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Orpik gives his thoughts on Green, Ovechkin

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Orpik gives his thoughts on Green, Ovechkin

Like many other players around the NHL, Brooks Orpik had his opinions about the Capitals before arriving in Washington as a free agent last summer. He admits now they weren’t very accurate.

“I did a lot of research before I signed here, talking to guys that have played here,” Orpik said. “Guys talk around the league all the time so you have a pretty good idea of what guys are like as teammates.

“This team has been criticized as having a lot of individual talents with individual egos and right from Day One I didn’t see any existence of that and I think that’s what made it a lot of fun to be a part of this group. Guys really, genuinely cared about each other and stuck up for each other. Going into that Game 7 [a season-ending 2-1 overtime loss to the New York Rangers] guys didn’t care who scored or who played well, as long as we won. That was most important. That was a lot different than I think the perception people had of this team in years past.”

Right or wrong, the perception of the Capitals was of a team that cared more about scoring goals than the commitment it took to prevent them. A team that was talented but not very hard to play against. A team with a divided locker room.

It was one of the reasons Barry Trotz was brought in as a head coach and Orpik was signed to a five-year, $27.5 million contract that some described as exorbitant and others as insane.

“I didn’t want to pay that much money, either,” Caps general manager Brian MacLellan said with a laugh.  “But it’s UFA season. It was a risk, but so far it’s worked out.”

Orpik, who will turn 35 in September, said he was “a little bit nervous” walking into a new locker room after spending the previous 10 seasons with the Pittsburgh Penguins.

“I think being in one place for as long as I was, there was a little fear of the unknown,” he said. “Being in one spot you get so used to how everything works, and relationships you have with everybody. Everything is kind of easy for you. But at this point in my career it was probably the best thing that ever happened to me.

“When I came here the players and the trainers, everybody made the transition super, super easy. Something I told the coaches [in his exit interview] was I think it was genuinely probably the most fun I’ve had playing hockey in the last four or five years.

“It was a great group of guys. There were no individual agendas or egos. It was all about winning. That was something I think from an outsider’s perspective, a lot of people tried to speculate on some of the guys here as not being team guys or having individual agendas and I didn’t see any of that and I think that’s what made it most enjoyable.”

Trotz said on a number of occasions that he also had preconceived ideas about the Caps and their locker room makeup. Perhaps it was with that in mind that when he rearranged the locker room seating, he placed Orpik between Mike Green and Alex Ovechkin.

Orpik said he took a liking to both players right away, saying Green actually taught him a few things.

“I think I probably had a different perception of him being on a different team than what he’s actually like,” Orpik said. “I look at him more as the person than the hockey player after this year. He’s just a really good guy to be around. And hockey-wise he’s a guy who played really well for us all year long. I think his role probably shifted around a little bit as the season went on, but he had a great attitude all year. He has a different style than me and I don’t know if he knows it, but I probably learned a lot from him, certain things he does on the ice. He just had a really good attitude, a good approach to the game, and a good team guy. He was a good guy to have as a teammate.”

Orpik had a similar experience with Ovechkin, whom he had met in international tournaments but had never gotten to know until this season.

“What a fun guy he is, really, is the thing that jumped out at me,” Orpik said. “I had a lot of fun with him throughout the year, whether it was at the rink or playing cards with him or going out to eat with him. He’s just a fun guy to be around. A guy who really cares about the guys on the team.

“And I think he really cares about what people think of him, too. That’s what pushes him a lot. He had a great year for us, obviously.”

With a league-high 53 goals and 81 points, along with a plus-10 rating, Ovechkin has been nominated for the Hart Trophy for the fifth time in his career, and for the Ted Lindsay Award for the sixth time.

“I think that’s the one the players want to win the most, because it’s voted on by their peers,” Orpik said of the Ted Lindsay Award as the NHL’s Most Outstanding Player. “There are a lot of guys that had great seasons that didn’t get nominated for that.”

