The Washington Capitals have a problem that is an excellent problem to have: they have too many good defensemen. I do not at all envy Barry Trotz in having to create the pairings. He has a ton of options, which means it’s going to be very easy to second guess any decisions that he makes regarding defensive pairings.
So what would be some defensive pairings that Washington Capitals fans might see this season? I think Trotz will have a variety of pairings. I think these pairings will be the pairings that Capitals fans will see most often.
Even Strength Pairings
I know that the handedness does not work out, but as someone who has played hockey, being right-handed while playing on the left side is not that difficult of a transition to make. It will take some adjusting, but that’s what training camp and pre-season are for. It’s pretty hard to argue against Carlson and Niskanen being the two best defenseman on the Washington Capitals. Therefore, they should be seeing the most minutes.
Alzner and Green are perfect for each other. Their strengths complement the other’s weakness. Alzner needs to be paired with a strong puck possessor (Green is precisely that) and Green needs to be paired with someone who’s defensively responsible (Alzner fits that description). I think the Washington Capitals would be very smart to pair the two together.
Again, I realize the handedness does not add up, as I have two lefties, but I have faith that Orpik can handle switching sides. Orpik’s contract should not at all be a factor in his playing time. I think that Orpik will be good for Orlov, and that Orlov will be good for Orpik. Orlov is a pretty good puck possessor, and Orpik allows Orlov to play with a veteran defenseman who knows what he’s doing.
Let’s not kid ourselves though. These pairings shouldn’t be and won’t be set in concrete. Depending on the situation, the Washington Capitals will utilize different pairings. Here’s my guess at what some of those might be.
I think the Washington Capitals might use Orlov and Green together for offensive zone draws. Green and Orlov dominated possession as a pairing last season. The upside of this pairing on offense might be too much for Barry Trotz to resist.
This is going to be the “shutdown” pairing. If the Washington Capitals need to hold a one or two goal lead with two minutes left, these two will probably be on the ice together. I’d like to have a better puck mover in there, but in close situations with two minutes left, you have to sacrifice offense for defense.
I could see Carlson and Green seeing time together on the ice if the Washington Capitals are trailing with two minutes left. These are the two best offensive defensemen on the roster, so naturally they should be on the ice together if the Capitals need to generate offense. I think Niskanen will definitely see time here as well.
I think this pairing will definitely see time together. They have very good chemistry together. I’m not sure precisely what situations would be ideal for this pairing, but I think the chemistry that Orpik and Niskanen have together is something that the Washington Capitals will look to utilize.
Now, those were just the even strength pairings. The Washington Capitals will have completely different pairings during power plays and penalty kills.
Power Play Pairings
I think that Carlson’s athleticism and slap shot will complement Niskanen’s ability to get the puck to the open man and create scoring chances on power plays.
This would be the second power play line pairing. You could easily switch Carlson and Green. I like these two pairings because Green and Orlov already have chemistry together, and they simply dominated possession off offensive zone draws last season.
Penalty Kill Pairings
These two are going to see a ton of ice time together during penalty kills. That works out perfectly because (hopefully) neither of these two will be spending any time on the ice during power plays.
Orpik is going to earn his huge paycheck during penalty kills. Orpik is a penalty killing machine and he has proven time and time again that he can handle defensive zone draws and high-leverage situations. Alzner and Carlson will rotate in and out mostly, but to give Orpik a tad bit of a rest, Alzner and Carlson, if not incredibly overused like last season, could definitely hold their own during penalty kills. Niskanen might see a little bit of time on penalty kills as well, but Orpik and Alzner will probably see the most time.
The Washington Capitals have a ton of options on defense. They have no fewer than six NHL-caliber defensemen, arguably five of which are top four caliber. I think the pairings are certainly going to reflect that. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen the Washington Capitals have a defense like the one they have right now.