Capitals

Quick Links

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.”

RELATED: ANOTHER SUSPENSION FOR TOM WILSON

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.”

MORE CAPITALS: BOWEY, CHIASSON LEFT OUT OF THE CAPS' FIRST 23, BUT THE ROSTER IS FAR FROM SET

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.

Quick Links

No, the Capitals should not trade prospect Ilya Samsonov to fix the defense

samsonov.png
USA TODAY Sports

No, the Capitals should not trade prospect Ilya Samsonov to fix the defense

Let’s face it, the Caps need help on defense. Yes, they held the NHL’s best offense to only two goals on Tuesday and one of them was an empty-netter, but with two rookies in the lineup, a 37-year-old Brooks Orpik logging top-four minutes and Matt Niskanen on LTIR, chances are Tuesday’s game was more the exception and not the norm.

The Capitals roster certainly took a step back from last season, but the team is still very much in win-now mode. That means they need an upgrade to their defense and they need it fast.

RELATED: CAN MOVING BURAKOVSKY DOWN TO THE THIRD LINE GIVE HIM A SPARK?

Should they trade their top prospect in Ilya Samsonov to get it?

Matt Larkin of The Hockey News makes that argument in an article published Wednesday.

Larkin writes:

The Caps do also have an A-plus piece in Ilya Samsonov, the best goaltending prospect in hockey. He’s still playing in the KHL and has no chance to pass Braden Holtby on the depth chart once he does come to North America, so Samsonov is worth far more to MacLellan as a trading chip. Don’t get too spooked by the Filip Forsberg debacle, Caps fans. It was one of the worst trades in NHL history, but it was an anomaly. Samsonov would likely yield the Caps something that really helps them. It wouldn’t be Martin Erat 2.0.

My response? No, no, a thousand times, NO!

Yes, the Capitals would get a good return for trading away the best goalie prospect in the NHL, but Larkin is missing something important. Erat is only half of what makes the Forsberg trade sting. The other half is seeing Forsberg absolutely live up to his potential as a top-line player. It’s seeing him lead the Nashville Predators to the Stanley Cup Final in 2017. That latter point is what should give the Caps pause when considering trading away Samsonov.

Imagine watching Samsonov become one of the top goalies in the NHL while playing with another team, leading them to the conference finals or even beyond. That will all be totally worth it considering the package the Caps got in exchange helped them make the playoffs once, right?

History will not be kind to a Samsonov trade.

Yes, if the Caps trade Samsonov and the return helps the team win a Stanley Cup, no one will care if he goes on to become the next Dominik Hasek and yes, history has shown that in the NHL all you have to do is make the playoffs and you have a shot. But allow me to ask one very tough question: Are the Capitals really one defenseman away from winning a Stanley Cup? If not, what else do they need and would a Samsonov trade really net them all of that?

The answer to both questions is no. Defense is certainly the team’s biggest weakness, but let’s not gloss over the fact that Washington has 22 goals in their first seven games and 17 of those goals have come from three players. That’s not sustainable. Let’s not gloss over the fact that Washington is third in the NHL with a shooting percentage of 12.03 when the highest shooting percentage in the entire NHL last season was 9.20. That’s not sustainable.

There’s another issue with trading Samsonov that Larkin does not address: Money. The Caps have none. Moving Samsonov would do nothing to help the team’s cap constraints and any trade the team could make would have to include moving a player off the active roster as well.

MORE CAPITALS: WHAT DOES GRAOVAC'S INJURY MEAN TO THE CAPS?

Samsonov is under contract through the 2017-18 season. When he does eventually come to North America, no, he will not pass Holtby on the depth chart…initially. But how many people thought the same thing about Andrei Vasilevskiy and Ben Bishop in Tampa Bay? Vasilevskiy is now the starter and that happened a lot sooner than many expected. Plus, with all due respect to Holtby, isn’t that the ideal scenario to have a starting goalie play out his prime and have another goalie ready to take his place already on your bench?

