Brooks Orpik did not come right out and say it, but if the defense pairings at Friday’s practice were any indication, he’ll be in the lineup when the Capitals open the 2015-16 regular season Saturday night at Verizon Center against the New Jersey Devils (6 p.m. pregame, CSN).
Sidelined the entire preseason following July 28 wrist surgery, Orpik skated alongside John Carlson on the Caps’ top pairing on Friday. Caps coach Barry Trotz said, “I would say he’s a go,” adding he will wait until after Saturday’s morning skate for a more definitive answer.
“You’ve got to get your feet wet and do it eventually,” Orpik said. “You try to keep it a little more simple than you normally do to get back in that rhythm. It feels a lot better than last year. It was kind of one of those things where you try to manage it during the year and address it in the offseason.”
Who suits up as the Capitals’ sixth defenseman on Saturday night remains a mystery. Taylor Chorney, 28, and Dmitry Orlov 24, each took turns with Nate Schmidt on the Caps’ third defense pairing and neither knew on Friday if he would be in the lineup against the Devils.
On Thursday Trotz said he thought Orlov, who missed all of last season with a fractured wrist, needed more work on the real-time decision making he exhibited during his five preseason games and that Chorney, whom the Caps signed on July 1, had outplayed a few other defensemen in training camp.
“I missed last year and I used the five preseason games to get into game shape,” Orlov said. “Everyone wants to play and everyone wants this to be a Cup team. We’ll see what the decision is and of course if I play I will try to play every game hard and enjoy it and learn.”
It will be interesting to see how much patience Trotz will have in integrating Orlov back into the lineup, especially knowing he has a reliable safety valve in Chorney, who has played 400 of his 468 pro games in the AHL.
“I had some things to prove and I think I did a pretty good job overall showing I can be a reliable player and they can trust me in a lot of different situations,” Chorney said.
“I don’t know either way (about Saturday’s lineup) and honestly, there are probably going to be a lot of times when I’m not going to be totally sure until the day of the game. Regardless, I’m thankful for the opportunity and throughout the course of the season I’m going to get my chance to be able to prove myself.”
Here’s a look at how the Capitals looked at practice on Friday and how they’ll probably look on Saturday night:
Alex Ovcechkin – Evgeny Kuznetsov – T.J. Oshie
Marcus Johansson – Andre Burakovsky – Justin Williams
Jason Chimera – Jay Beagle – Tom Wilson
Brooks Laich – Michael Latta – Sean Collins
Extra: Stanislav Galiev
Injured: Nicklas Backstrom (hip), Chris Brown (hand)
Brooks Orpik – John Carlson
Karl Alzner – Matt Niskanen
Nate Schmidt – Dmitry Orlov/Taylor Chorney
Braden Holtby –Philipp Grubauer