Thursday, June 16, 2022

Washington Capitals: 2021-2022 By the Tens -- Defensemen: Dmitry Orlov

Dmitry Orlov

“There is no short cut to achievement. Life requires thorough preparation - veneer isn't worth anything.”
-- George Washington Carver

With ten seasons, 643 regular season games (second among active Capital defensemen), and 74 career postseason games (second among active Capital defensemen), Dmitry Orlov might qualify as a “grizzled veteran.”  Not that it has been an easy path to get there.  After playing 60 games in his 2011-2012 rookie season and going 3-16-19, plus-1, he bounced up and down in his sophomore season between Washington and Hershey, playing only five games for the Caps.  Then, after coming back to play 54 games for the Caps in 2013-2014, he lost his entire 2014-2015 season to a broken wrist.

What followed that lost season has been impressive.  In seven seasons since that lost season, Orlov played in all 82 games in four consecutive seasons and has gone 51-155-206, plus-97, in 524 games, that plus-minus number being seventh-best among all NHL defensemen over that period.  And the 2021-2022 season might have been Orlov’s best of all, performed in an understated manner characterized by consistency and a reflection of experience.

Fearless’ Take… 12 goals, a career high.  35 points, a career high.  Plus-25 rating, second highest of his career (plus-30 in 2016-2017).  10 even strength goals, tied a career high (10 in 2017-2018).  Two power play goals, a career high.  Four game-winning goals, a career high.  127 shots on goal, a career high.  0.46 points pr game, a career high.  On ice for 81 goals at even strength, a career high.  Plus-24 goal differential at even strength, second best of his career.  3.54 blocked shots per 60 minutes, second best of his career.  The Caps were 10-1-0 when he scored a goal, 20-3-2 when he recorded a point.  They were 14-3-6 when he skated at least 22 minutes.  They were 12-4-0 when he posted at least three shots on goal.  9.5 percent shooting, second best of his career.  And look at the points progression on that table of tens – remarkably consistent.  It makes an argument that he was the Caps’ best all-around defenseman this season.

Cheerless’ Take… The Caps were 8-5-5 when Orlov was credited with at least three hits.  He took 22 penalties, second highest of his career and was a minus-5 in net penalties (drawn to taken); his 22 minutes taken were second-most of his career, and his minus-0.19 net penalties per 60 minutes was fourth worst of his career.

Odd Orlov Fact… Orlov was one of four defensemen in the league to post at least 10 goals, at least 35 points, a plus-minus of at least plus-25, and record a shooting percentage over nine percent.  The others were Victor Hedman, Cale Makar, and Justin Faulk.

Odd Orlov Fact II... Orlov is one of two Russian defensemen in NHL history to post at least 50 goals in his career, at least 200 points, and at least a plus-100.  The other is Sergei Zubov.

Odd Orlov Fact III… 22 defensemen in Caps history posted 15 or more career goals.  Of that group, Orlov has the second-highest percentage of game winning goals to total goals (14 GWG of 57 goals, 24.6 percent).  Only Ken Klee has a higher percentage (11 GWG of 43 goals, 25.6 percent).

Game to Remember… April 16th at Montreal.  When the Caps headed north to Montreal in mid-April for their last meeting of the 2021-2022 season, they were heading into what was, for them, friendly territory. Dating back to November 2009, the Caps had a 16-1-2 record at Bell Centre.  Compounding the situation, the Caps were playing for seeding in the playoffs while the Canadiens were on their way to finishing with the worst record in the league and the third-worst Canadiens club in team history by points percentage.  Washington scored first in the 13th minute of the game on a goal by Nic Dowd, redirecting a shot by Orlov from the top of the offensive zone.  Montreal tied the game less than two minutes into the second period, but the Caps regained the lead at the 8:03 mark when Anthon Mantha got on the board, this time with Orlov providing the secondary assist. 

The Caps pulled out to a 4-2 lead through two periods, but the Canadiens made things interesting with a goal less than three minutes into the third period to pull within a goal.  Garnet Hathaway scored less than a minute after that Montreal goal, and just over a minute later, Orlov ended the competitive portion of the evening when he outdueled a Canadien defender for control of the puck in the right wing corner, skated up the wall and circled out to the middle of the ice where he snapped a shot that beat goalie Sam Montembeault to make it a 6-3 game.  Orlov earned his third assist and fourth point of the game five minutes later when he set up Justin Schultz in the left wing circle for a shot that deflected of the stick of defender David Savard to make it 7-3.  The Caps went on to win, 8-4.  For Orlov, it was his first career four-point game.

