“’Comeback’ is a good word, man.”
-- Mickey Rourke
On April 13, 2014, Dmitry Orlov skated more than 23 minutes in a game against the Tampa Bay Lightning, the finale of the 2013-2014 regular season. He finished with one shot on goal and no points. The no points thing was not limited to his performance. No one on either team had one, the Lightning winning the contest, 1-0, in a shootout in what was the last Capitals game of the season.
It would be the last NHL game Orlov would play for 545 days, owing to a broken wrist and a recovery that was agonizingly long and resistant to progress. But when Orlov took the ice on October 10th on Opening Night against the New Jersey Devils, he embarked on a season that would have him appear in all 82 regular season games for the first time in his career, one of seven Capitals to do so.
As one might expect for a player appearing in every game for the first time in his career, Orlov set personal career highs in goals (8), assists (21), points (29), plus-minus (plus-8), penalty minutes (26), credited hits (121), and shots on goal (198). The odd part of his season, though, was that of his three full NHL seasons, it was in this one in which he recorded his lowest average ice time (16:02). Orlov also took his place as a leader in offensive production, tying for the team lead in goals among defensemen (with John Carlson), finishing third in assists and points (behind Carlson and Matt Niskanen), tying for second in game-winning goals (three, with Niskanen), and finishing third in shots on goal (also behind Carlson and Niskanen).
Fearless’ Take… On a club with as many assets on defense as the Caps have, it is easy to overlook what Orlov has accomplished at such a young age, even with an entire season lost to injury. He is the 13th defenseman in the history of the franchise to record at least 60 career points before his 25th birthday, and the list includes quite a number of well thought of members of the Caps’ fraternity: Scott Stevens, Kevin Hatcher, Mike Green, Sergei Gonchar, Calle Johansson, Larry Murphy, and John Carlson among them.
Cheerless’ Take… Minutes were not particularly kind to Orlov in the offensive end of the rink. He skated more than 21 minutes nine times in the 82 games in which he appeared and in them went 1-0-1, minus-1. The one goal came on a total of 19 shots. And, he stumbled rather hard in the last stages of the season, going minus-8 in his last ten-game segment (12 games in all), while managing just two points, tied for his lowest ten-game segment output for the season.
Odd Orlov Fact… The Caps won 18 of 24 games in which Orlov did not record a shot on goal (.750 winning percentage), but only 38 of 58 games in which he did record at least one shot (.655 winning percentage).
Game to Remember… November 21st versus Colorado
After an 8-2-0 start in October, the Caps were stumbling a bit in November, going 4-3-1 leading up to their contest against the Colorado Avalanche on the weekend before Thanksgiving. The Avs were doing something of a two-step over their previous ten games, a pair of losses followed by a win, then another pair of losses, three wins, and two losses before visiting Verizon Center. The Caps got out to a 4-0 lead in the first period, but Colorado halved the deficit in the second period. Evgeny Kuznetsov put the Caps up by three on a power play in the seventh minute of the third period, then Dmitry Orlov scored one of the strangest goals in recent memory…
A curl and drag through the legs and a snap shot from close in was pretty enough, but when everyone in the building, save one, thought that the puck was hung up somewhere in goalie Calvin Pickard’s gear, Orlov – the lone soul who seemed to know where the puck was – skated out from behind the goal line on the opposite side of the Colorado net and snapped the biscuit past Pickard’s blocker before he realized just what had happened. It was Orlov’s first goal of the season, one in which he set a career best in that category.
Game to Forget… April 7th versus Pittsburgh
The Caps were not exactly sprinting to the finish line in the last week of the regular season. Since shutting out the New Jersey Devils, 1-0, in overtime on March 25th, they were 2-2-2 heading into their last regular season meeting of the season against the Pittsburgh Penguins. It did not begin well for either the Caps in general or Orlov in particular. Pittsburgh scored three goals in the first 9:03 of the game, Orlov on the ice for two of them. The second of them, Pittsburgh’s third of the game, featured some lackadaisical defense by Orlov, who waved unenthusiastically at the puck as Tom Sestito was entering the zone. After Sestito fed the puck across to Oskar Sundqvist, who relayed it to Conor Sheary for the goal, Orlov was gliding back into the play with less urgency than what was now a 3-on-2 advantage would have suggested. Orlov saw the ice for just six more shifts in that game, finishing a minus-2 in just 10:42 of ice time.
Postseason: 11 games, 0-1-1, even, 53.45 percent Corsi-for at 5-on-5, plus-1.41 CF%/Relative at 5-on-5
Dmitry Orlov may one day be a very good offensive defenseman. He had a career year in the regular season, but in his first career postseason action, his offense was nowhere to be found. His lone point was a secondary assist on the Caps’ last score in a 6-1 Game 3 win over the Philadelphia Flyers in the first round. He did not record his first shot on goal in the postseason until Game 4 of that opening round series, and he managed only five shots on goal in 146 minutes of playing time over 11 games. Three of those shots on goal came in Game 5 against the Flyers, a 2-0 Philadelphia win. He recorded only one shot on goal in his last six postseason games. If there was a silver lining, Orlov was on ice for only two goals against in the 11 games in which he dressed, fewest on the club among defensemen dressing in more than two games.
In the end…
Given that Dmitry Orlov missed an entire season of his development to injury, his season was something of a pleasant surprise. He appeared in all 82 regular season games, one of three Caps defensemen to do so. He tied for the team lead in goal scoring among defensemen, finished third among defensemen in assists and points. He had the best ratio of credited takeaways to giveaways among the blueliners (0.90-to-1). His offensive output exceed his combined total of goals over his first three seasons with the Caps covering 119 games, and his assists and total points almost matched the combined totals of those three seasons. In that sense, the 2015-2016 season was quite a comeback for the young defenseman, and it might give Caps fans hope that his contributions will improve even more as he continues in the developmental phase of his young NHL career.
Photo: Maddie Meyer/Getty Images North America