Having won a Stanley Cup with the Penguins in 2009, Orpik said he believes this year’s Capitals team was capable of going all the way, if it could only get past the Rangers. Orpik noted the Caps had a winning record [they were actually .500 or better] against the three other teams still playing [the Lightning, Blackhawks and Ducks].

“That’s one of the disappointing things,” he said. “Sometimes it’s unrealistic, but I think this year it was a pretty realistic chance and when it is a realistic chance it stings a little more because you view it as a missed opportunity. Your career is not very long and the group is always different and you’re never guaranteed a chance to get back to that point. I think that’s what makes it the most frustrating. You didn’t make the most of the opportunity you were given.”

Orpik said he will head into the offseason healthier than he has in previous summers, when he spent more time healing than he did training. With that in mind he said he hopes to be quicker and stronger when he returns to Washington for his second training camp with the Capitals.

As for who will be on next season’s roster, Orpik said that’s anyone’s guess with six veterans facing unrestricted free agency on July 1.

“That’s the most disappointing thing every year,” he said. “I know before Game 7, I’m sure I wasn’t the only person to think about it, but I think that’s the kind of pressure that pushes you. You just want to keep the season moving forward because you know if you lose it’s never going to be the same group of guys going forward no matter how much you want to keep the same team together.

“That’s one of the most disappointing things when you lose. Guys don’t want to admit it right away, but there are probably some guys who know they’re moving on. That’s just part of the business, really. But that’s probably the most disappointing part of losing.”

Orpik seemed to suggest he would be available to provide input if asked by MacLellan his thoughts on some of the Caps’ pending free agents.

“I would assume that’s one of the tougher jobs for them, trying to tinker with the lineup and hoping they’re doing the right things without taking anything away from the group,” he said. “I’m sure that’s a fine line and I’m sure they’ll do their research asking other guys on the team for input in those situations. That’s always tough. Sometimes the guys you want to keep you can’t for whatever reason. You never know how things are going to pan out.”

[MORE CAPITALS: Wilson, Burakovsky team up for awesome lip-sync]

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Prospect Joe Snively was cheering outside Capital One Arena when the Capitals won the Stanley Cup

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Prospect Joe Snively was cheering outside Capital One Arena when the Capitals won the Stanley Cup

There were many incredible aspects to the Capitals’ 2018 Stanley Cup run, but one of the best was how fans took over the streets in the Stanley Cup Final. Little did we know that a future Cap was among the faithful outside of Capital One Arena.

Forward prospect and Herndon, Va. native Joe Snively was signed as a college free agent in March 2019. He is an alum of the Little Capitals local youth hockey program and, not surprisingly given his background, he grew up as a Caps fan.

For all Washington fans, June 7, 2018, is a day that will never be forgotten as it was the day the team won its first Stanley Cup. We all have our own story of where we were that day and how we watched. Snively is no different.

“I was downtown DC outside the arena watching on the big screen,” he told Mike Vogel in an interview at the team’s development camp.

“It was a great feeling,” Snively continued. “At that time I didn’t know I’d have the opportunity to sign with the Capitals and it was an amazing feeling. I’ve been a Caps fan ever since I started watching hockey and it was great to see them after all those years in the playoffs to win the Cup. It was amazing.”

The Alex Ovechkin era is important to Washington hockey not just because he brought the city a Cup, but because of the increased interest at the youth level. Interest early on should increase the sport and the team’s popularity. That, in turn, should lead to more youth participation which should lead to a more competitive youth program and homegrown talent entering professional hockey. The increased interest from that should further boost hockey in the region thus repeating the cycle.

Snively is just the first example.

It kind of makes you wonder how many other future Caps were in that crowd watching the team win the Cup.

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20 Burning Capitals Questions: Can the power play get back to an elite level?

20 Burning Capitals Questions: Can the power play get back to an elite level?

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 the next three 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 a power play that dipped out of the top 10 last season. Can a unit that has been so consistent for so long get back to that top level? 

