When it comes to Capitals defenseman Dmitry Orlov, coach Adam Oates has continually stressed that the 22-year-old must improve his defensive play to match his natural offensive ability.
Since cracking Washington’s lineup on Nov. 30, Orlov has made significant strides while handling top-four minutes, but the Capitals’ recently completed road trip proved that he has plenty of work left to do.
In all three games, losses to the Penguins, Blue Jackets and Rangers that dropped the Capitals into fifth place in the Metropolitan Division, Orlov had several defensive miscues.
In Pittsburgh on Wednesday and Columbus on Friday, Orlov failed to tie up forwards Jussi Jokinen and Cam Atkinson in front of the net, allowing both to establish position and score from in tight.
Then on Sunday, Orlov’s ill-advised pass intended for center Nicklas Backstrom from high in the Capitals’ zone was intercepted by Rangers forward Rick Nash, who raced in for an uncontested breakaway goal only 70 seconds into the game.
In the second period, Orlov matched Rangers captain Ryan Callahan stride for stride on a short-handed rush, but eventually “relaxed,” as Oates put it, offering little resistance as Callahan potted the rebound of forward Dominic Moore’s shot.
“I need to just next game play defense, try to play defense more because I can’t play like this,” Orlov said. “Just keep working and try to not do mistakes like I did in the last few games.”
Oates, however, is sympathetic to Orlov’s recent struggles, understanding that a defenseman’s mistakes are magnified more than a forward’s because they tend to prove more costly, especially when that defenseman is learning on the fly.
“[It’s] a shame because he’s played good hockey,” Oates said. “You’ve got to remind yourself he’s a kid and we’re putting him in a situation where we’re asking him to play a lot of minutes. It’s very difficult and he’s playing good. And it just goes to show you one mistake and it’s in your cage. It’s a tough lesson to learn that fast.”