was when he wasn’t on the ice in those situations that is perhaps most interesting. He took six minor penalties in the 14 games; on none of them did the opponents score a power play goal. He was on ice for three of the six power play goals scored against the Caps in the post-season.

In the end… It is difficult to reconcile the numbers into a coherent whole other than to think that Hamrlik spent much of the early part of the season in search of a role. He is not an “offensive” defenseman in the sense Mike Green is (or was). He is not a shutdown defenseman in the sense Karl Alzner and John Carlson were used in that role. In the last third of the season he seemed to settle into a role as a steadying influence – a “straight man,” if you will – for his partner, a defenseman who by virtue of his experience could make for a reliable second-pair.

He appeared to have an especially positive effect on the play of Mike Green in this capacity, and it makes one wonder what lies in store for that pair next season (assuming Green is: a) re-signed, and b) does not suffer any further recurrences of injury). This past season they played in only 22 games together to a combined 4-7-11, plus-12. The Caps were 15-5-2 in games where both Green and Hamrlik dressed. If the Caps are set on their top pair with Karl Alzner and John Carlson, a second pair of Mike Green and Roman Hamrlik could give the Caps a solid top-four defense with which to pursue success next season.

Grade: B