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Caps' Orlov says he's ready to take his career back

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Caps' Orlov says he's ready to take his career back

Dmitry Orlov didn’t have to answer the question; his smile gave it away.

It’s been nearly four months since Orlov laid to rest the most frustrating season of his career and he is now ready to lay to rest the persistent questions over the surgically repaired wrist that stole his 2014-15 season.

“I feel good,” he said with a smile. “I’m ready to go. My wrist is fine right now. I can shoot, I can do everything. I feel good, I feel fine and I’m ready to play. I can’t wait for the season to start.”

Orlov, 24, had just finished another practice session at Kettler Capitals Iceplex, where teammates backed up his assertion that he is ready to fill Mike Green’s skates as the Caps’ No. 5 blue liner alongside Nate Schmidt.

 His shot, they said, is a dead giveaway.

“I think he looks great,” Caps defenseman John Carlson said. “He’s been here pretty much all summer with me and he looks better than ever. He went home (to Russia) for a little bit and by the time he came back it was crazy different. He’s skating great, he handles the puck just as great as he ever used to and his shot is definitely there again.”
Orlov said that at the conclusion of last season, one in which he practiced but never played a game for the Capitals, he took three weeks off to let his body rest. His mind needed a break as well.

“It was tough to see him last year,” said fellow Russian Stan Galiev, who has been friends with Orlov since he was drafted by the Caps in 2010, one year after Orlov was selected in the second round.

“He was down so much mentally. I’ve known him for five years and he’s probably the hardest-working player I’ve ever seen in the gym. I think he’ll have a great regular season.”

Orlov had just completed his third season with the Capitals when he fractured his wrist while playing for Russia during the 2014 World Championships . He underwent reconstructive surgery but his recovery was slowed by an infection and there was fear he might never regain the strength and flexibility needed to play in the NHL again.

At one point last season Capitals coach Barry Trotz wondered if Orlov’s playing career was in jeopardy.

“I understand it’s hard not playing for a whole season,” Orlov said. “I tried to be positive all the time. Of course, I had some negative days. But I try to forget that and not think about it.

“Everybody has injuries. My injury was longer than expected, but I just need to be focused on this season and every game be part of the team and help the team make the playoffs and win the Cup.”

Orlov began skating in Russia in early July, working out with Columbus Blue Jackets goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky, who wanted someone to fire pucks at him. Orlov was happy to oblige.

“Bobrovsky said my shot is good,” Orlov said.

Although he’s a completely different player than Green, Orlov has the potential to be a dynamic presence on the Caps’ blue line. In his first three NHL seasons he carved a reputation as a big open-ice hitter who could move the puck as well as he could shoot it.

Orlov, who broke into the NHL as a defense partner for Green, said he’s ready to take on the challenge of a full-time role.

“Mike was a big part of the Capitals team,” Orlov said of Green. “He gave the team everything when he played here and he’ll play good in Detroit. He’s gone and somebody should play good, whether it’s me or Nate or (Taylor) Chorney.”

Orlov and Schmidt played together in Hershey and Orlov said each knows what the other brings to the table.

“We understand how we need to play,” he said. “He’s a good skater and he can make a good pass and join the rush. He’s easy to play with for me.”

This could be a make-or-break season for Orlov. He is entering the final year of his contract with the Capitals, which included a feud with former coach Adam Oates, who was reluctant to play him at the start of the 2013-14 season.

“Honestly, I’m not thinking about this being  my contract year or not,” he said. “I just want to play, try to play better every game and try to get my confidence back. Just play and enjoy.”

If Orlov can reclaim his zest for the game, Galiev and former national teammate Evgeny Kuznetsov say the sky is the limit for him.

“He looks very hungry,” Kuznetsov said. “Like a tiger. I’m very happy for him.”

“I’ve seen his shot several times and I would say he’s back,” Galiev said. “He loves hockey so much and he’s tired of practicing. He wants to play. He hits people and he hits them hard. I can’t wait to see him in a game.” 

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5 keys for the Caps to win Game 7 and advance to the Stanley Cup Final

5 keys for the Caps to win Game 7 and advance to the Stanley Cup Final

It all comes down to this.

The Eastern Conference Championship is on the line Wednesday as the Capitals take on the Tampa Bay Lightning in Tampa. Here are five keys for how the Caps can win and advance to face the Vegas Golden Knights for the Stanley Cup.

