A big, bench-boss smile crossed Barry Trotz’s face behind the microphone Friday when a reporter asked how he thought defenseman Brooks Orpik looked during his Capitals debut.
“How do you think he looked?” Trotz said, laughing because everyone knew the answer, telling the reporter that their thoughts were probably the same. “Very good.”
So good, in fact, that Trotz compiled a mini highlight reel of Orpik’s hits against the Canadiens, six in all, shown to players during their morning-after video session. With each blow, the Verizon Center crowd cheered louder, an unthinkable notion six months ago, back when Orpik was still the rival skating for Pittsburgh.
“It’s always been a great building to play in,” he said. “I always look forward to playing there. The crowds are on top of you, and it gets really loud there. Some of the new buildings, you lose some of that atmosphere. Obviously there you don’t. It was definitely a cool atmosphere last night. It was disappointing we didn’t reward them with a win, but hopefully [we’re] moving in the right direction.”
Beholden to modesty, Orpik allowed his praise to flow elsewhere. Perhaps even more impressive than his defensive-zone prowess was a 57.1 percent Corsi-for at even strength, despite starting just one-quarter of his shifts in the offensive zone.
“The thing people don’t see is how many times people don’t even want the puck; therefore they don’t make plays,” Trotz said. “They just let it go into our end, rather than taking a pass, making a firm play, creating something off it. Didn’t happen.
“He’s a top-end defenseman. That’s why he plays against the best lines every night, because he’s a physical guy. He’s a veteran guy. He makes the right plays and all that. He was a factor. Ask the Montreal forwards. He was a factor last night.”
Now in his 11th NHL season, signed this summer to a five-year, $27.5 million contract dubbed by many as the offseason’s most foolhardy, Orpik also has had an impact on Washington’s younger defensemen. Karl Alzner has expressed a desire to play like Orpik, or at least to emulate his habits.
On Friday, Nate Schmidt pushed Orpik, a new alternate captain, as the leader of the blue line.
“You get a guy like Brooksie, he comes across and buries a good amount of guys last night,” Schmidt said. “It makes the other D look a lot bigger when they’re always looking for 44, even when it’s me out there. He’s great. He’s a tremendous leader, a guy we look up to as a D-corps. He’s been around the league, got a lot of experience, a lot of great knowledge for a young guy like me to feed off and watch. He’s a treat out there to play with.”
A treat, even more so, for Trotz to watch.
“I think that’s the biggest thing, is when you get guys that are veteran and smart like Brooks is, he lets the game come to him, and that’s where the hits come,” Trotz said. ‘When they’re there, you’ll take them. When they’re not there, they’re not there. He doesn’t try to create them. There’s guys I’ve coached and guys I’ve watched that will run out of position to get a hit, and that doesn’t always sit with me very well.”