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2015-16 Capitals in Review: Dmitry Orlov

2015-16 Capitals in Review: Dmitry Orlov

With the Capitals’ 2015-16 season now in the rearview mirror, we continue with our numerical player-by-player roster analysis:

No. 9 Dmitry Orlov

Age: 24 (turns 25 on July 23)

Games: 82

Goals: 8

Assists: 21

Points: 29

Plus-minus: Plus-8

Penalty minutes: 26

Time on ice: 16:01

Playoff stats: 11 games, 0 goals, 1 assist, even, 2 PIM, 13:18

Contract status: Restricted free agent (2015-16 salary: $2.25 million, $2 million cap hit)

Considering the fact he did not suit up for the Capitals the entire 2014-15 season because of a broken wrist, Orlov’s return to full-time duty this season can be looked at only as an overwhelming success.

Was he an adventure in his own end? Sometimes. Was he dynamic in the offensive zone? Many times. Does he need some work to be a top four defenseman in the NHL? Absolutely.

But he may be worth the growing pains.

“I call him a high-event player,” Capitals general manager Brian MacLellan said with a chuckle. “At both ends there’s some events going on. But he’s learning.

“You like it on the (offensive) end and you’re living with stuff on the (defensive) end. Todd (Reirden) is working with him. How do you eliminate the errors and get them down to a level that’s acceptable for us as a team and then still contribute offensively? I think he’s still trying to figure that out.

“I think in the playoffs there was probably a little too much concern with not making the errors and you want him to create some offense. You want him to shoot the puck, you want him to join the rush, you want him to make plays through the middle of the ice instead of flipping pucks (out of the defensive zone). I think it’s just a learning process and the more he plays the better he’s going to get.”

With that in mind, the Capitals are seriously considering giving Orlov a top four role next season (alongside Matt Niskanen?), while dropping veteran blue liner Brooks Orpik to third pair (alongside Nate Schmidt?) and penalty kill responsibilities.

That would be quite a promotion for Orlov considering he began the 2015-16 season as one of the Capitals’ biggest question marks and ended it as the club’s Masterton nominee for dedication and perseverance to the sport of hockey.

Orlov finished the season with career highs in games (82), goals (8) and assists (21) while playing mostly on a third pairing with Nate Schmidt or Taylor Chorney.

“I would say I had a good season, and it was special for me when coaches give me the opportunity to play 82 games,” Orlov said. “I could be better, and I think all players want to do some more than they did. I look forward to playing next season and try to do my best. It was special season for me playing 82 games after missing the whole year. Especially my first time in the playoffs, almost every game. It’s huge for me.”

If there is a flaw to Orlov’s game it is that he has a penchant for giving up the puck to avoid taking a hit. It happened a handful of times near the end of the regular season and Capitals coach Barry Trotz threatened to take Orlov out of the lineup. Perhaps at the urging of assistant coach Todd Reirden, Trotz resisted that urge, allowing Orlov to play through some of his inconsistencies.

That continued until the second game of the Caps’ second-round series against the Penguins, when Trotz pulled Orlov out of the lineup for one game, replacing him with Chorney.   

“Everybody says I’m an offensive player, but I want people to see me (as a) two-way player, not only offensive player,” Orlov said. “I want to play on defense, too. I know I can do it. I know I do some mistakes, and I would say nobody’s perfect. In all situations when a player gets more ice time, they have confidence and the better they’re going to be next games, next years.”

Orlov said he was especially appreciative of Reirden’s instruction and encouragement this season. The two spent countless hours on the ice and in the video room going over game situations and Orlov’s decision making in those situations.

“For me, I think he helped a lot,” Orlov said. “He always talks with us and shows some videos and always said good and positive things. If you did something wrong, he will tell you. He’s an honest man, and I think it’s how it should be. If coaches will tell you the truth, it’s easy to understand what you should do on the ice or whatever. It’s nice when coaches always talk to you.”

Because Orlov is a restricted free agent making more than $1 million, the Capitals are required to offer him his current $2.25 million salary to retain his rights. Since his original standard player’s contract was signed between the ages of 18 and 20 and because he has four years of NHL experience, Orlov also qualifies for salary arbitration, which means his price tag could be in the $3 million per season range, even if it is for just one year.

Orlov’s agent, Mark Gandler, asked the Capitals to play Orlov or trade him back in the 2012-13 season, but that certainly won’t be the case this time around. Orlov said he never put thought into re-signing with the Caps during the season and hopes things go smoothly with negotiations this summer.