This comes back to tactics more than personnel. The same players are back who have been part of this unit for years. Alex Ovechkin is the ultimate weapon in the left face-off circle, John Carlson mans the point, Nicklas Backstrom and Evgeny Kuznetsov do their thing on the half wall and below the net and T.J. Oshie is the trigger man in the slot. 

Those five players all had 227 minutes of power-play time last year or more. Ovechkin had 17 goals which is about standard for the best ever. Kuznetsov came next with eight goals and 13 assists. Backstrom had four goals, but 17 assists. Carlson had two goals and 27 assists. 

Oshie missed 13 games so his numbers are a little down, but in the games he did play he still hit six goals and eight assists. Tom Wilson was Oshie’s primary replacement in that bumper position and he had three goals. 

Not too bad for Blaine Forsythe’s group. He’s the assistant coach who has run the power play the past five years. You can’t argue with the track record. Unfortunately, the expectations for Washington’s power play are massive given that talent level and it’s fair to say it fell short at 12thoverall in the NHL at 20.8 percent.

Again, 49-for-236 isn’t bad. It’s just the talent level says it should be better. The Capitals were seventh in 2017-18 (22.5 percent), fourth in 2016-17 (23.1 percent), fifth in 2015-16 (21.9 percent), first in 2014-15 (25.3 percent), tied for first in 2013-14 (23.4 percent) and first again in 2012-13 (26.8 percent). The last time Washington finished outside the top 10 on the power play was in 2011-12 when it cratered to 18th (16.7 percent). 

There are a few issues that could be tweaked. The Capitals managed just 236 power-play chances. That tied for 16thin the league. To even break into the top 10 in that category they’d need 16 more penalties drawn. 

Only three times after Oct. 22 did they score two power-play goals in the same game and never more than that. How does that even happen? They had two or more power-play goals four times in the first eight games alone, including four on opening night. After that? It was one and done, 

Kuznetsov is one of the best in the game at getting the puck into the offensive zone. Fans loathe it, but the drop pass – or “the slingshot” – has become an effective way, when used properly, to get the puck into the offensive zone on the power play. It just didn’t seem to work all that well for Washington last year. 

One wonders if Forsythe will make some tweaks there. Kuznetsov was often the player on the receiving end of the drop passes, which can keep the penalty kill off balance, but can also waste precious seconds when it doesn’t work. Then you have to regroup and try again. 

It’s not going away, though – even for those who want to slingshot the drop pass to the moon. It’s used all over the league. Some teams like to use two players as options when coming up ice using the slingshot. That’s easier to defend in some ways, but it also gives your team a certain level of unpredictability. 

Maybe teams have just become better at defending the Capitals on the PK simply because they have had the same personnel and coaching for years now. Opposing coaching staffs have hours of video on this group to break down and analyze. 

But there’s no reason to change too much. That Ovechkin one-timer is the ultimate weapon and you don’t want to stifle the creativity of players like Backstrom or Kuznetsov.

Maybe quicker unit changes would help keep players fresh. Ovechkin is almost always going to be out there for the full two minutes and it would be silly to take that shot off the ice. But developing a more reliable second group might help, too. 

Last year’s “second” unit by ice time was Lars Eller, Jakub Vrana, Wilson, Brett Connolly and Dmitry Orlov/Matt Niskanen. Connolly is gone via free agency. Niskanen is gone via trade. One wonders why Andre Burakovsky was hardly used (18:25), but he’s gone, too, in a trade. 

Will be interesting to see if Forsythe can come up with a more reliable second group centered around Ovechkin, Eller and Vrana, who deserves more power-play time even if he’s buried on this roster, and Wilson as the big body in the middle. Richard Panik was fifth on the Arizona Coyotes in power-play minutes last season (146:16) so maybe he has a role there. 

The very best Washington power plays in recent years had secondary players like Marcus Johansson and Justin Williams around before the salary cap cleaved that depth. The Capitals were still a very good power play in 2018-19, but they could use more of that. These are minor changes that could get them back toward the very top of the league and helps take pressure off its 5-on-5 play. 

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