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Facing restricted free agency again, Dmitry Orlov in a much better position than a year ago

Facing restricted free agency again, Dmitry Orlov in a much better position than a year ago

Dmitry Orlov’s contract saga last season dragged up until two days before training camp when  he was signed to a one-year, $2.57 million deal. Now that year is up and the Russian defenseman is in need of another contract.

Unlike last year, however, there should be no question as to whether he has earned himself a top-four role on the Caps’ blue line.

In 2016, Orlov was coming off an uneven performance in the postseason that even saw him serve as a healthy scratch for a game. After the season general manager Brian MacLellan called him a “high-event” player because “Both ends there’s some events going on.”

The knock on Orlov was that, while he had tremendous upside, he also took too many risks that turned into costly turnovers.

RELATED: Connolly sees a future with Caps

After the 2016-17 season, however, the evaluation of Orlov is much different.

“I think people were a little shortsighted and not seeing his potential and I think we saw his potential come out this year,” said Matt Niskanen who spent the majority of the season as Orlov’s defensive partner. “He still had the guts to make plays and he has that ability where he can break the puck out on his own, he can make things happen in the offensive zone, he can beat people, strong for his size, wins battles. I think we saw his potential come out this year.”

Orlov, who will turn 26 in July, was given a bigger role on the team this season and he certainly made the most of it, setting a career-high in points with 33. No pairing on the team had a greater Corsi for percentage (56.49) or relative Corsi percentage (5.81) than Orlov and Niskanen.

“I tried to do my best, tried to be better than last year, tried to get confidence and get my game going and feel comfortable,” Orlov said. “I play with Nisky most of the time. He's a great player and he great teammate. He knows he can help me and I look at him how he play, try to learn from him. Everything kind of was good.”

So good, in fact, that Orlov and Niskanen will likely be the Caps’ top pairing next season. But, that could also prove to be a problem for a Capitals team that looks to be right up against the salary cap next season.

Orlov was also a restricted free agent last season. He elected not to file for arbitration and the result was a lengthy contract negotiation that stretched into late September. Going through that process again may not be the most enticing prospect and is one Orlov has tried not to think about.

“All season I don't think about that,” Orlov said. “I try to focus on my game and get better hockey player.”

But this year is a bit different. In 2016, Orlov was an inconsistent player with plenty of potential who was also prone to making huge mistakes. The big question for him was whether he was good enough to be a top-four defenseman. This year, he is one of the best and most consistent defensemen on the team capable of strong play on both ends of the ice who is poised to be on the Caps’ top pair next season.

In short, he’s a player the team can’t afford to lose.

"It was a coming out party for him I think,” Niskanen said. “He turned into a stud. He was our best D-man on many, many occasions this year, by a long shot sometimes. I was really proud of him and the way he handled it.”

MORE CAPITALS: With expansion draft, Grubauer faces uncertain future

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How the Caps got Alex Ovechkin wide open for the overtime winner in Detroit

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USA TODAY Sports

How the Caps got Alex Ovechkin wide open for the overtime winner in Detroit

The Washington Capitals are back in the win column thanks to a 4-3 overtime win in Detroit on Friday. Alex Ovechkin netted the game winner on a wide-open one timer that beat goalie Petr Mrazek.

How does Ovechkin get wide open in overtime? Because the Detroit Red Wings all got caught watching Nicklas Backstrom on a beautiful cycle by the Caps.

When you have to cover Ovechkin in a four-on-three penalty kill, you have your hands full. There is a lot open ice for the power play to work with in those situations. In a regular power play, we often seen teams play Ovechkin closely, sometimes even dedicating a player specifically on him and going four on three with the rest of the power play.

RELATED: ANDRE BURAKOVSKY WAS CHALLENGED BY HIS COACH AND HE RESPONDED

Look how closely the Red Wings were covering Ovechkin on a power play earlier in the game.

There’s not a lot of room to work with, but you can’t play that tight on a four on three penalty kill.

With only three penalty killers on the ice, they have to play closer into the net. You may leave end up leaving Ovechkin open for the shot, but at the very least you can get a body in front of him to either block the shot or pressure him when he has the puck.

