Game Two was unsuccessful to say the least. The Capitals struggled through two periods of play, committed penalty after penalty in the second (though maybe some were undeserved), and lost the game off the stick of an old ally turned foe. So, let’s engage in the oldest pastime known to sports: assigning blame.
John Carlson, Brooks Orpik and Tom Wilson have all been on the ice for long shifts. The puck is being worked in the corner and as the puck comes up the wall, Wilson (who does this often, a lot of the wingers do) pushes the puck back in toward the corner. As the puck is brought behind the net, both Orpik and Evgeny Kuznetsov stay with Phil Kessel in the corner at first. This leaves Carl Hagelin, who was covering at the point for Ian Cole, briefly, a clear path to the front of the net for the one-timer.
Blame: Some might say Orpik should have been trying to get back to the front of the net at all costs. I disagree. Fundamentals would say that, but in these situations the Caps match up to a guy, and he is in the best position to be matched up on Kessel, he certainly isn’t in good position to get back to the front of the net. Evgeny Kuznetsov was the lowest man in best position to get back to the front of the net, but even he doesn’t have the best view to catch Hagelin cutting in from the point position.
Though blame could be put in part on either of those players, I think the most blame should go to Tom Wilson. Firstly, he could have buried the puck in his skates and tried to work his big body up the wall to get it out. Instead, he pushed it back into an area where the Caps did not have the best positioning to retrieve. Secondly, he had the best view of Hagelin cutting in from the point, the position he is supposed to be covering.
The Caps switch in the defensive zone a lot when things like this happen (look at the GWG and Backstrom covering the point), and Wilson did not go with Hagelin. Wilson was tired, he probably wouldn’t have gotten there anyway, but I find it hard to blame someone else, who was battling in the corner, for not seeing a guy cutting in from the point.
After the Eric Fehr centering pass was broken up and the puck ended up on the side boards, Malkin wins the race to the loose puck. He throws a bit of a prayer toward net front, where Fehr gets a backhand tip to beat Braden Holtby high glove. Holtby may have over-pushed here a bit, as he assumes the puck is headed back-door, but he has to protect against that.
Blame: I would have liked if Alex Ovechkin had stayed with Malkin all the way across the ice, especially since he is the left winger and could have switched back to his normal defensive position easily after following Malkin to the half-wall. While Ovechkin has made great strides defensively, I still don’t want him covering Malkin for any extended period low in the defensive zone, so I understand Ovechkin passing Malkin off here. It took Carlson a second to recognize this, which slows his ability to get across to Malkin. TJ Oshie could have come down from covering the point to try for the loose puck, and I thought he might have had a chance at it.
While Orpik escaped blame on the first goal of the game, he doesn’t here. After shoving Fehr into the boards after his centering pass, there is really no excuse in allowing him to get back to the net front without at least tying up his stick. Fehr beats him there and gets just enough of the puck.
Lastly, let’s take a look at the Orpik hit on Olli Maatta.
The Department of Player Safety looks at a few factors when deciding on supplemental discipline on a headshot.
#1 – Was there an injury on the play?
#2 – Was the head the principle point of contact?
#3 – Did the offending player launch into the hit?
Not really. Usually they are looking for an extension of the arms prior to contact or upward movement of the body. Neither of those really occurred.
#4 – Did the player receiving the hit do anything concurrent with or just prior to the contact to put himself in a worse position to receive the hit?
Also yes. The act of Maatta stopping and turning toward Orpik made the hit go from a simple late interference to the shoulder to a dangerous hit to the head.
Orpik deserves the most blame on this hit. He absolutely committed interference, and when you hit someone this late, it has the ability to turn dangerous. He most likely thought the puck was still there, and I do not doubt that as he is a clean player, but that alone will not absolve him from punishment.
The fact that this hit was so late, the DOPS may elect to ignore Maatta’s turn into the hit citing the recklessness of the hit overall, but that is not guaranteed. Orpik is not a repeat offender. Orpik did not launch, but the principle point of contact was the head and an injury, a head one at that, did occur on the play. Orpik should and will be suspended, though I think it may be less time than people expect.
If you have a different take on a goal or the Orpik hit, leave it in the comments.
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