Dmitry Orlov

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20 Burning Questions: Will Dmitry Orlov rebound from a rough 2018-19 season?

20 Burning Questions: Will Dmitry Orlov rebound from a rough 2018-19 season?

The long, endless summer is only halfway done. The Capitals last played a game on April 24 and will not play another one until Oct. 2.

But with free agency and the NHL Draft behind them now, the 2019-2020 roster is almost set and it won’t be long until players begin trickling back onto the ice in Arlington for informal workouts.

With that in mind, and given the roasting temperatures outside, for four weeks NBC Sports Washington will look at 20 burning questions facing the Capitals as they look to rebound from an early exit from the Stanley Cup playoffs, keep alive their Metropolitan Division title streak and get back to their championship form of 2018.

The list will look at potential individual milestones, roster questions, prospects who might help and star players with uncertain futures. Today we look at Dmitry Orlov.

Will Orlov rebound from a rough 2018-19 season?

Last season was not a good one for the Caps’ second defensive pair of Orlov and Matt Niskanen.

According to Natural Stat Trick, there were 55 defensive pairs who played 500 minutes or more together at 5-on-5 last season. Of those pairs, Orlov and Niskanen ranked 38th in Corsi-for percentage, 45th in goals-for percentage, 42nd in scoring chances-for percentage, 54th in high-danger chances-for percentage (second to last) and 55th in high-danger goals-for percentage (last).

Analytics are not everyone’s favorite means of measuring player performance, but if the job of a defensive pair is to limit goals and scoring chances, Orlov and Niskanen really struggled.

Whether it was Orlov who was dragging down Niskanen, Niskanen who was dragging down Orlov or just both players having a tough season is debatable and, at this point, irrelevant. Niskanen is now gone and Orlov is slated to remain on the second pair for Washington. If the Caps have any legitimate shot of making another deep playoff run this season, he will have to be much better than he was.

The good news is we know that he can be.

Orlov gets a bad rap at times because of his penchant for horrific turnovers in his early years. Replays of those turnovers and quotes like Brian MacLellan calling him a “high event player” are what sticks out when many think of Orlov, but he is a much better defenseman than many give him credit. The Orlov-Niskanen pairing was a huge factor in the team’s Stanley Cup run and it was not because Niskanen was just carrying Orlov through the playoffs. He is a top-four defenseman in his own right.

So while Orlov certainly can play better than what we saw last season, the real question is will he?

If Niskanen was returning next season, I would say the answer depends largely on whether Niskanen could rebound or if he was simply on the decline as a 32-year-old and would drag Orlov down with him. But Niskanen is not returning.

Instead, Orlov is expected to play with Nick Jensen and it is hard to know what to expect from them. They played only 33:16 together last season over the course of 20 games so there is not much data there to look at.

On the one hand, Orlov and Jensen look like a good fit. Orlov is a left-shot, Jensen a right-shot. Orlov has a high offensive upside, while Jensen’s offense is very limited. Jensen struggled in his short time with the team after getting traded from the Detroit Red Wings at the trade deadline, but it is reasonable to expect someone so important to Detroit’s defense to play better in Washington with a full training camp and preseason to prepare.

On the other hand, Jensen’s biggest struggle in Washington was getting caught on his off-side. He played on the left very little with the Red Wings, but in the Caps’ system where defensemen are expected to play both sides in the flow of play, Jensen has been caught flat-footed at times while trying to cover the left. Sometimes offensive-minded defensemen like switching to their off-side when they are in the offensive zone because it opens their bodies more for one-time shots. Orlov needs to be aware of his partner and the position he puts him in when he tries to get involved in the offense so as not to leave Jensen hanging.

All of this is to say that my answer to the question is I don’t know. Orlov can be better than last season, he has the skill to be a dependable top-four defenseman, but there are inconsistencies in his game. Either those will be exacerbated by a lack of chemistry with a new defensive partner or Orlov and Jensen will thrive together giving Washington an incredibly formidable blue line.

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‘One thing was in my mind, I can’t miss it.’ Remembering the strangest goal of Dmitry Orlov’s career

‘One thing was in my mind, I can’t miss it.’ Remembering the strangest goal of Dmitry Orlov’s career

ARLINGTON – Dmitry Orlov went over a year between NHL goals from March 2014 to November 2015. A wrist injury kept him out the entire 2014-15 season and it took him a while to get his legs back under him in 2015. Then, on Nov. 21, 2015, Orlov finally managed to get one into the back of the net with the strangest goal of his career.

The goal came in a 7-3 win against the Colorado Avalanche. Braden Holtby said Orlov was dubbed “Houdini” afterward in the locker room.

With the Caps hosting the Avalanche on Thursday (7 p.m., NBC Sports Washington), it gave Orlov a chance to reflect on one of the more bizarre plays you will ever see.

“It was funny goal and it was good goal for me,” Orlov said.

