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Brooks Orpik calls 3-game suspension 'fair'; Trotz, teammates feel different

Brooks Orpik calls 3-game suspension 'fair'; Trotz, teammates feel different

PITTSBURGH -- Capitals defenseman Brooks Orpik told reporters today that he felt his three-game suspension for his late hit on Penguins defenseman Olli Maatta was “fair.”

Capitals coach Barry Trotz wasn’t so sure. And neither were a few of his teammates.

“I’m disappointed, but I’m not surprised based on who we’re playing and all that,” Trotz said as the Caps prepare to face the Penguins tonight for Game 3 in Consol Energy Center. The series is tied at 1-1.

Asked to clarify his assessment that the length of Orpik’s suspension was directly tied to the fact the Caps are facing the Penguins, Trotz replied, “Take it for whatever you want.”

Orpik practiced with the Capitals on Monday and showed remorse for his hit on Maatta, which will forfeit him Games 3, 4 and 5 of the series against his former team. Orpik, who missed three games of the first round with a similar “upper body” injury as the one suffered by Maatta, said he spoke to the 21-year-old defenseman after Saturday night’s game  

“He’s a pretty good friend, so it made the situation a little bit tougher,” Orpik said.

Orpik said the Capitals have made it a point to play physical against the Penguins, especially their defensemen, in this series, but acknowledge his hit was late and deserved supplementary discipline. It is his first suspension since 2006 when he was given three games for checking Carolina’s Erik Cole from behind.  

“To be honest, it happened pretty quick,” Orpik said of the play. “It’s pretty easy to watch it in slow motion and second-guess your decision. … I made a bad mistake with how late it was. It was a bad decision, it was late. There was no intention to hit him in the head, but that was the result and that’s why I’m not playing.”

Orpik said there “wasn’t much arguing” during his hearing with the Department of Player Safety on Sunday, noting he only wanted to emphasize there was no intent to injure Maatta, a player he helped nurture as a rookie two seasons ago in Pittsburgh.

“I was in a similar spot two weeks ago,” Orpik said of his own “upper body injury.” “It’s tough hearing people try to say I was intentionally trying to hit him in the head. I’ve dealt with enough head and neck issues.”

Orpik was referring to a comment made by NBC analyst Mike Milbury, who called Orpik a “predator” for his hit on Maatta, adding “that guy needs to go.”  

Trotz grew incensed when asked about the “predator” comment.

“That’s not him,” Trotz said. “The people here in Pittsburgh trying to paint him that way, come on. That’s a joke. He’s not. He’s an honest, hard-nosed player and I think a lot of players around the league will tell you that. Does he hit hard? Absolutely. But that’s not a predator. A predator is a guy that’s trying to hurt people. He’s trying to play through people.

“He knows a lot of players in that (Penguins) dressing room and I can tell you a lot of players in that dressing room have a lot of respect for him and I think it’s a very unfair opinion. If you know anything about Brooks, he’s one of the classiest guys, one of the true pros in the league, and I think that’s really unfair.”

Caps right wing Tom Wilson agreed.

“I don’t think it’s fair for guys who have talk shows after the games to be calling Orpik a predator,” Wilson told reporters. “That’s not great for players to hear. Anyone that knows Orpy knows he plays the game hard, he plays within the rules and he’s a leader and a good, honest guy. Why would you call him a predator? When you do get called those names, it’s not great.”

Caps veteran Mike Richards said he didn’t agree with the three-game suspension when measured against what he saw in Round 1.

“I’m probably a little biased but with some of the stuff that went on in the first round, not only our swries but around the NHL, that was let go. It’s more frustrating when you donlt know what a suspension is, what a penalty is. It’s a real gray area an d that’s the most frustrating thing as a player.”

Not surprisingly, several Penguins said they agreed with the NHL’s ruling on Orpik.

“That one had a head shot and interference,” Penguins right wing Eric Fehr said. “I think that’s where it got to a three-game level. That is a lot of playoff games, but I think it was probably right when you see the hit.”

Orpik said he hopes the NHL continues with similar discipline as the playoffs unfold.

“It’s something I have to accept and as we move forward here hopefully across the league they start punishing everything else the same way.”

