OTTAWA, Ontario – Defenseman Dmitry Orlov had already fallen asleep when the Washington Capitals checked into their team hotel here, fresh off their shootout victory over Montreal and the two-hour bus ride into town. He watched their game alone, an early arrival after his American Hockey League conditioning loan ended, and saw his teammates climb within one regulation victory of clinching a playoff berth. Almost one full year had passed since Orlov last played in the NHL, but the wait was almost over. He had been recalled.
“I’m most excited to play,” he said. “Missed, what, 10 and a half months I think? Nice to be on the ice, nice to be playing. Good time right now for me and hope I would play for Caps soon a little bit. We’ll see what coach say, if I go out there or not. But I play in Hershey and it was good to understand I can play again.”
Orlov expected pregame butterflies when he began a three-game tour with the Hershey Bears, allowable under the league’s collective bargaining agreement since he has spent this season on long-term injured reserve. But soon he settled into a routine. The left wrist, surgically repaired last May 22, felt strong. His slap shot cannon-balled with its usual force. There was some rust to shake aside, sure, but that was to be expected. Everything else came as a pleasant surprise.
“My mental, my brain was good,” he said. “My wrist feeling good and my shot I think I shoot like how I usually shoot, I think. I wasn’t looking, but I think it’s pretty good…. Just need to be my condition, my game to come back, take the small things, small experience, small confidence and I think I got this. Hope I will play this season more.”
And so he came back to the Capitals, uncertain whether he would even appear before the regular season closed and the playoffs began, but hoping just the same. If Washington beats Ottawa in regulation Saturday, it would clinch at least a postseason berth, giving the club more leeway to test Orlov at this level. Home-ice advantage would still be at stake, but the Capitals invested time and sent personnel to Hershey, including general manager Brian MacLellan, to watch Orlov. They want to see what he can do.
“He’s good,” Coach Barry Trotz said. “We’ll see what we do in the next little while here, if we put him in a game or two. That’ll all depend on what happens the next couple games, probably. Yeah, or we might have an injury too. It might be as simple as that. But we’ll get him back. I think it was good for him to get some actual real hockey in. There’s probably still some rust in his game and he’s got a lot to catch up, but we’d like to take a look at him at some point to see where he is at this level.”
Debuting against the Senators seems unlikely, but Orlov felt he could play if asked. He, forwards Tom Wilson and Michael Latta and goaltender Justin Peters were the only four Capitals who participated in an optional skate at Canadian Tire Centre Friday. Later, after his teammates had already returned to the team hotel, he sat inside the dressing room, as close to returning as he had ever been since suffering the injury at the world championships.
“Right now I’m part of the team again and yeah, it’s nice to have this feeling and great to be with team,” he said. “It’s almost a year. I missed a lot. I try to forget everything what’s happened before. Right now it’s time, focus on this time. It’s nice to be healthy and right now I think it should be positive things coming, negative should be done.”