Photo: Drew Hallowell
On Sunday night, as Nashville Predators and San Jose Sharks played Game Two of their second round series, the NHL turned the attention of hockey world elsewhere, suspending Capitals defensemen Brooks Orpik three games for his high, head-hunting hit on the Penguins’ Olli Maatta on Saturday. The suspension is the third doled out by the league’s Department of Player Safety this postseason. All have been for incidents that occurred in Capitals games, but this was the first suspension levied on Washington. Given the recklessness of the hit, the team knew this was coming.
“I’m sure everyone’s planning for him not to be in the lineup,” Daniel Winnik said at a media availability the team held here in Pittsburgh before the suspension was announced.
Orpik is one of four Caps defensemen trusted by head coach Barry Trotz to play more than 20 minutes a night and to see significant ice time when Washington is shorthanded. Now they will have to do without him for most, if not all, of the remaining games in this series.
“He plays tough and hard and honest, I think,” Marcus Johansson said of Orpik, defending his teammate. “Sometimes stuff happens, I guess.”
With Orpik out, the load on Matt Niskanen, John Carlson, and Karl Alzner will increase, with their minutes drifting into the high 20s. But the Capitals played half a regular-season without Orpik due to a lower body injury and missed him for three games during their first round series against the Flyers. Mike Weber, Washington’s eighth defensemen down the stretch, or Dmitry Orlov, recently benched by Trotz, will slot into the lineup in Orpik’s stead.
“We have a lot of good players that can go in and play,” Johansson said.
Orpik’s absence will be felt most acutely on the Capitals’ penalty kill, which has neutralized all seven of Pittsburgh’s power plays this series. The Caps’ PK is remarkable 30-for-31 in the postseason.
“Brooks is a key part of the penalty kill,” Winnik said, before noting Capitals did without Orpik for 41 games in the regular-season and their penalty kill still finished second in the league. “We’ve got guys that can fill his role.”
Russian Machine Never Breaks is not associated with the Washington Capitals; Monumental Sports, the NHL, or its properties. Not even a little bit.
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