As the Washington Capitals took a four-goal lead into second intermission Monday night, the team discussed getting at least one more goal in the third period for one special goal-scorer. Dmitry Orlov already had two goals, so one more would’ve made him the first Capitals defenseman to have a hat trick since Sergei Gonchar in 2000.
“We talked about it actually after the second, try and get one a period and make it three,” defenseman Karl Alzner said. “But he’s not selfish. He wanted to go out there and make the right play. He had a chance maybe in the third there at the end, but that guy was coming into his lane so he tried to make a play [to someone else]. It’s just Orly being the great guy that he is.”
The Capitals have been noticing little things like that from Orlov all season. Promoted to a top-four role on the blue line this season, Orlov’s game has steadily improved since last season, when he was coming off a 2014-15 season in which he didn’t play in a single game because of a wrist injury. In Monday night’s 6-1 win over the Carolina Hurricanes, Orlov scored two goals to give him four total for the season. Including 19 assists this season, he is on pace for a career-high in points.
“He have a tremendous shot, obviously,” Alex Ovechkin said. “We always tell him to shoot more pucks, but he’s more like [Nicklas] Lidstrom. Russian Lidstrom.”
Said Alzner: “It seemed like it. A couple nice shots by him and just calm, poise, making good plays. This is the confident Orly. It’s fun to watch. You can talk about some of these other young D-men in the league and Orly kind of flies under the radar, and he’s got a ton of talent, a ton of potential and we’re seeing it and we’re lucky he’s back here.”
A restricted free agent this past offseason, Orlov’s contract negotiations dragged on until just before training camp, he and the team eventually agreeing to a one-year deal worth $2.57 million. The hangup was over what role Orlov would have on the team after an, at times, rocky season last year. The offensive upside was always evident, as he scored eight goals and 21 assists averaging 16:02 minutes per game with very little power-play time. But his defensive zone play needed improvement, something Orlov recognized as the Capitals pledged to give him more responsibility this season.
As his minutes have been kicked up to 19-plus per night, the mistakes in his own end have been fewer, no longer playing catchup after being away from game action for a full season. He’ll be a restricted free agent again this summer, playing his way into a pay raise.
“I’m really happy for Orly,” Coach Barry Trotz said. “When I got here, he missed a whole year with an injury and it took a year to really get up to speed and now you’re seeing what probably you might have saw last year, had he not missed a year. He keeps getting better. You always know the offensive instincts — he’s got the big shot — but what I like about it is he’s managing the situations much better.”
Said goaltender Braden Holtby: “To be honest, I think he’s been playing that way for quite a while. As a D-man, sometimes pucks go in, and sometimes they don’t. I think he’s been playing really, really good hockey for us all year. He’s very dedicated, he prepares the right way and cares a lot about helping this team win. You can see it in the adjustments he’s made in his game coming into this year. It’s been a pleasure to play behind him because he’s doing a lot of good things out there.”
As for that Lidstrom comment by Ovechkin?
“It’s a long way for me to be Lidstrom,” Orlov said with a laugh. “I just try to be myself and enjoy the game, enjoy my teammates. I just need to make more shots and hit the net and goals will come.”
>>> The Capitals’ American Hockey League affiliate, the Hershey Bears, have struggled lately. Defenseman Madison Bowey’s injury hurt the team; he’s out indefinitely after a tendon laceration. Jonas Siegenthaler, a second-round pick by the Capitals in 2015, was expected to be part of the Bears’ defense this season, but personal reasons kept him in Switzerland for another season.
But it’s been the goaltending that has been particularly porous during their recent 1-7-2-0 slide, compounded by the losses on the blue line. Prospect Vitek Vanecek’s save percentage is down to .898 with a 2.76 goals-against average. Joe Cannata has a .875 save percentage with a 3.24 goals-against average.
It’s in Washington’s interest that its prospects play as much as possible, which would include a postseason run, and are in a winning atmosphere, so indications are that the Capitals are exploring ways to help the Bears, particularly in the defensive department.
>>> Trotz said Monday morning that defenseman John Carlson probably won’t return to the lineup until after the all-star break, as he has an undisclosed “lower-body” injury. After Washington’s game against the Hurricanes, Trotz confirmed that Carlson wouldn’t be traveling with the team to Ottawa, staying back in Washington to work with strength and conditioning coach Mark Nemish.
The Capitals are going straight to Newark after their game in Ottawa, and while Carlson isn’t expected to play Thursday in New Jersey, the team could easily fly him there from Washington, if needed.
Here’s what the Capitals’ lineup is expected to look like on Tuesday night at Canadian Tire Centre:
Alex Ovechkin-Nicklas Backstrom-T. J. Oshie
Marcus Johansson-Evgeny Kuznetsov-Justin Williams
Brett Connolly-Lars Eller-Andre Burakovsky
Daniel Winnik-Jay Beagle-Tom Wilson
Karl Alzner-Matt Niskanen
Brooks Orpik-Dmitry Orlov
Taylor Chorney-Nate Schmidt
Philipp Grubauer (starter)
John Carlson (lower-body injury)