Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Why It's Okay to "Carry" Your Partner

Carlson leads his Washington team with a +12 +/- rating.  Washington has been using John Carlson and Karl Alzner as their number one shutdown defensive line.  It is Carlson that is carrying the load on this line.  Alzner has spent the last two seasons splitting his time between the AHL and NHL and has not shown the same NHL skillset as Carlson. 

John Carlson is playing a significant defensive role and he is doing it very well.  He is carrying a lesser defence partner as he does this.  He is also putting up a respectable offensive showing.  This makes John Carlson the leading rookie this season.  He should be considered the Calder Trophy leader at this point, but his lack of a high point total has largely left him overlooked.
--The Puck Stops Here, Kuklas Korner.

There are two things being said here: one, that John Carlson is a stud (but we already knew that). The other is that perhaps Karl Alzner is a bit in over his head at this point. That's what Corsi indicates: before being paired with Alzner (this season), Carlson was still handling the toughs and had a Corsi Rel close to ten. Since being paired with Alzner, Carlson's Corsi Rel has fallen into the neighborhood of five, and Alzner has been hovering around zero or in low positives all along. And that's when Alzner has been getting the better teammates by Corsi Rel QoC (or at least better-performing teammates). It certainly seems like Puck Stops Here was right.

But that's okay.

Here's my hypothesis: teams tend to split up their puck movers; puck movers tend to have high Corsi Rels; puck movers' partners are more defensive-minded and do not have as good Corsi ratings (remember, Corsi measures two-way play). The rationale behind this is to split up the offense a bit.

Many teams do it.

Detroit--Lidstrom with Stuart. Anaheim--Visnovsky with Lydman. Pittsburgh--Letang with Orpik. Washington in past years--Green with Schultz/Morrisonn (not so much Schultz last year...must've mixed up this year and last year when I put Schultz in there). Chicago--Keith with Seabrook (at least, I've seen some people opine). Ottawa--Phillips with Volchenkov. I could go on with lesser-known defensemen, like Fedor Tyutin. Obviously part of it is that anybody will drag down a really good player, but these teams had other, more offensive-minded options to pair with the 1D, and chose not to go with them.

Of course, there are exceptions, like Atlanta's Enstrom-Byfuglien or Detroit's Rafalski-Lidstrom pairing, but how often do you see two "puck movers" on the same pairing, night in and night out, on teams that aren't full of them?

That being said, the Caps are having trouble scoring goals, and even if Carlzner has been terrific defensively, no one has been terrific offensively from the blueline. Maybe it's time to stop sacrificing John Carlson's offense for the sake of a better defensive line, and instead pair two more offensive guys and two more defensive guys (where offensive guys are Green, Carlson, and Poti, and defensive everyone else). That way, the defensive guys can keep playing defense without holding some offense back, and the offensive guys can attack more. It's what almost all coaches do with forwards, after all.

I was particularly impressed with the play of Carlson and Poti last season (regular and playoffs).


With some good matching, this could work out well, I think. Given the state of the team, I suppose anything is worth a shot. Maybe even trying to trade DJ King for Stefan Della Rovere.


  1. Your analysis is so far off that it is ridiculous. The reason that pairing is so good is Alzner. Carlson makes poor defensive plays far too often - see last night's goal scored by Carter as one instance. Alzner rarely makes that type of mistake. The main reason for Carlson's drop in Corsi is the lines he is being put against recently - Crosby, Stamkos, other top players. Alzner is much better defensively than Carlson, he is a good passer (especially in his own end), and he has fantastic chemistry with Carlson. Splitting those two is one of the worst moves the Caps could do right now.

  2. I acknowledged that. I also acknowledged that the Capitals have had trouble scoring goals.

    Carlson is the 2nd best offensive D on the team, and really the only one that's getting it done somewhat reliably at this point. Why is it such a terrible idea to try to spark the offense by playing Carlson in a more offensive role for awhile, and to play Schultz or someone with Alzner, for a more pure defensive role?

    Just FYI, when Green was out, Carlson was getting top lines too.