Expectations have to be kept realistic and rust is expected, but after being out for more than three months with a lower-body bone injury, defenseman Brooks Orpik will be back in the lineup for the Washington Capitals on Tuesday night when they play the Los Angeles Kings.
“It’s probably not going to be perfect, so you try to minimize the chances you take, which I think I normally do anyways,” Orpik said. “Hopefully, that doesn’t affect me too much.”
Capitals Coach Barry Trotz has said it was up to Orpik to decide he was ready, and Orpik said Tuesday’s game was one the team was privately targeting. He’ll play on the third defensive pairing with Dmitry Orlov. Orpik has been on long-term injured reserve, but the Capitals will be able to immediately activate him without any corresponding roster moves.
“It’s been a long time,” Trotz said. “He’s worked very hard. He’s in tremendous shape. He takes care of himself. I think he’s a big hole in the locker room for us. I think he’s a great voice. He can help our game get back on track a little bit. All of that being said, it’ll be good to see him in there tonight. He’ll have some rust on him, but he’s worked very hard to get most of it off.”
Said Orpik: “You can practice as hard as you want. There’s nothing like the speed of actual games, so you just prepare yourself as much as you possibly can, and eventually, you start to get your feet wet with games.”
Orpik got hurt during the second period of Washington’s game at Detroit on Nov. 10. At the time, he was skating with John Carlson on the team’s top pair, and he was averaging more than 19 minutes of ice time per game. After missing 40 games, he likely won’t play that much on Tuesday night being on the third pairing, though he’ll still contribute on the penalty kill.
In theory, Orlov and Orpik should be good defensive partners. While Orlov has more offensive skill and is often active in joining the rush, Orpik is a more physical, stay-at-home blue-liner.
“Everyone’s been playing really well this year,” Orpik said. “Hopefully, I don’t disrupt things too much.”
Taylor Chorney will be extra defenseman against the Kings, and Trotz said it was hard to take him out of the lineup. Chorney has played 45 games this season while the defense was hit with injuries, and he is a plus-11 with five points.
“Chorns has done a fantastic job and has played very, very well,” Trotz said. “That’s a good problem to have when it’s difficult, and it was.”
Here’s the Capitals’ expected lineup against the Los Angeles Kings:
Alex Ovechkin-Nicklas Backstrom-T.J. Oshie
Andre Burakovsky-Evgeny Kuznetsov-Justin Williams
Jason Chimera-Marcus Johansson-Tom Wilson
Brooks Laich-Mike Richards-Michael Latta
Nate Schmidt-John Carlson
Karl Alzner-Matt Niskanen
Brooks Orpik-Dmitry Orlov
Philipp Grubauer (starter)
Jay Beagle (hand)