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Have Capitals, Orlov reached a crossroads?

Have Capitals, Orlov reached a crossroads?

The Capitals and defenseman Dmitry Orlov have come to an interesting crossroads in the 24-year-old defenseman’s career and the next few weeks could determine which road each side takes.

The Capitals allowed Wednesday's 5 p.m. deadline for club-elected salary arbitration to pass without filing and are continuing negotiations with their Russian blue liner, who did not elect salary arbitration on Tuesday.

Last month, Capitals general manager Brian MacLellan said he’d like to see Orlov have an increased role next season, possibly replacing Brooks Orpik on one of the Caps’ top two defense pairings. If that’s the intention, Orlov will want to be paid accordingly.

Last season, Orlov earned $2.25 million in the second year of a two-year, $4 million contract. Having finished tied for first among Caps defensemen in goals (8) and third in points (29) while averaging just 16:01 in average ice time (ranking sixth) Orlov will be seeking a deal that puts him at least in the $3 million range.

If he gets it, that would place him fourth among Caps defensemen in average salary, behind Matt Niskanen ($5.75 million), Brooks Orpik ($5.5 million) and John Carlson ($3.96 million) and above Karl Alzner ($2.8 million), who is entering into the final year of his contract.

The Capitals currently have roughly $8 million in salary space and Marcus Johansson likely will eat up about $4.5 million of that space. That would leave roughly $3.5 million for Orlov and there’s a good chance his agent, Mark Gandler, is asking for close to that figure.

Gandler did not return emails and phone messages left for him on Tuesday and Wednesday.

If the Caps cannot come to an agreement with Orlov on compensation, they could seek to trade him and use the extra salary space to add a defenseman through unrestricted free agency.

Among those still on the market are (including age and 2015-16 cap hits):

Matt Carle, 31, $5.5  million

James Wisniewski, 31, $5.5 million

Nikita Nikitin, 29, $4.5 million

Dan Boyle, 39, $4.5 million

Willie Mitchell, 38, $4.25 million

Kyle Quincey, 30, $4.25 million

Dennis Seidenberg, 34, $4 million

Justin Schultz, 25, $3.9 million

Mattias Ohlund, 39, $3.6 million

Luke Schenn, 26, $3.6 million

Brad Stuart, 36, $3.6 million

Nicklas Grossman, 30, $3.5 million

RELATED: CAPS WILL BE TRAVELING A LOT MORE NEXT SEASON

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Evgeny Kuznetsov scores in under 20 seconds in Game 1 vs. Penguins

Evgeny Kuznetsov scores in under 20 seconds in Game 1 vs. Penguins

So maybe this is the Capitals' year after all.

At roughly 7:10 p.m. ET on Thursday night, the puck was dropped on the ice to signify the start of Game 1 between the Penguins and Capitals at Capital One Arena.

At roughly 7:11 p.m. ET, Evgeny Kuznetsov was celebrating his first goal of the series.

That's right, Kuznetsov scored on the very first shot attempt of the series, beating Penguins' goaltender Matt Murray at 0:17 of the first period.

Alex Ovechkin and Tom Wilson assisted on the goal.

YOU CAN WATCH THE GOAL IN THE VIDEO PLAYER ABOVE.

Seventeen seconds is mighty fast, but it won't even get Kuznetsov on the  Top 10 list for fastest playoff goals.

Don Kozak holds the NHL record, scoring on a breakaway just six seconds into Game 4 of the 1977 quarterfinals between the Los Angeles Kings and Boston Bruins. 

Just last season, Blue Jackets' Cam Atkinson scored 11 seconds into Game 3 of Columbus' first-round series against the Penguins' goalie Marc-Andre Fleury. Atkinson sits at the No. 10 spot.

The Capitals' record for fastest playoff goal is 15 seconds, scored by Mike Gartner in Game 1 of the Capitals 1987 NHL Playoff series against the New York Islanders. 

Kuznetsov will have to settle for giving the Caps the best type of start to the series.

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If this year is going to be different, the Caps cannot go down 0-2 in the series again

If this year is going to be different, the Caps cannot go down 0-2 in the series again

In last year’s playoff series against the Pittsburgh Penguins, the Capitals won two out of the last three games and three out of the last five…and still lost the series. That’s because they lost both Game 1 and Game 2 to fall into a 0-2 hole, much like they did against the Columbus Blue Jackets in the first round this season.

The Caps know if this year is going to be different, they cannot afford to fall into a similar hole again.

“It's always harder to dig yourself out of a hole,” head coach Barry Trotz said after Thursday’s morning skate. “You're room for error is a lot less and it wears on you.”

“If we've learned anything from last year, you lose two it's tough to climb out of that,” Jay Beagle said. “Then this year first round, lose two, it's tough to climb out. It makes the series really hard. You always feel like you're chasing and no room for error.”

It did not cost them against Columbus as Washington was able to rattle off four straight wins to advance to the second round. Overcoming a two-game hole against the two-time defending Stanley Cup Champions, however, is a taller task.

For only the second time in franchise history, the Capitals were able to overcome a 0-2 series deficit when they did it against the Blue Jackets. That means it doesn’t happen very often.

Chances are you won’t be able to overcome a deficit like that against Sidney Crosby and Co.

And that’s what makes Game 1 so important.

Washington is at home, opening a series against their arch rival, the Penguins will be without both Evgeni Malkin and Carl Hagelin and the game will be played with the memory of how a 0-2 hole cost the Caps the series last year.

To call it a must-win would perhaps be an overstatement. It is a best of seven after all. But it’s still not that far off.

“We've got to just make sure we're looking at game one, we're not looking ahead,” Beagle said. “We've got to go after them in this first game and really try and take it to them in our rink.”

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