“I was taught that the way of progress was neither swift nor easy.”
-- Marie Curie
How many defensemen over the past two years skated fewer than 3,000 minutes and recorded more than 60 points? It is a short list, five in fact. A couple of names are surprising only because of so few minutes played due to injury (John Carlson and Kris Letang), but Shayne Gostisbehere and Justin Schultz are on that list, too, a couple of solid offensive defensemen (numbers from hockey-reference.com). The fifth name on that list is Dmitry Orlov, which might be surprising in two ways. First, it is an accomplishment, given that he missed the entire 2014-2015 season (save for three games with the Hershey Bears) to injury. Second, he did it as a second or third pair defenseman who did not miss a single game over those two seasons, the only player on that list to play in all 164 regular season games.
In addition to playing in all 82 games for the second time in his five-year career with the Caps, Orlov set career highs in assists (27), points (33), plus-minus (plus-30), hits (122), blocked shots (94), and he recorded his first power play goal as a Cap. His ten-game splits, though, had a bit of an up and down quality to them. He was out of the gate a bit slowly on offense in his first ten games, posting a pair of assists. Then, he took off, going 4-19-23, plus-19 in his next 40 games. It put him in the top dozen point getters among defensemen over that span and in the top six in plus-minus. Only Dougie Hamilton in among those with more points over that span did so averaging fewer minutes per game (19:32) than Orlov (19:34).
Orlov cooled off after that, going 2-6-8, plus-9 over his last three ten-game segments and not recording a power play point after going 1-5-6 on the power play over his first 50 games. Of course, part of that might be attributed to Kevin Shattenkirk assuming a heavy power play load after being acquired by the Caps from St. Louis for the home stretch of the season.
Something Orlov might have benefitted from was an up-tempo style. It is worth noting that of the four defensemen with whom he skated at least 50 minutes at 5-on-5 this season, he was under 50 percent Corsi-for only when skating with Brooks Orpik, who is as “stay at home” as stay at home defensemen get for the Caps. Orpik was also the only one of those four defensemen whose Corsi was better apart from Orlov than with him (numbers from stats.hockeyanalysis.com).
Fearless’ Take… Getting offensive contributions from the Dmitry Orlov had their benefits this season. The Caps were 5-0-0 in games in which he recorded a goal and 23-4-2 in games in which he recorded a point. And ice time had its charms as well. Washington was 13-2-2 in games in which Orlov skated at least 21:30, but just 4-5-0 in games in which he skated 17 or fewer minutes.
Cheerless’ Take... Goals might have been one thing, but shots were another. Launching them in volume was not much of an indicator of success. The Caps were 7-4-3 in games in which Orlov recorded three or more shots on goal. They were 13-3-1 in games in which he did not record a shot on goal. And being physical didn’t help. The Caps were just 8-6-2 in games in which Orlov was credited with three or more hits.
Odd Orlov Fact… Dmitry Orlov is one of five defensemen in Caps history to skate in 82 or more games at least twice in his career. Karl Alzner (6), John Carlson (4), Calle Johansson (3), and Matt Niskanen (2) are the others.
Game to Remember… January 23rd vs. Carolina
January 23rd was a homecoming of sorts for the Caps, who were back at Verizon Center after a 2-0-1 road trip to three cities that have not been kind to them over the years – Pittsburgh (the overtime loss), St. Louis, and Dallas. Their home contest against the Carolina Hurricanes did not provide the stiffest competition, but it was their only home game before setting out on another three-game road trip. It started as if it was the “trap” game it could have been when Jordan Staal scored less than five minutes into the contest on a power play. Less than six minutes later, the Caps had their first power play of the game. In the Carolina zone, Dmitry Orlov pulled the puck from along the right wing wall back to the middle before giving it up to Nate Schmidt at the right point. Schmidt worked it down to Andre Burakovsky in the corner, and Burakovsky sent it behind the net to Evgeny Kuznetsov in the opposite corner. Kuznetsov spied Orlov at the top of the left wing circle and fed him for a one-timer that beat goalie Cam Ward cleanly on the blocker side to make it 1-1, 11:49 into the game.
Justin Williams added a goal to put the Caps up, 2-1, at the first intermission, and mid-way through the second period, Orlov struck again to give the Caps more breathing room. Burakovsky started the play by darting down the right wing wall with the puck, then reversing course. He found Brett Connolly at the opposite faceoff circle, and Connolly laid off the puck to Orlov stepping into the play. His one-timer beat a screened Ward low on the right side, and it was 3-1. The Caps would pour it on from there, taking a 6-1 decision. For Orlov, it was two goals on two shots (for good measure, he added four blocked shots at the other end). It was his first and only two-goal game of the season and his second career two-goal game, the other coming in a 5-4 overtime loss to the Philadelphia Flyers on March 2, 2014.
Game to Forget… December 1st vs. New York Islanders
The Caps opened December at home after a poor effort in Toronto against the Maple Leafs five days earlier, a 4-2 loss. The fog through which the Caps played that game followed them back home against the Islanders. The teams played to a scoreless tie through two periods, but early in the third, the Islanders struck. Casey Cizikas caught Orlov flat-footed at the red line and pushed the puck ahead to Shane Prince, who broke in on goalie Braden Holtby and beat him over his glove to give the Islanders the lead at the 3:15 mark.
On his next shift, Orlov had another good look at a goal in the wrong net. Taking a pass from John Carlson in the corner to Holtby’s left, he tried to thread a pass into the middle to Justin Williams, but it was picked off by John Tavares. Holtby did his best to stymie the scrum that ensued at the top of his crease, but Brock Nelson batted in a loose puck to make it 2-0 off Orlov’s giveaway. Orlov skated only two shifts after that in what would be a 3-0 loss.
Postseason: 13 games, 0-3-3, minus-1
Dmitry Orlov’s postseason started well enough. He had two assists in the first four games against Toronto in the opening round and ten shots on goal, while averaging more than 25 minutes per game. And then…almost nothing. Over his last nine games of the postseason he recorded just one assist and totaled 11 shots. It got worse with the passage of time, Orlov skating fewer than 20 minutes in his last six games after not skating fewer than 20 minutes in any of his first seven games. And, in one of the stranger profiles in numbers, he did not record a blocked shot in five of his last six games after being credited with 17 in his first seven games.
In the end…
Dmitry Orlov was the 20th defenseman selected in the 2012 draft and lost a full season of his development to injury. Even with that, he is tenth among defensemen in his draft class in games played (283), tenth in goals scored (20), ninth in points (93), and second in plus-minus (plus-43). The 13 games he played in the postseason, just his second trip to the playoffs, gives him just 24 career games in the postseason. He is still very much a work in progress, despite the fact that he will be 26 years old when the puck drops on the 2017-2018 season. There are still elements of his game that need work; he does, for example, remain susceptible to the ghastly turnover that results in a scoring chance, but those instances are fewer. He has shown glimpses of being a very good offensive contributor with a shot from the blue line that has to be respected. He can be a solid top-four defenseman for the Capitals for years to come, even if his progress to that role has been neither swift, nor easy.
Photo: Getty Images North America