Game to Forget… March 18th at Carolina.  It is not often that a game to forget comes in a win, but when a team wins in spite of a poor performance by a key player, you might want to just forget it.  Such was the case when the Caps visited Carolina in mid-March.  Carolina scored first, but the Caps came back with a pair of goals to take a 2-1 lead.  The Hurricanes then scored a pair of their own to take a 3-2 lead through two period.  Washington tied the game on a power play goal by Alex Ovechkin with just over five minutes left in regulation to force overtime.  After a scoreless extra frame, the teams went to the freestyle competition where Ovechkin won it in the third round on the only goal scored by either team.  Although the Caps won, 4-3, Orlov had what was, for him, an off night.  He was on ice for all three Carolina goals, and despite four shots on goal and five shot attempts, he failed to record a point.  It was his only road game all season in which he posted three or more shots and finished with a minus-rating.

Postseason… The 2022 postseason might have been Orlov’s worst in seven trips to the playoffs.  He had one point (an assist) in the six-game opening round loss to Florida,and while he did preserve his record of having recorded at least one point in each of his seven trips to the postseason, he finished a career-worst minus-4 and managed only three shots on goal, a career low for a postseason.

Looking Ahead… Orlov will enter 2022-2023 in the walk year of a contract that carries a $5.1 million salary cap hit, after which he will be an unrestricted free agent.  Of 12 defensemen age 27-35 (Orlov will be 31 on Opening Night next season) with salary cap hits between $4.5 and $5.5 million, Orlov finished second in goals last season, fifth in points and points per game, first in shooting percentage, sixth in ice time per game and third in plus-minus rating.  Will a duplicate performance merit a raise?  Probably.  But more important, at least a duplicate performance will likely be necessary to the Caps to reach the postseason, and he will have to improve his performance in the postseason for the Caps to have a chance for a deep run.

In the End…

Dmitry Orlov has quietly established himself among the post productive and best two-way defensemen in Capitals history.  That he would have a career year in his productive prime seems unsurprising in that context.  He labors under the shadow of the gaudier offensive numbers of John Carlson, which leads him to being somewhat underappreciated.  Nevertheless, Orlov is an extremely valuable commodity that the Caps are likely to make every effort to retain when his contract expires after next season.

Grade: A-

Washington Capitals: 2021-2022 By the Tens -- Defensemen: Michal Kempny

Michal Kempny

“For all sad words of tongue and pen, the saddest are these, 'It might have been'.”
-- John Greenleaf Whittier

Michal Kempny, an under-utilized defenseman with modest numbers playing for the Chicago Blackhawks, was arguably the last, not to mention surprising piece of the puzzle on defense tor the Capitals in 2018 when he was traded by the Blackhawks for a conditional third round draft pick.  Kempny helped stabilize the defensive pairs, the Caps went 15-7-0 with Kempny to finish the regular season, and the Caps went on to win the Stanley Cup.  Kempny appeared to have a bright future with the Caps.

Kempny had a pair of solid seasons after that, going 6-19-25, plus-24, in 71 games in 2018-2019 and then going 3-15-18, plus-19, in 58 regular season games in 2019-2020, but it was the last of the 71 regular season games in 2018-2019 when the promise of a prominent role blew up in the form of a torn hamstring suffered when he fell awkwardly in a dust-up with Cedric Paquette of the Tampa Bay Lightning. 

It would be the first of three serious injuries, all to his left leg.  He returned from his original injury to have a solid 2019-2020 season, despite a late start to the season (he missed the first eight games of the season), but he sustained a torn Achilles tendon in the same left leg in the 2020 off-season, and then in another freak injury, his left leg was injured when he was clipped by an ice shoveler during a stoppage of play in a game when he was skating for the Hershey Bears.  He missed the entire 2020-2021 season for the Caps and managed just two games played with the Bears after a lengthy rehabilitation before suffering the last of his injuries.

