One of the many pieces of advice Brooks Orpik has given Dmitry Orlov since their partnership began is to avoid focusing on just the metrics.
“You get caught up in numbers or certain stats, it’ll drive you crazy,” Orpik said. “Lot of times during the year when you think you’re playing well — and you are playing well — and for whatever reason, you’re on for more goals against. There’s other times when you’re not playing well, and you just get away with it.”
This, like everything for Orpik and Orlov, is a balance. They’ve played together for the 15 games since Orpik returned from an injury that kept him out of the lineup for 40, and they’ve had a wide range of experiences over that span, from being on the ice for four Washington goals in one game to being the pair that allowed all the opponents’ even-strength goals in another. As Orpik would caution, neither sort of scenario is necessarily indicative of true performance.
There’s also a balance in their styles, which theoretically complement each other. Orpik is a stay-at-home defenseman; Orlov has the highest offensive potential of the Capitals’ blue-liners. There’s even a balance within themselves: Orpik has to manage his physicality and making sure going in for a hit doesn’t take him out of position; Orlov is still learning when to use his offensive creativity and when to make a safer play.
With John Carlson out of the lineup with a lower-body injury, Orpik and Orlov have become a second defense pairing for the Capitals, and even though some nights look worse than others on th e score sheet, they’re staying together for now.
“The first couple of games, they actually played really well, and there was a couple games where passes weren’t right where they should be,” Capitals Coach Barry Trotz said. “You’ve got two lefties playing together. Sometimes, a pass would end up more in the feet. Now that they’re having more reps, the pucks are going to the right areas. . . . I think they’re much better on sort of their exits coming out of the zone and that.”
For all the ways Orpik and Orlov differ, though, they share recent injury troubles. Orpik had the longest layoff of his career, a lower-body bone injury that kept him out for three months, while Orlov missed all of last season with a wrist injury that hampered his development.
Orlov said when the season began that “everything” felt too fast for him. At the time, Trotz compared him to a backup quarterback — just a tick off on everything because of a lack of game repetitions. But Trotz kept playing him, taking the good moments in the offensive zone with the occasional turnovers.
“We recognize he’s a talent,” Trotz said of Orlov. “We recognize that there’s things that he can do that other guys can’t do from the back end, especially with Carly out. . . . He can be a little bit of an adventure sometimes when he has the puck because he’s trying to force some stuff that maybe isn’t quite there. It’s just getting him to be patient and understanding the game management and situations a little bit better. I think he’s done a good job.”
Said Orlov: “I’m more comfortable in the defensive zone. The more games you play, when you play every game, shift to shift, it’s better for me. My first four years, I never had a start to the end of the season. It’s different, too. It’s a good thing right now.”
Playing with Orpik on the second pair is not only a new situation for Orlov in terms of a partner, but it’s the first time he’s been leaned on to log more minutes and play against opponents’ better forward lines. According to puckalytics.com, the pair has a 53.8 goals-for percentage and a 50.9 Corsi-for percentage, which measures the percentage of shot attempts that goes in the Capitals’ favor when the two are on the ice.
Orlov’s confidence in jumping into the offensive attack should be helped by Orpik’s safer tendencies, but communication is still a work in progress, such as in situations when one is fetching the puck in the defensive zone and the other can tell him what’s happening behind him and where to go with the puck. Playing with Orlov has led Orpik to a career-high in goals (three) despite playing in just 29 games; playing with Orpik has led to more physicality from Orlov.
“I look at him, how he play defensively,” Orlov said. “He’s a good stay-at-home D. Some plays at the net, he’s a big body. Always do right thing on defense. For sure, I always try to look at him and what he’s doing.”
“Not every night’s perfect,” Orpik said. “But I think it’s been pretty good as a whole.”