For one night, Brooks Orpik will have to deal with something he absolutely hates. As the Capitals take the ice Monday to play the St. Louis Blues (7 p.m., NBC Sports Washington), it will be the 1,000th game of Orpik’s NHL career. That means for one night Orpik will be the center of attention.
“I’m not one for surprise parties or anything individual, a lot of attention,” Orpik said. “That doesn’t really go with my personality, but I know for one day I’m just going to have to suck it up and deal with it. But it is something pretty cool.”
Orpik’s 1000th career game was supposed to come in November, but a knee injury forced him to miss 27 games delaying the milestone.
There are many who did not believe Orpik would ever get to this point given his style of play. While many players rave about Orpik’s leadership in the locker room, he has remained a relevant player in today’s NHL by adapting his play.
As primarily a physical, stay-at-home defenseman, Orpik seems better suited for the more physical style of play the NHL has seen in past years. As the game continues to get faster, there are some who wonder if there is still room for a player like Orpik.
“He's a little bit of a dinosaur because he hits,” Columbus Blue Jackets head coach John Tortorella said. “And there isn't a lot of hitting in this game. I love the way he plays.”
To continue playing professionally at a high level at the age of 38 takes some work. While many see a player playing an outdated style of play, Orpik has put a lot of work into adapting his game to today’s NHL.
“If you don't adapt to where the league's going, then you're pushed out whether you're a player or a coach,” Orpik said.
“You've got to give him credit being 38 years old, he's going to approach his 1000th game,” general manager Brian MacLellan said. “The defensive defenseman, people just don't like those players anymore because the new hockey, but he's stayed relevant in it.”
Orpik has changed the way he trains to focus more on skating and agility than strength and weight training. He approaches the game differently than in past years when he had a hit-first mentality.
“[Orpik] was taking himself out of the play too often,” Capitals head coach Todd Reirden said, “And the skill level of the majority of the forwards has increased so much in the NHL that any time you chase yourself out of position to go for big hits, all that area of ice behind you is used. So those were some things we changed when we initially met each other. Let's pick our spots for some hits -- his hit numbers have gone down -- using his stick to be able to defend a little bit more, and that has allowed him to still have the physical element when he needed to around the net front against some of the skill guys. That allowed him to start playing against some better players in the league.”
Orpik played a major part in Washington’s run to the Stanley Cup last season and even scored the first Stanley Cup Final game-winning goal in franchise history. He was considered important enough to the team that they actually re-signed him over the summer after trading away his contract to Colorado. The Avalanche bought him out of the rest of the contract which made him available as a free agent.
But, at 38 years old and on a one-year contract, one has to wonder what his future may be.
Could this season be Orpik’s swan song?
Orpik was asked if he would take a year-to-year approach for the rest of his career. While Nic Dowd yelled over the scrum that Orpik would play until he’s 45, Orpik wasn’t so sure.
“I think I’m day-to-day, honestly,” he said. “There’s some days you feel good, some days you don’t. I don’t know.”
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