Erskine and Carrick: Time for a Change?Posted on January 16, 2014 by Ben Bruno
The Capitals lost a tough game last night against the hated Penguins 4-3. While the overall team play was certainly improved from what it's been of late, a few too many breakdowns ended up being the difference maker and cost the Caps the victory. What stood out most to me was the poor play of the 3rd defensive pairing of John Erskine and Connor Carrick.
Erskine "led" the Caps with a CF% rel of -30.9% last night, while Carrick was 2nd "best" with -28.4%. The stat CF% rel is described as "Corsi for percentage relative to team's CF% with player not on ice" (courtesy of extraskater.com). Basically, this means that the number of shots the Caps had last night was 30% less when Erskine was on the ice compared to when he was off the ice. Same thing goes for Carrick, except 28% less. Long story short, this defensive pairing was a liability when on the ice, as evidenced by the two clips below.
The 2nd goal for the Penguins, scored by Taylor Pyatt, happened with both Erskine and Carrick on the ice. Erskine was not in great position to begin with and drifted on the play. This allowed Pyatt to get in front of him and take an uncontested, close-range shot that Neuvirth had no chance of stopping.
The 3rd goal scored by the Penguins was at 4v4 with Carrick on the ice. He over-pursued on the play, letting Brandon Sutter get off a clean pass to Jussi Jokinen for another point-blank shot that Neuvirth was helpless on.
Unfortunately for the Caps, both of these goals came at inopportune times as they were both game-tying goals for the Penguins. The Caps seem to pick-up their play this season when trailing, but if they want to start winning games consistently (and in regulation), they need to play with the same urgency they have when trailing. This will allow them to not only protect their leads, but to also build on them. One solution that might help is to bench Erskine and Carrick and play Steve Oleksy and Nate Schmidt.
Oleksy and Schmidt have a higher Corsi for on the season than both Erskine and Carrick by a significant margin. This means the Caps generate more shots as a team with either Oleksy or Schmidt on the ice than they do with Erskine and Carrick. In addition to this, while the defense of Oleksy/Schmidt is not head and shoulders above that of Erskine/Carrick, it is still much better. Erskine’s lack of speed and slow footwork often cause him to be out of position, and the 19-year-old Carrick is still too raw a defender at this point in his career. His potential is high, but he should be developing a more sound defensive style in Hershey, instead of learning on the fly in the NHL.
I don't mean to pick on Erskine and Carrick, and last night's loss cannot be blamed on them alone, but the 3rd defensive pairing for the Caps has been a huge problem all year and it needs to be addressed. The Caps were not able to lock down the Pens last night and surrendered a lead three times. We're now past the halfway point of the season and with a challenging upcoming schedule looming for the Caps, moves need to be made sooner rather than later to avoid falling any further in the standings.