The camera was fixed on Alex Ovechkin fastening his pads, but he kept trying to direct it to the person in the next stall over. Finally, Ovechkin reached out and physically moved the camera to be on Brooks Orpik, who on Tuesday was playing in his first game since Nov. 10.
After Orpik missed 40 games with a lower-body bone injury, he said he was going to be realistic about his play. With the Washington Capitals rolling to the league’s best record in his absence, Orpik just didn’t want to disrupt the chemistry. Before the game, Coach Barry Trotz said he expected some signs of rust. After the game, he said he was pleased with Orpik’s play.
“I didn’t see what I thought might be some rust,” Trotz said. “I didn’t see a lot of that because I think a veteran player manages the game very well. He made some great outlet passes. There was no panic in his game. His sense of space was pretty good. Those things usually aren’t there, but he kept it smart, and he kept it simple. He was good.”
Orpik played 16 minutes and 43 seconds, recording an assist, five hits and two blocked shots. Orpik played 2 minutes and 42 seconds of shorthanded ice time.
“I think I just wanted to get into it quick,” Orpik said. “I think taking a couple penalties probably wasn’t good for our team, but it was good for me personally, just getting a couple penalty kills in gets you in the game quick.”
Tuesday night was the first look at a third defensive pairing of Orpik and Dmitry Orlov, and Trotz said he thought the duo was the team’s second-best behind Karl Alzner and Matt Niskanen. In theory, they should complement each other nicely because they have opposite strengths, with Orlov having offensive skill and Orpik being a more physical, defensive blue-liner.
On the tying goal, Orpik fed Orlov, who sent a perfect slap pass to Andre Burakovsky as he was moving in front of the net. Burakovsky deflected the puck past goaltender Jonathan Quick for the Capitals’ first goal in a 3-1 win. Goaltender Philipp Grubauer appreciated the defensive aspects of Orpik’s game.
“He’s a key player for us,” Grubauer said. “He won a Stanley Cup. Yeah, it’s nice to have him back. He keeps the shots to the outside, he blocks, he makes the right reads, and for us goalies, it’s great to have those guys in front.”
Said Orpik: “You can go as hard as you want in practice. It just gets ramped up a little bit more when you’re playing against guys that play a lot harder against you than your teammates do in practice.”