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Orpik makes his (physical) presence felt


Orpik makes his (physical) presence felt

Shift by bone-rattling shift, the Capitals learned in Tuesday night’s 3-1 win over the Los Angeles Kings what they had been missing with defenseman Brooks Orpik out of the lineup the previous 40 games.

Yes, the Capitals went 30-6-4 during Orpik’s absence and were reassured during that stretch that guys like Matt Niskanen, Karl Alzner, Nate Schmidt, John Carlson, Dmitry Orlov and Taylor Chorney could carry the defensive load.

But a few of the Capitals quietly admitted they were lacking the snarl and physical presence that Orpik, even at the age of 35, still provides.

“His smarts and positioning all over the ice are really good,” said Niskanen, whose average ice time of 24:41 this season is well above his previous career average of just over 19 minutes. “We’ve had a handful of games in the past month or so when we’ve given up more odd-man rushes than we’d care to give up and the way he thinks the game is important for us.”

In his first game back in the lineup since breaking a bone on a blocked shot back on Nov. 10, Orpik took 21 shifts, logged 16:43 of ice time (2:42 on the penalty kill), blocked two shots and dished out five hits.

He also pushed big bodies Anze Kopitar, Vinny Lecavalier and Milan Lucic out of the Capitals’ goal crease like a snow plow rumbling through the streets of Clarendon.

“He’s a key player for us,” said Caps goaltender Philipp Grubauer, who stopped 39 shots and had another 18 blocked by teammates. “He’s won the Stanley Cup. It’s nice to have him back. He’s simple and he keeps the shots to the outside. He blocks shots, makes the right reads and for us goalies it’s great to have guys like that in front.”

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Orpik played on a third defense pairing with Dmitry Orlov and Capitals coach Barry Trotz said he thought they were the Caps’ second-best pairing, behind Niskanen and Alzner. Orpik, who averaged just over 19 minutes a game before his injury, said working himself back onto a penalty killing unit with Carlson helped get him into the flow against the Kings.

“Past the first couple of shifts, it was just getting used to the speed again,” Orpik said. “Obviously, it was a really good opponent to come back against, so that wasn’t easy, but it’s good.

“… I think taking a couple penalties probably wasn’t good for our team, but it was good for me personally, just getting a couple penalty kills in gets you in the game pretty quick.”

Trotz said he did not see the rust on Orpik that most players would collect after more than three months on the shelf.

“I didn't see a lot of that because I think a veteran player manages the game very well,” Trotz said. “He made some great outlet passes, there was no panic in his game. His sense of space was pretty good and those things usually aren't there, but he kept it smart and he kept it simple and he was good.

“It was nice to have a big body like that to throw around some of their big bodies because they get to the net very well and I thought that was an element to our back end that we could use and you see why he's so important to us.”

Niskanen said that while Orpik’s return should help the Capitals maintain their record-setting pace during the regular season, it’s his presence in the playoffs that should make the biggest difference.

“When time and space gets hard to come by in a tight playoff series the better he is because he excels at those kinds of games,” Niskanen said. “He doesn’t mind playing that style where you have to fight for every inch of ice.”

MORE CAPITALS: After being prodded, Capitals 'take out the best'

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Team USA reclaims women's hockey gold from Canada in instant Olympic classic

USA TODAY Sports Images

Team USA reclaims women's hockey gold from Canada in instant Olympic classic

GANGNEUNG, South Korea  -- The Americans' gold medal drought in women's hockey -- finally -- is over.

Even though they needed the first shootout in an Olympic women's final to do it.

Twenty long years after taking gold when the sport debuted in 1998 at Nagano, the United States snapped Canada's streak of four straight Olympic golds Thursday with a 3-2 shootout victory.

Jocelyne Lamoureux-Davidson scored in the sixth round of the shootout to start the Americans piling over the boards, throwing gloves in the air before huddling and hugging on the ice.

Gigi Marvin and Amanda Kessel also scored in the shootout. Monique Lamoureux-Morando tied it up with a breakaway with 6:21 left in regulation.

Hilary Knight also had a goal.


Maddie Rooney made 29 saves for the win against their archrival. The 20-year-old goalie stopped the last two Canadian shooters in the shootout in Brianne Jenner and then Meghan Agosta on her second attempt.

It was sweet redemption for the 10 Americans who watched the Canadians snatch gold from their hands in 2014 at Sochi after tying it up with 54.6 seconds left in regulation and winning 3-2 in overtime.

Not only did the Americans snap the Canadians' stranglehold on Olympic gold, they ended a skid of five straight against their rival coming into this game, including a 2-1 loss to wrap up pool play a week ago.

Marie-Philip Poulin and Haley Irwin each scored goals for Canada. Agosta and Melodie Daoust scored in the shootout.

The Americans had been dominating in non-Olympic years, winning the last four and eight of the last 10 world championships, including a 3-2 overtime victory over Canada last spring.

Their domination on the world stage only made the lack of gold at the Olympics all the more noticeable, and Canada has been in their way since losing the inaugural gold in Nagano. Canada had won 24 straight Olympic games to go along with four consecutive gold medals. It's a streak of success in a women's team sport second only to the United States' basketball team's current streak of six straight gold.

This was the eighth time these North American rivals met in the Olympics and the fifth with gold on the line. None of the previous seven were decided by more than two goals.

U.S. coach Robb Stauber went with the 20-year-old Rooney in net for the biggest game of her career, but she was the goalie for each of the three games the Americans beat Canada last fall during their pre-Olympic exhibition tour, including Four Nations Cup title in November.

Canada had Shannon Szabados, 31, in goal for her third Olympic gold medal game, and her teammates made her job very easy by keeping the puck in front of Rooney for most of the first period by dictating play. The Americans couldn't use their speed or get organized even with two power plays until Sarah Nurse went in the box for interference late in the period.

Knight gave the U.S. a 1-0 lead with 25.4 seconds left in the first, redirecting a shot from Sidney Morin through Szabados' pads giving the Americans a jolt of energy.

That lasted only 2 minutes into the second when Irwin tipped a pass from Blayre Turnbull over Rooney's left leg for Canada. When Morin lost the puck, Melodie Daoust grabbed it and passed to Meghan Agosta who hit Poulin for the wrister into the left side of the net at 6:55 for a 2-1 lead.


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Capitals Faceoff Podcast: The Caps add two defensemen, problem solved?

NBC Sports Washington

Capitals Faceoff Podcast: The Caps add two defensemen, problem solved?

The Capitals got their trade deadline started early by trading for defensemen Michal Kempny and Jakub Jerabek. Washington has been struggling of late, but do their new acquisitions address the team's weaknesses?

JJ Regan and Tarik El-Bashir evaluate the two trades and talk about where they could fit into the lineup.

You can listen to the latest episode here on the Capitals Faceoff page or with the player below.

Want even more great Capitals coverage? Follow @TarikNBCS and @JJReganNBCS on Twitter!