Quick Links

NHL Power Rankings: Orpik's health looms large as deadline nears


NHL Power Rankings: Orpik's health looms large as deadline nears

The NHL trade deadline is Feb. 29 which means general managers all over the NHL are hard at work trying to either make their teams better for a playoff run or strip their rosters bare for a future rebuild. For the Caps, there's a $5.5 million gorilla in the room that will determine what if anything the Caps intend to do at the deadline.

Brooks Orpik has not played since November due to a lower-body injury. It is believed that he is finally nearing his return and could be back in the lineup as early as Tuesday and the sooner the better for the Caps as his health will essentially determine general manager Brian MacLellan's deadline plan.

The Caps are deep at the forward position with plenty of depth in both the top and bottom six thanks to the addition of Mike Richards and Jay Beagle's pending return. But what about the defense?


If Orpik isn't ready at all, or returns and immediately suffers a setback and has to return to IR, MacLellan can be aggressive at the deadline and try to find a top four defenseman. A top four defenseman means a bigger cap hit, but this doesn't mean Orpik has to sit out of the playoffs. If he does return to health after the deadline has passed, the Caps could simply wait to activate him in the postseason after the salary cap ceiling no longer applies.

If Orpik returns and doesn't feel 100 percent or needs some time to get back into game shape, then MacLellan would have to approach the trade deadline a bit more cautiously. The choices here would be a bit more limited given Orpik's contract would be back on the books and the Caps would have to do some number crunching to add someone new to the lineup which means it would have to be a depth player.

Or MacLellan could do nothing.

If Orpik is healthy he may not return immediately to the top pairing, but it seems safe to assume the Caps' top six would be some combination of Orpik, John Carlson, Karl Alzner, Matt Niskanen, Nate Schmidt and Dmitry Orlov with Taylor Chorney as a healthy scratch. Given how well both Orlov and Schmidt have played this season and how well Chorney acquitted himself in Orpik's absence, the Caps could feel comfortable with those seven defensemen heading into the playoffs. MacLellan could inquire about adding depth, but there's no reason to reach or overpay for anyone.

With Orpik nearing his return, the Caps have the flexibility to let the trade deadline pass them by as they continue to be one of the top teams in the NHL even without him. Just how good have they been?  Find out here in this week's NHL Power Rankings.

Quick Links

Niskanen takes the blame for all three Lightning goals

Niskanen takes the blame for all three Lightning goals

There was no tougher critic on Matt Niskanen’s Game 5 performance on Saturday than Niskanen himself.

Niskanen and his defensive partner, Dmitry Orlov, were on the ice for all three of the Tampa Bay Lightning’s three goals in the Capitals’ 3-2 loss. That was striking given the Orlov-Niskanen duo is typically Washington’s best defensive pair.

That was not the case on Saturday and Niskanen took full responsibility afterward.

“First three goals are all my fault,” Niskanen said. “I had a tough first 20:30 so I've got to be better next game.”

Pretty much no one played the first goal right.

The goal came just 19 seconds into the game. Orlov turned the puck over in the neutral zone and Evgeny Kuznetsov looked like he could have gotten the puck, but instead played the body of Cedric Paquette. Niskanen stepped up at the blue line, but the Lightning got the puck past him creating a short rush that beat Braden Holtby who was way too far back in the crease.

Yes, Niskanen got caught a bit high, but he was just as at fault as Orlov, Kuznetsov and Holtby.

The second goal happened because Steven Stamkos tripped Orlov to create a turnover and it wasn’t called.

Niskanen got in between Ondrej Palat and the puck, but Palat beat both him and Holtby on the shot. Not sure I would put this one on Niskanen.

The third goal…well, that one was a bad play by Niskanen.

When you go one-on-one with a player, a defenseman cannot allow that player to turn the corner. That’s especially true when that player is defenseman Anton Stralman who is not exactly gifted with blazing speed. This was just a complete misplay.

Regardless of how many goals were strictly on Niskanen, that’s not the point. This was a message not so much to the media but to the team. That message was this: This one’s on me, I will be better next game.

Leaders always take responsibility. Niskanen is taking the blame here and saying he will be better in the hopes the team around him will be better as well.

They will need to be to win Game 6.

“A lot of people counted us out when we were down 0-2 in the first round,” Niskanen said. “Things got hard in the last series where we could have melted and we just kept playing. So that's what we've got to do again, bring our best effort for Game 6 at home, win a game and then we'll go from there.

“But we're focused on bringing our best game of the season for Game 6 and we'll be ready to go.”


Quick Links

3 reasons the Caps lost Game 5 to the Lightning

3 reasons the Caps lost Game 5 to the Lightning

When the Capitals take to the ice at home on Monday, they will be playing for their playoff lives. They lost their third straight game on Saturday as the Tampa Bay Lightning took Game 5 to take a 3-2 series lead and push the Caps to the brink.

Here is why the Caps fell on the road for the first time in this series.

A rough start

Nineteen seconds was all the time Tampa Bay would need to score in Game 5.

Dmitry Orlov turned the puck over in the neutral zone and Evgeny Kuznetsov chased after it, but instead of getting the puck he inexplicably played the body of Cedric Paquette. Paquette was able to chip it into the offensive zone to Ryan Callahan. Callahan tried to pass to the slot, but it hit off of Orlov right to Paquette who buried it past Braden Holtby who was very deep in the crease.

If Orlov doesn’t cough the puck up in the neutral zone, if Kuznetsov plays the puck instead of the body or if Holtby challenges that shot, that goal doesn’t happen. An ugly play all around for Washington.

A no-call on Steven Stamkos

Later in the first period, Orlov went to corral a puck in the neutral zone, but was pressured by Stamkos, fell to the ice and turned the puck over to Nikita Kucherov. It was very clearly a trip on Stamkos, but there was no call. Palat would score on the play to give Tampa Bay a 2-0 lead.

You can read more about the play here.

A rough night for Dmitry Orlov and Matt Niskanen

Orlov and Niskanen is normally the Caps' best defensive pair, but they had a very long night. They were on the ice for each of the Lightning’s three goals of the game.

Orlov’s turnover led to the first goal, Stamkos’ trip of Orlov led to the second. On the third, Tampa Bay defenseman Anton Stralman was somehow able to drive and turn the corner on Niskanen leading to a scoring opportunity that eventually deflected off the glove of Ryan Callahan and into the net. Stralman is not the speediest of players. The fact he was able to go one-on-one with Niskanen and get in behind him was surprising to see.