Monday was an eventful day for Capitals defenseman Dmitry Orlov, one that started with the news he was a Masterton nominee by the Washington chapter of the Professional Hockey Writers’ Association and ended with being called out by his coach for a giveaway that led to a goal in a 4-1 win over the Columbus Blue Jackets.
Today Capitals coach Barry Trotz and assistant coach Todd Reirden are faced with a difficult decision.
Do they put Orlov back into the lineup for Wednesday night’s game against the eighth-seeded Flyers, a team they would face in Round 1 if the playoffs started today?
Or, do they scratch Orlov for the first time this season after seeing him play 75 consecutive games following a season in which he sat out every game with a fractured left wrist?
Last week, Orlov spoke candidly about Trotz’s faith in him this season and the need for him to limit his mistakes if he hoped to remain in the Caps’ lineup.
“They show me my mistakes and tell me I can’t do these mistakes,” Orlov said. “During the games sometimes if I’m having a bad game I will sit on the bench because I’m not playing well and I understand this.
“I know I can’t do my mistakes because if I do mistakes we can lose. I always try to be hard on myself and try to do less mistakes and try to play simple. One pass to the forward and not hold the puck and do something bad. I understand I need to play simple every game and improve on my game.”
On Monday night, with the Caps holding a 1-0 lead late in the opening period, Orlov felt pressure in the defensive zone and tried lifting a backhander toward the middle of the ice instead of protecting the puck and sending it up the right wall. The puck was knocked out of the air by Rene Bourque and eventually found its way to Cam Atkinson for the game-tying goal.
Orlov had also coughed up the puck on the first goal against the St. Louis Blues on Saturday night, avoiding a hit by David Backes behind the net to give Backes possession.
Trotz criticized Orlov for that play, but kept him in the lineup for Monday night’s game against the Blues. Asked about Orlov after the game Monday night Trotz said there are no guarantees he’ll be in the lineup Wednesday night.
Orlov, who leads all Caps defensemen with a career-high eight goals and is third among Caps blue liners with 28 points, said he needs to better understand when to make high-risk plays.
“Sometimes you need to make that risky play, but it’s all the time different,” he said. “Sometimes you don’t need to do it. You make a simple play.”
Despite his recent struggles, Orlov says he is grateful for the opportunity he has been given this season, especially after his ordeal last year.
During the 2014 World Championships, while representing his native Russia, Orlov suffered a fracture of his left wrist that required reconstructive surgery. Later that summer Orlov developed an infection, requiring a second surgery.
As a result, Orlov was unable to grip a hockey stick for several months and there were concerns within the Capitals organization that he may never be able to play at the NHL level. Orlov missed the entire 2014-15 and dedicated the entire season to strengthening the muscles in his hand and wrist.
Because of his perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication to the sport of hockey, Orlov was nominated for the 2016 Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy. Orlov said he now feels no ill effects from the surgery.
“I’m trying to do what I always did,” Orlov said. “I think I’m back to where I was and I’m trying to build my game every day. Where I was at the start of the season to now is different. I expect to play every game and it’s huge for me that (Trotz) has that confidence. It’s good for me.”