“My focus was just play and don’t worry about anything what’s going on,” he said. “Right now, the season is over and whatever’s gonna happen. I’m excited to be here and hope everything will be good.”

Orlov represented Russia in the 2016 World Championships last week, picking up three assists in six games, and will play for his country in the World Cup of Hockey in Toronto in mid-September.

Like many teammates, Orlov thought the Capitals had the right mix in their locker room to go further than the second round of the playoffs this spring and is looking forward to another crack at the Stanley Cup next season.

“I think it’s just going to be better next year and I know we have a great team,” he said. “It was like a family. I still remember all these moments and just take positive things and move forward and be ready to go next year.”

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The Toronto Maple Leafs are not happy with Caps' Lars Eller

The Toronto Maple Leafs are not happy with Caps' Lars Eller

On Saturday, the defending Stanley Cup champion Capitals faced off against one of the hottest young teams in the NHL, the Toronto Maple Leafs. It was viewed as a marquee matchup and it certainly lived up to its billing with both teams battling in a tight, well-played game.

In the end, Toronto walked away as the 4-2 victors in one of their better wins of the young season, but not everyone left that game impressed.

A team that already boasted super-star talent Auston Matthews added John Tavares in the offseason as a free agent giving the Maple Leafs a formidable one, two punch at center. For most of the game, the Caps were able to shut down that center tandem.

Lars Eller was asked after the game how the Caps were able to keep the Leafs’ big stars in check and he indicated that perhaps Tavares and Matthews were not as formidable a pair as they had been made out to be.

“We’re used to playing against [Sidney Crosby] and [Evgeni Malkin],” Eller said. “Everything kind of drops from there so it’s not that special. It’s a good team like a lot of others. They’ll probably be a playoff team, I think.”

Not surprisingly, that quote caught Toronto’s attention, especially forward Nazem Kadri.

Per Sportsnet’s Chris Johnston, Kadri called Eller’s comments “bulletin board material.”

With 12 points in seven games, the Maple Leafs currently boast the top record in the league. Toronto is far from perfect, however, and their defense remains a major question mark in whether this team is a true Stanley Cup contender.

But as to whether or not they are a playoff team? That seems like a pretty safe bet.

The Caps and Maple Leafs will meet twice more this season on Jan. 23 and Feb. 21. Both games are in Toronto.  

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Capitals are sticking with Chandler Stephenson on the top line… for now

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Capitals are sticking with Chandler Stephenson on the top line… for now

With Tom Wilson still serving a 20-game suspension, Washington Capitals head coach Todd Reirden has the difficult task of finding a wing to complement his top line of Alex Ovechkin and Evgeny Kuznetsov. For the first four games of the season, that player was Brett Connolly.

On Saturday, however, he changed things up and went with Chandler Stephenson instead.

Just 18 seconds into the game, Stephenson made his head coach look very smart as he finished off a 2-on-1 with Kuznetsov to score his first goal of the season.

“Obviously, the start was great,” Reirden said after the game.

Stephenson is an incredibly fast skater and the extra speed seemed to add another dimension to that line that opponents had to contend with, and it led to both of the Caps’ goals on the night.

In addition to Stephenson’s goal, Ovechkin drew a tripping penalty in the second period, and Washington scored on the resulting power play.

“Those guys are a lot of fun to play with,” Stephenson said. “They just know where to be and can find each other. I've just got to get the puck to them and just go to the net with your stick on the ice, and they'll find you.”

The top line’s success was a matter of finding instant chemistry as Stephenson had very little time to adjust. The Caps were off on Friday following back-to-back games, and Reirden did not make the switch of putting Stephenson on the top until Saturday’s morning skate.

Putting a new top line together with little time to practice does not seem like an ideal scenario, but according to Kuznetsov, the level of familiarity between all the players made the adjustment quick and easy.

“It doesn't matter with who you play,” he said. “In this locker room, we can communicate with anybody. We don't have a first line, we don't have a fourth line. We try and roll all lines.”

Reirden seemed pleased with the new trio after the game saying, “They did a number of good things during the game as well, so they I thought accomplished a lot. I thought [Stephenson] brought the speed on the forecheck and was able to at least go after their defense a little bit and force some turnovers that Kuznetsov and [Ovechkin] were able to at least get some opportunities from. So I think that's important to have him in that situation.”

Reirden was happy enough with the top line’s performance to keep them together. The team is off Monday, but Stephenson remained on the top line during Sunday’s practice.

But so long as Wilson remains out, finding the right match for the top line will remain a work in progress.

Said Reirden, “We’ll continue to try to put together our four lines that give us the best chance.”

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