His 2021-2022 season started with his being placed on waivers, the club hoping he would clear so he could be assigned to Hershey.  He did clear waivers and skated 24 games with the Bears.  He did return to the Caps, but played only intermittently and was limited to 15 games overall.

Fearless’ Take… There just aren’t enough games on his resume for this season from which one could mine the positive elements of his performance.  The Caps were 2-1-0 in the three games in which he skated more than 20 minutes, they won both games in which he posted points, they won both games in which he recorded four hits.  But there just isn’t a lot of meat on the bone here.

Cheerless’ Take… His presence in the lineup was not a plus.  The Caps were 6-8-1 in the 15 games in which he played.  He had a plus rating in only three games, none of them better than plus-1.  His 45.4 percent shot attempts on ice at 5-on-5 was worst among the Caps’ defensemen appearing in at least 15 games.

Odd Kempny Fact… His minus-3 rating was the first time in five NHL seasons that he finished in minus territory.

Odd Kempny Fact II… Two Capitals dressed for more than one game this season and compiled more penalty minutes than games played – Tom Wilson (98 minutes in 78 games) and Michal Kempny (16 minutes in 15 games).

Odd Kempny Fact III… Kempny and turnovers did not mix.  His 1.51 giveaways per 60 minutes were the fewest in his career, as were the 0.25 takeaways per 60 for which he was credited this season.

Game to Remember… February 17th at Philadelphia.  As much as if might be the case when visiting any opponent, when an opponent visits Philadelphia, one thing they want to do is take the crowd out of the game.  In their first visit to Wells Fargo Center in 2021-2022, the Caps did just that.  It took a while, but with less than two minutes to go in the first period, the Caps seized the lead.  Nic Dowd got the play started by entering the Flyers’ zone with speed down the left side.  It was the first thrust in what would become a sequence in which the Caps pinned the Flyers in deep with puck movement and retrieval.  The puck made its way back to Dowd in the left wing circle, and he fed it high to Kempny just inside the Flyers’ blue line.  Kempny stepped up and fired, his shot sailing through a clot of players in the shooting lane, beating goalie Martin Jones on the blocker side to give the Caps a 1-0 lead.  While the Flyers would take a brief 3-2 lead with less than five minutes left in regulation, the Caps would tie the game less than a minute after the Flyers took the lead, added a goal with just over a minute in regulation, and then tacked on an empty net goal with 49 seconds left to win, going away, 5-3.

For Kempny, his goal was his first – and only – goal of the season, making up for a penalty he took less than two minutes into the game that could have put the Caps in an early hole.  He would be penalized a second time later in the game, his four penalty minutes tying his season high.  He did record six shot attempts, two on goal, and logged 16:49 in ice time with one credited hit in what might have been his most event-filled game of the season.

Game to Forget… March 25th at Buffalo.  This was another one of those 11 forwards/seven defensemen games that makes player rotation and combinations a movable adventure, and what that often means for the defense is that one player is left standing when the other six chairs are filled.  Michal Kempny was that odd man out in this game, skating only five shifts and logging just 3:17 in ice time.  He did not skate a shift over the last 34 minutes (29 minutes of regulation and the five minute overtime) in the Caps' 4-3 Gimmick win, which made it unsurprising that he did not have a crooked mark on his line of the score sheet save for a penalty he took late in the first period.  It was his low ice time mark for the season.

Postseason… Kempny did not suit up for any game in the postseason.

Looking Ahead… Kempny is entering the free agent market as a player who will be 32 years old on Opening Night and having played just 15 games over the last two seasons.  For a team looking to get younger and with players in the pipeline such as Alex Alexeyev and Lucas Johansen who seem ready to at least challenge for a roster spot, the cards are stacked against Kempny’s return to the Caps, even if he was to accept a pay cut from the $2.5 million he earned per season on his just expired contract.

In the End… It hardly seems fair – in fact, overkill, given the sequential nature of his injuries – that what should have been Michal Kempny’s prime production years and perhaps his role as a top-pair defender were stolen by those injuries.  He is now an unrestricted free agent, and his career with the Caps is possibly, if not likely, at an end.  His future is uncertain.  He has shown that he has, or at least had, the potential to be an effective two-way defender.  But whether his injuries have robbed him of speed and/or maneuverability is an open question, one that will determine if he can find a home for the 2022-2023 season.

Grade: C+