Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Breaking Down the First Round: Defense

Today I want to talk about our defense. The best defense is an offense, and the best offense is a defense. The reason why offense is the best defense is because in hockey, the team that scores the most wins. And if our offense outscores their offense, they'll be defenseless. Their defense might be able to stop our offense, but it can't stop our defense. Because when we're on defense they have to be on offense, and if we have an offensive-minded defense, there's no way they can defend us.

Now I don't mean to be defensive, but some of you might find this offensive. We're going to call our defense our offense, and our offense our defense. That way we'll remember to use our defense as an offense, and our offense as a defense against their offense. And that'll totally confuse 'em.

Okay, let's go out and play some hockey!
--NHL Network ad

...what he said. Moving on to Defensive Stability:

Caps Defensemen

Puck Movers - Mike Green, Tom Poti, Steve Eminger
Body Pounders - John Erskine, Milan Jurcina
Steady as a Rock - Shaone Morrisonn, Jeff Schultz

Flyers Defensemen

Puck Movers - Kimmo Timonen, Randy Jones
Body Pounders - Derian Hatcher, Jason Smith
Steady as a Rock - Kimmo Timonen, Braydon Coburn

Pluses and Minuses: Numbers only tell so much of the story, but for a defenseman you can tell a lot by their +/- rating. Here is where the Caps have an edge, helped immensely by the fact that the team as a whole has been playing extremely tight defense over the last 20-30 games. Only two defensemen, Lepisto and Eminger, are a minus - and neither played more than 20 games all year. On their entire defensive roster, the Flyers have four minus players...including Rory Fitzpatrick, who is a -12 in just 19 games this year. Advantage: Capitals

Defense from the Offense: The Caps finished out the season on a defensive high note, allowing only 65 goals in the last 30 games with 4+ goals allowed only 4 times during that period. Only five players on the regular roster are minus players, with no one (besides Semin, shocking) in double digits. In Philly's last 30 games they've allowed 84 goals despite posting back to back shutouts to close the season, and were lit up for 4+ goals 11 times during that stretch. Nine regular roster players are in the minus column, including Daniel Briere bringing up the rear with a -22 rating. Advantage: Capitals

Offense from the Defense: Philadelphia's defense has chipped in 143 points this year, including 30+ point seasons from Timonen, Jones and Coburn - but beyond those three it's single digits in points for all of the blueliners but Smith, who has 10. The Caps' D has contributed just a little more with 148 points and every player, even Sami Lepisto, has at least a point. Green obviously leads the way with 56 points (18G, 38A) but five of the top seven defensemen have double digit point totals. Advantage: Capitals

Between the Pipes: The last line of defense is, of course, the goaltender - and in Philly, it's seemed like they've been on an eternal quest for stability in net since Ron Hextall retired. The latest leg of the journey has brought Martin Biron to town from Buffalo and he's been a big part of their resurgence after last year's disappointing season. He picked up his 30th win with a shutout against the Pens in the season closer and posted season numbers of a 2.59 GAA with .918 save percentage, but he has trouble controlling rebounds and often looks out of position even when he's "hot".

For the Caps, the goaltending situation has been a bit of a rollercoaster all year long, but with the addition of Cristobal Huet it has become much more stable. Both Huet and Kolzig have played extremely well down the stretch, with Huet in particular finding a hot streak at exactly the right time to take over the number 1 slot. Huet's 32 wins are 11th in the league, his 2.32 GAA ranked 10th, and his .920 save percentage tied for 6th. Advantage: Capitals

Laying Down the Body: 1028 blocked shots for the Capitals...compared to 1265 blocked shots for the Flyers. There's no contest here. Four different players in Philadelphia have triple digit shot block totals, including Jason Smith's 204 which trails only walking bruises Mike Komisarek (227) and Anton Volchenkov (209). Three of those four rank in the top 30 in the league. For the Caps, Tom Poti has been a shot-blocking machine in his own right with 119 (good for a tie for 40th in the league), followed closely by Milan Jurcina's 107 blocked shots. And of course, don't forget Quintin Laing with 52...in just 39 games. Advantage: Flyers

Bottom Line
Despite the skill and defensive ability of someone like Kimmo Timonen, the Flyers are still struggling in their own end - both in net and along the blue line. While they've revamped their forwards and have found a balanced attack up front, the defensive corps of the Broad Street Bullies has changed very little from the days when Bobby Clarke ran things. The fact that Derian Hatcher even still has a job there is proof that there is still work to do.

In Washington, on the other hand, inexperience and uncertainty are slowly fading away to reveal a very promising young group, shored up by the veteran presence of Tom Poti and the breakout seasons of Mike Green and Shaone Morrisonn. They're big but mobile, strong but quick...with the possible exception being someone like John Erskine, although even he can hoof it when he needs to and can make the occasional smart plays in his own zone and on the penalty kill (when he's not the one in the box, of course).

Overall advantage: No surprise here - Caps all the way.

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