Photo: Christian Petersen
Reading a recent Adam Vingan piece on Brooks Orpik made me reflect on how hard I’ve been on the Caps defender. Maybe I haven’t been completely fair. Don’t get me wrong: I stand by what I’ve written on Orpik. But there are also positive things I can and should say about him.
I want Orpik to succeed. I’m a Caps fan, and I root for Caps players to do well. On top of that, I also try to be a decent person, so I avoid wishing failure upon fellow persons.
By all accounts, Orpik is a great teammate and obviously respected by his peers, as evidenced by being appointed an alternate captain in Washington upon his arrival. His commitment to nutrition and fitness are admirable and probably unmatched by most of his peers.
Criticisms of Orpik’s contract are not necessarily a criticism of Orpik. There’s no sense in blaming him for getting the best contract he could. The responsibility for the terrible contract falls on Caps’ management alone. He’s also not to blame for continuing to be deployed in situations in which he’s been unable to thrive. That blame belongs to the Caps’ coaching staff.
Last week against New Jersey, Orpik led all Caps in on-ice shot attempt differential with a plus-5. He had a great night, and I want to explore it.
While I’ve been encouraged by the Caps early season PK, I’ve been critical of Orpik getting first unit PK time. Against NJ, I thought he did some things really well while the Caps were down a man.
Orpik is the guy down on all fours in front of the net. Mike Cammalleri has the puck below the goal line. To the far left of the screen you see Devils’ defenseman Marek Zidlicky. Zidlicky had started to creep down for a backdoor play (the kind of goals Sergei Gonchar made a living off of when in a Caps uniform). Orpik denied this opportunity before it could develop any further by getting his stick and body in the passing lane. Thanks to Orpik’s positioning, any pass that would elude him would almost certainly be within the reach of Joel Ward.
Later in the first period, Stephen Gionta rumbled out of the Devils’ zone with a full head of steam. As he crossed center ice, I thought the Caps were in trouble, even though we had a defender (Orpik) at the blue line and a backchecker (Burakovsky) in pursuit. Gionta was flying up the ice and seemed to the angle on Burakovsky and the speed on Orpik to blaze into the zone down the wing.
I was wrong. Relax, y’all, Brooks Orpik has got this.
He took a perfect angle to cut off the speedy Gionta, forcing a dump-in that resulted in the Devils accumulating zero shot attempts during this trip into the zone. Forcing an opponent intent on carrying the puck to instead dump it is a good thing in terms of limiting their shot attempts.
This is not a retraction of the negative things I’ve said about Orpik. He’s been the worst shutdown defender in the NHL this season. But neither his deployments nor his contract are his fault, and there are certainly positives that he brings to the Caps. He can makes some darn good plays at times.
While we and the Caps are stuck with the contract, I hope that Barry Trotz and his coaching staff begin to put Orpik in situations where he can succeed more than he has so far.
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