Would a Samsonov trade be as bad as the Forsberg trade? No. The history of that trade continues to hang over the franchise and I cannot see general manager Brian MacLellan taking anything less than a king’s ransom before he parts with the young netminder. But the bar should not be set at “do better than the Forsberg trade.”

Granted, the Caps can’t do nothing. They need to fix the defense soon or they will have dug themselves a hole in the standings they can’t dig out of. Trading away your best asset and potential franchise goalie, however, seems shortsighted.

Quick Links

Will Andre Burakovsky's demotion spark the Caps' third line?

burakovsky-lightning-capitals-usat.png
USA TODAY Sports

Will Andre Burakovsky's demotion spark the Caps' third line?

Andre Burakovksy was bumped down to the third line on Thursday as Caps Coach Barry Trotz attempts to jumpstart the scuffling winger and ignite his team’s inconsistent goal production.

The move, of course, reunites Burakovsky (0 goals, 2 assists) with Lars Eller (0 goals, 2 assists) and Brett Connolly (1 goal, 1 assist).

Among Trotz's reasons for making the switch:

  • The trio had a very productive stretch together midway through last season…and all three could use a spark right now.
  • A shakeup was probably in order, anyway. The Caps have scored two or fewer goals in three of the past four games. Now two lines have new pieces, with Burakovsky joining the third line and rugged winger Tom Wilson (0g, 0a) on the left side of Nicklas Backstrom and T.J. Oshie. In fact, Alex Ovechkin, Backstrom and Oshie have accounted for 77-percent of the team’s goals thus far.
  • The move puts Burakovsky, a left shot, on the right side. Trotz believes he’s more effective attacking from that position.   

Asked about Burakovsky’s struggles, Trotz acknowledged that he’s seeing what everyone is seeing: No. 65 is taking too long to pull the trigger on his shots.

RELATED: WHAT WILL GRAOVAC'S INJURY MEAN FOR THE CAPS?

“He is taking a little bit too long and they’re getting blocked,” Trotz said. “The window is so small in this league because the defenders are good and there’s back pressure [from forwards]. And when the window gets extended from his standpoint offensively, those windows of opportunity get shut down real quick.”

Burakovsky has also missed the net—a lot. According to NHL.com, he’s put nine shots on net (four snap shots, four wrist shots and a redirection). He’s also misfired nine times, sending two over the net and seven wide of it.

“Right now, when I didn’t score yet, I’m trying to just snipe a little bit too much, just trying to pick that one corner instead of catching [the puck] and getting it off really quick and maybe surprise the goalie,” Burakovsky said. “I’m just trying to do a little bit too much right now. That’s what happens when you want something to really happen. I really want to get going, get my game going. And then you try to force stuff. …It’s just confidence. When I get the first one, they are going to start coming automatically.”

He added: “I’m not worried at all.”

More from Burakovsky on speeding up his shot.

As for moving Burakovsky to the right side, Trotz explained: “Playing on the [right] side it allows him to get a shot off a little quicker than playing on the left side. Because when you’re playing the left side you’re either shooting a little bit from the outside or you’re dragging it into the middle and then you’re trying to turn your body and get through.”

MORE CAPITALS: CAPS HAVE WAY TOO MUCH FUN WRESTLING EACH OTHER AT FBI TRAINING

Eller said it only took a few minutes for the trio to begin feeling comfortable again.

“There is chemistry there that we know is there,” he said. “We felt it in practice, created a couple of good looks. It feels really natural playing with Conno and Burky. When you have good chemistry you have anticipation for each other’s next move. You just know what the guy is going to do next and where the puck is going to go next. That’s chemistry and we have some of that.”

Obviously, it’s impossible to know if the move will have the desired effect. But we do know this much: the one thing that’s kept Burakovsky from reaching the 20-goal plateau in past seasons were extended droughts. And this—if he doesn’t get on the board soon—is threatening to become another one of those.

“I said [to him], ‘Don’t think too much,’” Trotz recalled of a recent conversation he had with the 22-year-old. “Just understand you’re going to be a real productive player in this league for a long time, and understand what’s giving you trouble finding the back of the net.’ I think he’ll be fine.”