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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.”

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.

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Tuesday's win shows just how far the Caps have come since the last time they played the Avalanche

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USA TODAY Sports

Tuesday's win shows just how far the Caps have come since the last time they played the Avalanche

The Caps have come a long way in the past month.

On Nov. 16, the Capitals lost 6-2 to the Colorado Avalanche in Colorado. The game was not as close as the score indicated. Not only was it a bad loss, it felt like a significant one.

Over the course of an 82-game season, every team is going to have a lot of losses. Some of those losses are not going to be close. But given the fact that just one night before, the Caps were handed a 6-3 loss at the hands of the Nashville Predators, the loss to the Avalanche did not feel like a blip on the radar. It had all the feelings of a downward trend.

LISTEN TO THE LATEST CAPITALS EXTRA PODCAST BREAKING DOWN THE CAPS' WIN OVER COLORADO

In hindsight, that game was in fact significant, but not because it signaled the unstoppable downward spiral of an aging team in need of a rebuild. Instead, it marked the moment the Caps turned their season around.

Since that loss in Colorado, Washington has gone 9-3-0. Since those ugly back-to-back losses, they have not lost consecutive games since.

And then on Monday, they hosted that same Colorado team that looked as if it had ended the Caps’ season in mid-November. The new-look Caps disposed of Colorado with relative ease by a score of 5-2.

After the game, it did not take long for November’s loss to come up.

“I guess we do better at this altitude than over there,” John Carlson said.

Matt Niskanen said the Caps had “our butts kicked” by the Avalanche and Barry Trotz said that they "handed us our lunch last time" and felt that motivated his team to respond in the rematch.

Considering how Washington looked the last time these two teams met, it would be hard for the Caps to respond much better than what they did on Tuesday.

MORE CAPITALS: 3 REASONS THE CAPS BEAT THE AVALANCHE

In November’s game, Washington had no answer for Colorado's top line. Nathan MacKinnon had a five-point night and Gabriel Landeskog recorded a hat trick. On Tuesday, neither player earned a point. Instead, both players finished with a minus-three rating on the night.

“I think there's a pride factor,” Trotz said of his team’s ability to bounce back. “I think there's a little bit of a cultural factor, DNA factor with this group because we've won a lot of games. We understand that best thing you can do after losing a game is start another streak and don't let the streak go the wrong way.”

Over the course of the last 12 games since the Caps’ first game against Colorado, Washington has been a team decidedly going the right way and, as of Wednesday morning, sit tied for first in the Metropolitan Division.

Who would have thought that’s where they would be after that disastrous two-game road swing in mid-November?

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3 reasons the Caps beat the Avalanche

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USA TODAY Sports

3 reasons the Caps beat the Avalanche

They picked up right where they left off at home as they returned to Washington and defeated the Colorado Avalanche 5-2. Here is how the Caps were able to put last night's loss behind them and earn the win.

A better start

Against the Islanders on Monday, the Caps lacked energy early on and allowed a goal to Brock Nelson just 2:36 into the contest. Tuesday’s start had a much different feel to it. The Caps were moving their feet, moving the puck and creating sustained zone pressure. This time it was Washington who took the early lead as Jakub Vrana netted a goal just 5:25 in.

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Braden Holtby’s breakaway save on Colin Wilson

With the score tied at one in the second period, Colin Wilson was handed a gift from Brooks Orpik. As Orpik skated up the ice to his left, the rest of his teammates all skated right leaving him no one to pass too. Feeling the forecheck, Orpik tried the cross-ice pass, but it was intercepted by Wilson and there were no Caps in site. Wilson had scored Colorado's first goal and looked like he was about the score the second on the breakaway. Instead, he was denied by Holtby. Just 4:29 later, John Carlson tallied the go-ahead goal for Washington. That is essentially a two-goal swing in five minutes.

The penalty kill

The Caps took four penalties on the night and two of them were from one of their top defenseman in John Carlson. Colorado, however, walked away with nothing to show for it. The Caps took one penalty in the first and two in the second when the game was still in doubt. If they had given up a goal on any of those opportunities, it likely is a very different game. Instead, Washington killed off all four penalties they faced making sure the power play was not a factor for the Avalanche.

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