Score first

Game 7 is in Tampa Bay, the Lightning are deeper offensively and defensively and have a goalie capable of shutting down an offense.

Oh, and the Lightning are 8-1 when scoring first this postseason.

The Capitals are at their best when they are dictating the play. They want to play physical, trap the blue line and counter against the Lightning. None of those are particularly great strategies for chasing a game.

That makes the first goal critical.

The Lightning fans have seen their team lose twice at home already this series and fail to close out the Caps in Game 6. They have watched their team reach the conference finals two straight years in 2015 and 2016, fail to win the Stanley Cup in either year and fail to even make the playoffs in 2017.

Not only does playing with a lead better suit their game plan, but if Washington scores first that crowd is going to get very uncomfortable very quickly.

Gauge the referees

The Caps were very physical in Game 6 and they found success with that game plan. You would expect them to have a similar approach to Game 7, but they need to be careful.

In Game 6, it was clear the referees had put away the whistles. There were a few questionable plays on both sides that the referees let go. In a Game 7, you would hope the referees take the same approach, but they may not.

Tampa Bay’s power play is very good and the Caps cannot afford to give them many opportunities, but Washington will still want to play a physical style. It’s a fine line to walk so the Caps will need to quickly figure out how strictly the referees are calling the game and adjust accordingly.

Win the goalie matchup

In this series, Andrei Vasilevskiy has had two bad games and four good ones. He lost both of his bad games and won three of his good ones. He did not win the fourth, however, because he was outplayed by Braden Holtby.

Vasilevskiy was great in Game 6, but Holtby matched him save for save as both teams battled to get on the board. When the Caps finally did, Holtby shut the door to make sure the Lightning could not climb back. Vasilevskiy allowed just two goals on 32 shots, but Holtby turned away all 24 of the shots he faced for the shutout.

This is Game 7. There is no Game 8 just because you run into a hot goalie. If Vasilevskiy is on his game again on Wednesday, Holtby will have to be just as good if not better to make sure the Caps win.

Beat the fourth line

Playing at home in Game 6 allowed the Caps to get away somewhat from the Alex Ovechkin vs. fourth line matchup the Lightning have found success with. At 5-on-5, Chris Kunitz played 6:55 against Ovechkin, Ryan Callahan played 6:22 and Cedric Paquette played 6:12, considerably less than the 13:04, 13:46 and 13:42 each respectively logged in Game 5.

With Game 7 in Tampa, Barry Trotz will not be able to get away from that matchup. That means Ovechkin will just have to beat it.

That does necessarily mean he has to score a hat-trick. Ovechkin was one of the team’s top performers in Game 6 despite not logging a point as he helped establish a physical tone that ignited the team. But he has to make sure at the very least that his line is not outscored by the fourth like it was in Game 5 when Paquette and Callahan each scored.

Have a short memory

If you have a bad game in Game 1, you know you can bounce back in the series. A Game 7, however, is winner take all. If there’s a bad bounce, a bad call by the referees, a bad play, a missed save, whatever it may be, the Caps have to be able to put it out of their minds quickly.

There is no room for the “here we go again” mentality on Wednesday. The fate of this season will be determined within 60 minutes. If Holtby is not on his game, the Caps will have to battle through it. If Ovechkin has a bad night, the Caps will have to battle through it. If the referees decide they are going to call everything down to the letter of the law, the Caps will have to battle through it.

If something goes against them, they cannot allow it to bog them down mentally as we have seen at times in Game 7s of the past.

Likewise, if things go well they need to put that out of their heads as well. Desperation will grow among the Lightning as the game goes on. This is not the time to sit on a lead or circle the wagons.

Washington can’t let mistakes or success go to their head until the clock hits 00:00.

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Capitals Faceoff Podcast: A trip to the Stanley Cup Final is on the line

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USA TODAY Sports

Capitals Faceoff Podcast: A trip to the Stanley Cup Final is on the line

The Eastern Conference Final is going the distance!

After losing three straight to the Tampa Bay Lightning, the Capitals won Game 6 to force a Game 7 in Tampa Bay. Can the Caps beat the Lightning one more time and advance to the Stanley Cup Final?

JJ Regan, Tarik El-Bashir and special guest cameraman Mike D break it all down.

 

PLEASE NOTE: Due to schedule and time constraints, this podcast was recorded by phone and the audio quality is not up to our usual standards.

Check out their latest episode in the player below or listen on the Capitals Faceoff Podcast page.