(Note from Rossi: Jesse Marshall, a local hockey blogger, has agreed to share his unique brand of analytical insight on this blog. His contributions will appear on an as-we-think-of-it basis. Enjoy.)
Prior to the start of the 2013 season, Penguins coach Dan Bylsma bestowed the “shutdown pairing” moniker on the duo of Brooks Orpik and Paul Martin. When all was said and done, advanced metrics backed up what the eye-test said: Orpik and Martin met the expectation laid upon them.
In the 2013 season, 61 percent of all goals scored at even-strength while the Orpik-Martin pairing was on the ice had gone in favor of the Penguins. They limited the opposition to a mere 0.58 goals-against per 20 minutes of even-strength ice time and boasted a 0.91 goals-for per 20 minutes of even-strength ice time playing against the oppositions’ top lines throughout the year.
Injuries – including two long stretches of absences by Martin – have made for a limited engagement encore for the Orpik-Martin pairing this season.
And Orpik is sorely missing his partner.
The Penguins are allowing more goals than they’re scoring when Orpik is on the ice at even-strength. His goals-for percentage has dropped from the 61 percent (with Martin) to 46 percent overall.
Possession numbers also reflect this trend. If you calculate all shooting attempts (missed shots, blocked shots, saves, etc.) taken with Orpik on the ice, only 44 percent are shots registered by the Penguins.
Upon closer look Orpik’s numbers this season are anchored by instances where he’s been paired with a like-minded defenseman. Take Rob Scuderi, for example. In the time Orpik and Scuderi have been paired together this year, their goals-for percentage drops to 11.1 percent. Of all the shots taken while that duo is on the ice, only 35 percent are shots taken by the Penguins. The numbers for fellow “defensive defenseman” Deryk Engelland are also below Orpik’s overall average for the year.
Orpik’s metrics this season are highest when playing with Matt Niskanen, a defensemen that, in the vein of Martin, is able to generate offense and use his mobility rush the puck up ice. Orpik’s goals-for percentage with Niskanen is akin to the numbers he boasted with Martin last year; 60 percent of all goals scored with Orpik and Niskanen on the ice are goals scored by the Penguins and 62.2 percent of all shooting attempts are shots taken by the Penguins.
Martin’s return – projected by the Penguins to be at least during Round 1 of the Stanley Cup playoffs – will be a boost to their postseason chances. Precedent suggests it will lead to the defense corps seeing a major statistical bump.
Simply, the combination of Orpik with a mobile, puck-moving defensive partner has been a success. It just hasn’t been something the Penguins have had the luxury of using most of this season.
Jesse Marshall is co-founder of Faceoff-Factor, a site that breaks down the Penguins by using nontraditional methods such as the study of advanced statistics. Read his work at www.faceoff-factor.com. Follow him on Twitter @jmarshfof