In the third period of the game with Washington already ahead 5-2, Jason Chimera had the puck along the boards and fed a streaking Orlov in the neutral zone. Both Nick Holden and Carl Soderberg had the middle covered for Colorado so Orlov faked a shot, slid the puck through his legs to get around them and got a shot off on Calvin Pickard.

That’s when things got weird.

“I get in the zone and I make a move and I shot it and kind of everybody lost it but me,” Orlov said.

Pickard made the initial save and reacted as if he was holding the puck against his chest. Everyone thought he had it…except Orlov.

“I find puck right away because it hit me right in the chest,” he said.

Orlov corralled the puck, looked up and saw no one reacting to him at all. He quickly realized no one knew he had it, wheeled around to the front of the net and fired it past Tyson Barrie who realized what was happening just before Orlov shot.

“I expect like first player who comes to me, maybe he's going to try to block it with one knee or put the full body to get the block,” Orlov said. “But it was defenseman I think he play like a goalie you know, try to block it and it's good.”

Luckily for Orlov, while none of the players knew where the puck was, the referee did. Had the referee lost sight of it, he could have blown the play dead. But when the puck hit Orlov in the chest, he was wheeling around the net and almost ran into the referee along with the puck. Obviously then the referee knew Orlov had it and not Pickard.

Still, Orlov had so much time and so much space, he actually stole a quick glance back at the referee to make sure the puck was still in play before shooting.

“I kind of look at the ref a second, if he going to blow or not,” Orlov said. “He kind of like [shrugged] no, take it. It was funny.”

So what goes through a player’s mind when he sees an empty net to shoot on and no one knows he has the puck?

“One thing it was in my mind, I can't miss it,” he said.

“I know if I going to miss it I'm going to be like probably top 10 worst plays of the season,” Orlov added. “So put my whole mind and focus to the goal.”

Game notes:

Pheonix rising

Braden Holtby has been great since returning from the All-Star break, but Pheonix Copley will get his first start since Jan. 15 and his first since inking a three-year contract extension.

Like everyone, Copley had a rough January. He is 10-5-3 this season, but his last win came back on Jan. 8.

Former Cap to start for Colorado, but not the one you think

Washington traded Philipp Grubauer to the Avalanche in the summer. The thought was that Grubauer would take over as Colorado’s starter, but so far this season he has started in 20 games and has struggled (9-7-3, .890 save percentage, 3.47 GAA) while veteran Semyon Varlamov (13-13-5, .905 save percentage, 2.89 GAA) has started in 32. On Thursday, Colorado will look to Varlamov again over the struggling Grubauer.

Burakovsky back on the third line

Based on the morning skate, Andre Burakovsky has been bumped back up to the third line alongside Lars Eller and Brett Connolly. Chandler Stephenson will take his spot on the fourth line and play with Travis Boyd and Devante Smith-Pelly. Dmitrij Jaskin and Nic Dowd are the scratches.

There is also a change to the defense as Madison Bowey will play with Brooks Orpik in place of Jonas Siegenthaler who had a rough night against Vancouver on Tuesday.

Top-heavy

Colorado features arguably the best line in hockey with Gabriel Landeskog (29 goals, 25 assists), Nathan MacKinnon (27 goals, 45 assists) and Mikko Rantanen (23 goals, 51 assists). Stopping them will be tough to do, but there is some good news for Washington. First, this game is at home so the Caps will get the second line change allowing them to get the matchup they want against that line. Second, while Colorado boasts an incredible top line, depth scoring is a major weakness for this team.

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Dmitry Orlov dazzles his hometown of Novokuznetsk with the Stanley Cup

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Dmitry Orlov dazzles his hometown of Novokuznetsk with the Stanley Cup

Friday featured Dmitry Orlov and his jam-packed schedule with the coveted Stanley Cup.

The 27-year-old native of Russia decided to take the Cup to Novokuznetsk (located in the southwest region of Siberia) for a meet and greet with fans by the Ferris wheel at Gagarin City Park.

It should be mentioned that Orlov's day with the trophy was nearly derailed after a travel glitch that sent the Cup to Novosibirsk instead of his hometown. 

Thanks to the ultimate assist from a helicopter, the Cup arrived in style and set up one memorable entrance for the defenseman. 

Orlov released this hype video which highlights his entire day on Instagram: 

View this post on Instagram

Дорогие друзья! Огромное спасибо, что разделили с нами наш праздник! Для нас это значимое и большое событие! Ещё раз приносим искренние извинения за задержку с кубком! И спасибо за понимание, мы старались сделать все максимально быстро! Спасибо за тёплый приём! Нашим родным, друзьям, тренерам, отдельная благодарность! Вы сделали наш праздник, наш день! Мы никогда не забудем этот праздник! P.S. Лена @govor_elena , тебе и твоим родным, отдельная благодарность, если бы не ваша помощь, то не известно когда бы кубок был в Новокузнецке!

A post shared by Dmitry Orlov (@orlov_09) on

Talk about a banner weekend for the Washington Capitals. The Ovechkins welcomed their new son, Sergei Aleksandrovich, into the world and Orlov pulled off yet another spectacular day with the Cup.

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