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Braden Holtby puts loss to Tampa solely on his own shoulders

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USA TODAY Sports

Braden Holtby puts loss to Tampa solely on his own shoulders

The mood in the Capitals locker room following a 4-2 loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning on Tuesday was one of frustration. Forty minutes of strong play from Washington amounted to nothing because of a disastrous opening first period in which the Lightning jumped out to a 3-0 lead.

No one in the locker room was more frustrated than Braden Holtby.

"Obviously you don't want to go down three," he told reporters after the game. "That's on no one else but me. The third goal, especially the third, fourth goal, that's the difference in the game. I thought we played a really strong game against a really good team. We should have got a better result and that's on me why we didn't."

Tampa scored three goals in the first off of only eight shots. For the game, the Lightning managed to pierce Holtby four times off of only 19 shots.

RELATED: WHY THE CAPS LOST TO THE LIGHTNING

Frustration seemed to boil over on the fourth goal when a normally stoic Holtby was visibly upset after allowing Nikita Kucherov to beat him on a breakaway in a play similar to what we saw in the All-Star Game.

See for yourself:

"The key to getting better is learning from your mistakes and obviously I didn't do that," Holtby said. "I was just trying to play it patient. I wasn't trying to cheat towards that move and he came at it a different way. That's on me for not recognizing it. That's not a goal I can give up in that situation after our team battled the way they did, especially in the third."

The frustration Holtby feels likely is not the result of one goal, but the culmination of a recent slump that continues to plague the Vezina winner.

Holtby has lost four straight starts and has given up at least four goals in each of those games.

While Holtby was quick to take the blame for Tuesday's loss, head coach Barry Trotz was quick to defend his netminder.

"No one takes the loss," he said. "We all take a loss. I take a loss, the group takes a loss and Braden's part of the group. ... He's had a little tough stretch. It's no different than, we've got guys that haven't scored in 15, 20 games. It's no different than a player."

The challenge now is overcoming that slump.

For a slumping skater, Trotz could try different line combinations or play someone in different situations over the course of the game. Getting a starting goalie out of a slump, however, is more difficult. Most of the work has to be done in practice with the hope that it will carry over into the next game.

"You analyze how the goals are going in, what you're doing differently," Holtby said. "There's always some stuff that you can't control and stuff that you can and it's focusing on those contrallables that you can make a difference at. Like the first goal in Chicago, the last two goals here, those are goals that I could and should stop. You get to practice the next day and you focus on that and work hard until you figure it out so you don't do it again."

MORE CAPITALS: CHECK OUT THE 3 STARS OF THE GAME FROM CAPS-LIGHTNING

Part of the problem in Washington is that team defense is the Caps' biggest weakness. For most of the season, and even in years past, Holtby has made up for much of the team's mistakes on the backend. Now that he is slumping those mistakes become much more glaring and costly.

"The goaltenders in this league are erasers," Trotz said.

Lately, Holtby has not been able to erase those mistakes.

But the team has already moved to address the defense. Brian MacLellan added a puck-moving defenseman in Michal Kempny to help the team get the puck out of the defensive zone more quickly. Waiving Taylor Chorney could also signify another move may be coming before Monday's trade deadline.

As for Trotz, even during the slump, he made clear his confidence in Holtby has not wavered.

"He has been a rock since the day I've been here the last four years and he's been an elite goaltender and I look at him that way."

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2018 Olympic Hockey Results: Czech Republic eliminate U.S. men in shootout winner

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USA Today Sports

2018 Olympic Hockey Results: Czech Republic eliminate U.S. men in shootout winner

GANGNEUNG, South Korea -- Pavel Francouz stopped all five shooters and Petr Kouka scored the shootout winner as the Czech Republic eliminated the United States with a 3-2 victory in the quarterfinals Wednesday.

Jan Kovar and Tomas Kundratek scored in regulation for the Czech Republic, which was fresher after winning its group and getting a bye into the quarterfinals. The U.S. looked fatigued after facing Slovakia in the qualification round and was outshot 29-20.

Ryan Donato and Jim Slater scored for the U.S, which again was led by its youngest players, including speedster Troy Terry. U.S. goaltender Ryan Zapolski allowed three goals on 29 shots and one in the shotoout, while Francouz stopped 18 in regulation and overtime.

Koukal was the only player to score in overtime. Chris Bourque, Ryan Donato, Marc Arcobello, Terry and Bobby Butler couldn't beat Francouz.

RELATED: OVECHKIN HAS LITTLE DESIRE TO WATCH 2018 WINTER OLYMPICS