Here is what Detroit’s three-man penalty kill looks like when it is set up.

The Red Wings are yielding the point to John Carlson but are tight in front and in good position to attack the players set up in more dangerous areas.

But this all breaks down if the players get caught watching the puck instead of focusing on their assignment. We saw this in the second period when, on a five-on-four, all four of Detroit's penalty killers move too far over to one side leaving Ovechkin wide open for a one-timer.

Somehow Mrazek stopped it, but I am sure his life flashed before his eyes when he saw the Great 8 stepping up for the clear shot. Even though it did not result in a goal, it was a clear breakdown by the defense as the Caps were able to draw the penalty killers out of position.

On a three-man penalty kill, the penalty killers do not want to move. They want to stay in position and attack you when you come too close. So how do you draw them out of position? You cycle.

Watch how much the Caps move with and without the puck on this power play.

MORE CAPITALS: WHO STOOD OUT IN DETROIT?

What the Caps are essentially doing here is fishing. They have their line out and are waiting to catch one of the penalty killers. Backstrom eventually does as Luke Glendening chases after him and the puck. The result?

Yeah, can’t leave that guy open twice and live to tell about it.

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Game 9: Capitals vs. Panthers Date, Time, How to Watch, Game Thread

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USA TODAY Sports

Game 9: Capitals vs. Panthers Date, Time, How to Watch, Game Thread

What: Washington Capitals vs. Florida Panthers

Where: Capital One Arena, Washington, D.C.

When: 7:30 p.m. ET. Coverage starts at 6:30 p.m. ET with Capitals FaceOff.

How to Watch: Capitals vs. Panthers will be broadcast on NBC Sports Washington. (Channel Finder)

Live Stream: You can watch the Capitals vs. Panthers game on NBC Sports Washington's live stream page.

WHEN IS THE CAPITALS-PANTHERS GAME?

The Capitals (4-3-1) take on the Panthers (2-4-0) Saturday, October 21 at 7:30 p.m. ET at Capital One Arena.

WHAT CHANNEL IS THE CAPITALS-PANTHERS GAME ON?

The Capitals-Panthers game will be broadcast on NBC Sports Washington. Capitals FaceOff gets things started at 6:30 p.m. ET followed by Caps GameTime at 7:00 p.m. Stay with NBC Sports Washington following the game for Caps Extra followed by Caps Overtime and Caps in 30 for all your postgame coverage. (NBC Sports Washington channel Finder)

6:30 p.m. — Caps GameTime
7:00 p.m. — Caps FaceOff
7:30 p.m. — Capitals vs. Panthers
10:00 p.m. — Caps Extra
10:30 p.m. — Caps OverTime
11:30 p.m. — Caps in 30

WHERE CAN I STREAM THE CAPITALS-PANTHERS GAME?

The Capitals-Panthers game, as well as the pre and postgame shows, is available to stream live here through NBC Sports Washington's live stream page and is available to authenticated NBC Sports Washington subscribers on desktops, tablets, mobile devices and connected TVs anywhere in the United States.

WHAT ARE THE LINES FOR THE CAPITALS-PANTHERS GAME?

Here are the projected lines:

Forwards
Tom Wilson - Nicklas Backstrom - T.J. Oshie
Alex Ovechkin - Evgeny Kuznetsov - Jakub Vrana
Brett Connolly - Lars Eller - Andre Burakovsky
Devante Smith-Pelly - Jay Beagle - Alex Chiasson

Defense
Brooks Orpik - Madison Bowey
Christian Djoos - John Carlson
Dmitry Orlov - Taylor Chorney

Goalies
Philipp Grubauer starts with Braden Holtby as backup

Scratches
Nathan Walker, Aaron Ness, Tyler Graovac (injured), Matt Niskanen (LTIR)

CAPITALS-PANTHERS OPEN THREAD

Use the comment section below to discuss the game action with other Capitals fans. 

For all the latest Caps coverage, follow Capitals Insider Tarik El-Bashir, Capitals correspondent JJ Regan and the NBC Sports Capitals account on Twitter. Be sure check out our Capitals page and NBC Sports Washington's Facebook page.