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.”