Quick Links

Orpik makes his (physical) presence felt


Orpik makes his (physical) presence felt

Shift by bone-rattling shift, the Capitals learned in Tuesday night’s 3-1 win over the Los Angeles Kings what they had been missing with defenseman Brooks Orpik out of the lineup the previous 40 games.

Yes, the Capitals went 30-6-4 during Orpik’s absence and were reassured during that stretch that guys like Matt Niskanen, Karl Alzner, Nate Schmidt, John Carlson, Dmitry Orlov and Taylor Chorney could carry the defensive load.

But a few of the Capitals quietly admitted they were lacking the snarl and physical presence that Orpik, even at the age of 35, still provides.

“His smarts and positioning all over the ice are really good,” said Niskanen, whose average ice time of 24:41 this season is well above his previous career average of just over 19 minutes. “We’ve had a handful of games in the past month or so when we’ve given up more odd-man rushes than we’d care to give up and the way he thinks the game is important for us.”

In his first game back in the lineup since breaking a bone on a blocked shot back on Nov. 10, Orpik took 21 shifts, logged 16:43 of ice time (2:42 on the penalty kill), blocked two shots and dished out five hits.

He also pushed big bodies Anze Kopitar, Vinny Lecavalier and Milan Lucic out of the Capitals’ goal crease like a snow plow rumbling through the streets of Clarendon.

“He’s a key player for us,” said Caps goaltender Philipp Grubauer, who stopped 39 shots and had another 18 blocked by teammates. “He’s won the Stanley Cup. It’s nice to have him back. He’s simple and he keeps the shots to the outside. He blocks shots, makes the right reads and for us goalies it’s great to have guys like that in front.”

RELATED: Nate Schmidt joins SportsTalk Live after Caps win vs. Kings

Orpik played on a third defense pairing with Dmitry Orlov and Capitals coach Barry Trotz said he thought they were the Caps’ second-best pairing, behind Niskanen and Alzner. Orpik, who averaged just over 19 minutes a game before his injury, said working himself back onto a penalty killing unit with Carlson helped get him into the flow against the Kings.

“Past the first couple of shifts, it was just getting used to the speed again,” Orpik said. “Obviously, it was a really good opponent to come back against, so that wasn’t easy, but it’s good.

“… I think taking a couple penalties probably wasn’t good for our team, but it was good for me personally, just getting a couple penalty kills in gets you in the game pretty quick.”

Trotz said he did not see the rust on Orpik that most players would collect after more than three months on the shelf.

“I didn't see a lot of that because I think a veteran player manages the game very well,” Trotz said. “He made some great outlet passes, there was no panic in his game. His sense of space was pretty good and those things usually aren't there, but he kept it smart and he kept it simple and he was good.

“It was nice to have a big body like that to throw around some of their big bodies because they get to the net very well and I thought that was an element to our back end that we could use and you see why he's so important to us.”

Niskanen said that while Orpik’s return should help the Capitals maintain their record-setting pace during the regular season, it’s his presence in the playoffs that should make the biggest difference.

“When time and space gets hard to come by in a tight playoff series the better he is because he excels at those kinds of games,” Niskanen said. “He doesn’t mind playing that style where you have to fight for every inch of ice.”

MORE CAPITALS: After being prodded, Capitals 'take out the best'

Quick Links

John Carlson agrees to big-money deal to stay with the Capitals


John Carlson agrees to big-money deal to stay with the Capitals

On Friday, the Capitals shipped out Philipp Grubauer and Brooks Orpik to clear space on the salary cap for John Carlson's massive contract extension.

On Sunday night, Carlson signed on the dotted the line. 

The 28-year-old became the latest core Cap to sign a long-term deal, inking an eight-year extension that will carry an $8 million average salary. 

His cap hit is now the second highest on the team—behind Ovechkin’s $9.538 million charge and just ahead of Kuznetsov’s $7.8 million hit.

With Carlson locked up, the defending Stanley Cup champion now has the majority of its core signed through at least the 2019-20 season. Among the players with at least two years remaining on their deals are forwards Ovechkin, Evgeny Kuznetsov, Nickas Backstrom and Lars Eller, defensemen Carlson, Matt Niskanen and Dmitry Orlov and goaltender Braden Holtby.

The Carlson news did not come as a surprise.

The Caps wanted to keep him. Carlson, who makes his offseason home in Washington, wanted to stay with the club that drafted him 27th overall in 2008. And on Friday night in Dallas, GM Brian MacLellan all but guaranteed that a deal was going to happen when he said, “We’re close and hopefully we can close the deal here over the next 24 hours.”

It ended up taking a little more than 24 hours, but in the end MacLellan got his D-man.

“John has been an exceptional and consistent player for our franchise and has blossomed into being one of the top defensemen in the NHL,” said MacLellan in a statement on Sunday. “Defenseman like John are a rare commodity in our League and, at 28 years of age, we feel he is just entering his prime.”

Indeed, Carlson notched a career-high 15 goals and 53 assists last season, and his 68 points led all NHL defensemen. He also became the eighth defensemen in Caps’ history to record 60 points in a season and the first since Mike Green accomplished the feat in 2009-10. Meanwhile, Carlson’s average ice time (24:47) also marked a career high.

“As a right-handed defenseman, John plays in all key situations and has contributed greatly to our team’s success on the special teams,” MacLellan added. “We are pleased for both parties to have come to an agreement and for him to continue his great career as a Washington Capital.”

With Carlson under contract, the Caps now have a little more than $13 million in cap space underneath the $79.5 million ceiling, according to Michal Kempny, Jay Beagle, Alex Chiasson and Jakub Jerabek are all unrestricted free agents, while Tom Wilson, Devante Smith-Pelly, Travis Boyd and Madison Bowey are restricted free agents.

Carlson’s also signing kicks off a big week for MacLellan.

In addition to negotiating with the free agents he hopes to retain, he’s expected to have a formal interview with associate coach Todd Reirden, who is the leading candidate to replace Barry Trotz as head coach.

So buckle up, there figure to be a few more important announcements in the coming days.


Quick Links

Interested teams have begun reaching out to John Carlson


Interested teams have begun reaching out to John Carlson

Free agency does not start until July 1, but John Carlson's agent is already taking calls from other interested teams.

The interview period began at 12 a.m. on Sunday morning, which means teams are now able to reach out to any potential free agents, but no contracts can be signed until July 1. While Brian MacLellan said Friday that a new deal with Carlson to keep him in Washington was "really close," Carlson's agent, Rick Curran, has made it clear there was no deal in place yet as of Sunday.

So does this mean Carlson now has one foot out the door?

Not necessarily.

At this point in the negotiation, Carlson has a major advantage and that advantage is time. Sunday's interview period is just another way to hold the Caps' feet to the fire. The closer we get to July 1, the more pressure the team is under to get a deal done.

But the Caps still have some leverage too.

“I love it here and all that,” Carlson said during on breakdown day. “I want to stay here, but there's more to it than that.”

By rule, as his current team, the Caps are the only team that can offer Carlson an eight-year deal.

So Carlson may have turned up the heat a few degrees on the Caps, but it's not time for fans to worry just yet.