Based off Sunday’s practice and Monday’s morning skate at Madison Square Garden, it appears as though it might be Schultz’s turn back in the lineup after Erskine suited up for Game 1.
“Well, we’ve been undecided the whole time on who we’re going to play,” Hunter said Sunday. “They’re both fairly big guys. Schultzy’s a little bit bigger. And you know Erskine is more aggressive. But we haven’t really decided yet. But whichever guy goes in has to do their job.”
But as the rotation between the two blueliners continues, it has led to wondering why rookie defenseman Dmitry Orlov does not appear to be in the mix.
Considered one of the pleasant surprises of this season, Orlov spent the bulk of the season in the NHL likely a year ahead of when the Capitals expected him to. Orlov appeared in 60 games, posted 19 points (3 goals, 16 assists) and averaged 16 minutes, 52 seconds per contest. At times he has looked like the 20-year-old rookie defenseman that he is, but at various points this season, Orlov was entrusted by the coaching staff to play more than 20 minutes per night.
But when the postseason began, Orlov took up residence on the scratches list.
Asked why Orlov was benched at the start of the playoffs, Hunter replied: “Well, we went with more of a defensive defenseman on the last pairing to kill more penalties and shut guys down.”
It’s true Orlov doesn’t have much penalty-killing experience: In the regular season he played just 33 seconds per game shorthanded. But Erskine and Schultz have skated even less than that on the penalty kill in these playoffs, seeing an average of just 6 and 22 seconds respectively.
The third pairing also doesn’t draw the toughest matchup assignments, so it seems as though something else is playing into Orlov’s prolonged stay in the press box.
Perhaps it’s his inexperience: Orlov has yet to appear in a Stanley Cup playoff game in his career, but given the struggles of the other defensemen at times this spring, it’s worth asking whether it might be worth giving the young Russian a chance.