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Brooks Orpik hopes to adapt to an evolving NHL game

Brooks Orpik hopes to adapt to an evolving NHL game

You don’t have to be a hockey expert to realize that Brooks Orpik does not fit the mold of today’s NHL. The league is becoming younger and faster and those are two words that certainly do not describe the 37-year old defenseman.

But this is not news to Orpik. 

“I think the most important thing is you have to realize that you have to make adjustments to your game,” Orpik told NBC Sports Washington on Tuesday. “If you don't, then you're probably not going to be playing much longer.”

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Orpik has always been a physical, stay at home defenseman. Puck handling and speed are not his strength and for most of his career, that was fine. But now the league is moving in a new direction and it threatens to leave him behind. There were several points in the playoffs in which it looked like he was exposed by the speed of the Pittsburgh Penguins. There were also moments throughout he season in which Orpik would get caught pinching in the neutral zone and did not have the wheels to recover.

In his time in Washington, Orpik has gone from one of the team’s top defensemen to a projected third-pairing player heading into this season. Part of that has to do with his age, but the perceived decline was accelerated by his style of play.

That was something Orpik had to change.

Orpik joined Boston Bruins defenseman Zdeno Chara to work with a power skating trainer in the summer. The towering Bruins defenseman is 40 and appears less and less mobile with every passing year making his situation similar to that of Orpik’s.

For Orpik, the training proved to be very different from what he is used to.

“It’s something that I think that was probably crucial to kind of adjusting to the way the game is evolving and changing and doing some stuff that probably felt a little uncomfortable,” Orpik said. “But it was stuff that was probably necessary to work on and improve on just in terms of how the game's evolving. Even if the game wasn't evolving, I think just as you get older you've got to make adjustments to how you train skating wise and off the ice.”

Specifically, the training emphasized speed and skating over strength.

“Strength you don't really lose," Orpik said. "Obviously maintaining or trying to improve speed is more crucial than trying to get a little bit stronger in the gym.”

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That training will be put to the test as Orpik looks poised to start the season in the top four playing alongside John Carlson. Orpik was projected to be on the third pairing, but with none of the team's prospects excelling in training camp to a large degree, finding a dependable partner for Carlson has proven difficult. The two began practicing together on Saturday and Barry Trotz made it known it was not just a temporary move.

When asked Saturday if he’s considering that pair to start the season, Trotz said, “Yes, we are. We are considering that, especially with the number of road games that we have. It could help restart [Carlson]. They were a terrific complement together a couple of years ago, so we’re just rewinding the clock a little bit, if you will.”

Whether Orpik’s summer training will allow him to personally “rewind the clock” remains to be seen.

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Blackhawks fans tossed after directing racist remarks at Washington's Smith-Pelly

Blackhawks fans tossed after directing racist remarks at Washington's Smith-Pelly

CHICAGO—Four fans were ejected from United Center on Saturday night for taunting Devante Smith-Pelly as the Capitals’ winger sat in the penalty box.

The fans, according to a team spokesman, yelled “basketball, basketball, basketball” at Smith-Pelly, who is black. Smith-Pelly was in the box for fighting in the third period of an eventual 7-1 loss to the Blackhawks.

The taunts were confirmed by an off-ice official, the spokesman said, and the fans were subsequently removed from the arena.

Smith-Pelly did not speak with reporters after the game but is expected to address the incident at the team’s next media availability. The team is scheduled to practice Sunday at KeyBank Center in Buffalo.

Caps Coach Barry Trotz did not hold back when asked about the fans' comments.

“There’s absolutely no place in the game of hockey or our country for racism,” Trotz said. “I think it’s disgusting, and there’s no place for it. …It just shows ignorance.”

The Blackhawks responded on Twitter with an apology to Smith-Pelly, who is one of roughly 30 black players in the NHL.

February is Hockey is For Everyone month in the NHL.

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3 stars of the game: Caps suffer ugly loss to scuffling Blackhawks

3 stars of the game: Caps suffer ugly loss to scuffling Blackhawks

Just about everything that could go wrong did for the Capitals on Saturday in a 7-1 loss to the Chicago Blackhawks.

The Caps were coming off a strong 5-2 win over the Minnesota Wild on Thursday, but none of that carried over in the trip to Chicago. The Caps took on a Blackhawks team that had lost eight in a row, but Chicago quickly took control in the first period and never looked back.

Washington gave up 21 shots on goal in the first period and found themselves down 3-1 after the opening frame. Things did not get much better from there as they gave up another three goals in the final four minutes of the second.

Here are the three stars of the game.

1. Jonathan Toews: Toews opened up the scoring in the first period with a quick shot from the corner that caught Braden Holtby by surprise.

Later in the first, he recorded an assist as his pass sparked a breakout that led to Brandon Saad's deal that gave Chicago back the lead. The Caps tried to make a game of it in the second period, but Toews intercepted a pass from Brooks Orpik that led to a 2-on-0 with himself and Patrick Kane that Kane netted to give the Blackhawks a 4-1 lead and signaled to everyone that the rout was on. Saturday was only the second three-point night of the season for Toews.

2. Patrick Kane: Toews helped the Blackhawks take control early, but Kane helped provide the knockout punches in the second period. A bad pass from Orpik was intercepted by Toews that led to a 2-on-0 with Kane. Holtby made the initial save on Toews, but Kane was able to knock in the rebound for the goal.

Kane also added an assist on Artem Anisimov's power play goal which extended Chicago's lead to 6-1.

3. Tom Wilson: Before this one got out of hand, it looked like Wilson had erased the tough start for the Caps as he deflected a shot from Matt Niskanen into the net to get Washington on the board.

Saturday's tally was his third goal in two games and his 10th of the season, marking the first time in his career he has reached double digits in goals.