“We playing hard, working hard, and I did two bad mistakes and it cost our game,” Dmitry Orlov said to the media after the Caps’ 3-0 loss last night.
The 25-year-old defenseman committed two turnovers (one somewhat unlucky, the other egregious) three minutes apart in the third period. Jason Chimera would later conjure a Chimiracle to close the scoring.
For Orlov, the costly mistakes continue to be The One Bad Thing in a career full of Great Things: big hits, highlight-reel goals, and top-notch possession numbers.
On Orlov’s first mistake, the defenseman was too casual after a Capitals forward won a battle and chipped a loose puck back towards him at the point. The highly-skilled Orlov tried to hold the blue line, putting the blade of his stick along the boards and moving his skates close together. The puck squeaked through, however, and as Orlov tried to regain possession of the puck at center ice, Casey Cizikas stripped him of it.
Cizikas then hit a wide-open Shane Prince for an easy breakaway goal. 1-0 Islanders.
“I just probably need to make simple play, just throw it away somewhere, not give a chance…it was my mistake,” Orlov explained to Tarik El-Bashir after the game.
Orlov’s partner, John Carlson, also did not help matters. Either because of a bad shift change or something else unknown, Carlson was standing along the far boards, unable to provide any support as the play broke down.
That’s not to say Orlov isn’t to blame, but that if Carlson was in better position, maybe the mistake would not have been so glaring.
To complicate matters, 3:28 later, a rattled Orlov attempted a no-look backhand pass towards the middle of the ice to Justin Williams. Except, wuh oh, Williams was marked closely by both John Tavares and Josh Bailey.
“I try to make a pass to the middle but their guys was there,” Orlov said to El-Bashir. “I need to make simple play and don’t try to do too much in that moment, especially in a game that was 0-0 through two periods.”
“I tried to do less mistakes [this season],” Orlov continued. “I need to [study the] play[s] again and do try to not do this anymore.”
The narrative with Orlov is that he’s a turnover machine – too aggressive in the offensive zone and too dangerous in the defensive zone. And while anecdotally that may be true at times, Orlov’s numbers suggest he’s just as consistent as the Caps three best defensive defensemen at driving play.
After leading all Capitals defenders in possession last season, Orlov continues to do well after a promotion to the top four. Washington owns 53% of the shot attempts when Orlov is on the ice and 55.3% of the goals. The Caps also have 51.7% of the scoring chances when Orlov’s on the ice, which ranks third best among the team’s defensemen.
And while last night felt like a disaster, the team’s second pairing of Orlov and Carlson has done well overall this season. The pair owns a 53.9% score-adjusted shot attempts together while Karl Alzner and Matt Niskanen, two defensemen known for their reliable play especially in the defensive zone, are 53.7% together. Carlson and Orlov have also both done worse with other defensemen when split apart (though it’s a small sample size).
Longtime hockey journalist, WNST’s Ed Francovic, believes the pairing should be donezo.
But let’s be real on the Orlov-Carlson defensive pair and I’ve said this multiple times this season: it is not working. 22 games in and #74 has 0 goals. Both of these guys like to rush the puck up the ice and create offense. To do that properly, they need a defensive partner that will hang back a bit and cover for them. Carlson has had that for the last several years, first with Karl Alzner and then with Brooks Orpik. Orlov benefitted from playing with Orpik in the latter half of last season when #44 returned from injury.
Simply put, Coach Trotz needs to make some changes on the back end. The first thing he should do is sit #9 for a game to let him watch and get his head clear. Taylor Chorney, who played extremely well last Friday against Buffalo, deserves a sweater on Saturday in Tampa.
Carlson’s lack of goals can be explained away by bad luck. The career 5.4% shooter is 0 for 54 through the first quarter of the season so far. He should have three goals by now.
Meanwhile, I don’t think that Orlov should be benched – especially for Taylor Chorney. If anything, Orlov should play more to get these bad habits out of his system. The Russian defenseman has shown an ability to learn from his mistakes and if he continues to simplify his game, he can be further relied upon in the postseason. Sure, last night was hard to watch, but in the long view, it was just a blip in what will be a long, very successful career.
“We all make mistakes,” Trotz said. “He knows when he makes a mistake. We made the mistakes. It’ll be a ‘we’ thing. Just like everybody else, sometimes they end up in the back of your net and sometimes they don’t. It’s about the ‘we’ in that one.”
Stats from Natural Stat Trick.
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