“He’s not like a wood man.” – Evgeny Kuznetsov, on Brooks Orpik, from his article in The Players’ Tribune
No, Brooks Orpik is not a wood man. #44, just three contests back into the lineup after missing 40 games, helped set up the game tying goal and then scored the game winner through traffic on Cory Schneider (28 saves) to give the Washington Capitals a come from behind, 4-3, victory over a hard working Devils squad.
Orpik, who’s been paired with Russian defensemen Dmitry Orlov since he’s returned, took another awesome Kuznetsov feed and alertly fired it on net. With Alex Ovechkin and a host of Devils in front, Schneider never saw it and it hit him in the shoulder and into the top corner of the cage with 3:58 remaining.
From there the Capitals gave the Devils nothing. In fact, after the Devils took the lead with 8:56 left they had only four shot attempts (two on net) the rest of the way.
Washington was very streaky in this contest. In the first period they played the wrong way with careless cross ice turnovers that led to several New Jersey quality chances. Coach Barry Trotz was not happy with that first frame and stated afterwards that the Capitals gave up eight or nine scoring chances, which was more than the Islanders had in the whole game on Thursday in Brooklyn.
Braden Holtby (21 saves) was strong early, stopping two Devils breakaways as well as the first six shots of the game, which all came from New Jersey. But #70 struggled a bit after that giving up questionable tallies on goals two and three. On both of the first Devils goals the Caps skaters looked like orange road cones and didn’t help their goaltender out. On the third one, it was from long range, but it might have deflected partially off of a Capitals stick. Still, Braden would tell you he must have those, especially in the last 10 minutes.
For the second straight contest the Capitals destroyed the opponent in terms of shots and possession in the middle frame. The Caps out shot the Devils 12-4 and scored the only goal, a Kuznetsov tally, after some great work by Michael Latta and Brooks Laich. Washington was physical and they were getting the pucks down below the goal line on New Jersey and that’s the heavy hockey style that Coach Trotz wants because the Caps are so good at that type of play. In fact, when they play that way, they are unbeatable.
With the score 2-2 heading into the third period, you’d think the Caps would continue that roll, and for the most part they did as New Jersey had only six shots on goal. When Holtby let in the softie, though, his teammates responded, to quote the great Nuke Laloosh, by “announcing their presence with authority” the remainder of the game. The heavy hockey style was amped up and Washington just manhandled a tired Devils club, who had lost to the Islanders at home the night before, over the last 8:56.
Orpik and Orlov were the stars on the backend as they continually made plays at the blueline and on the wall to keep pucks in the offensive zone. They were simply outstanding and earned their +4 individual totals on Saturday night.
Other Capitals were stellar, as well, including Ovechkin (38th goal and an assist), T.J. Oshie (17th goal), Kuznetsov (17th goal and 43rd assist), and Mike Richards. Yes, that’s fourth liner and 0 points in 14 games, Mike Richards. But there is more to the game than points and #10’s last two games have been his best. He’s winning key draws while controlling the play with his great stick and hockey sense. He’s also been very close to getting a point with his effort and strong positioning. This guy was a great pickup and he will keep getting better and the points will come, eventually. The organization has to be really happy with what they’ve seen from him so far, especially his “team first” mentality.
Orpik, or “Batya” as Kuznetsov and Andre Burakovsky call him, is another “team first” guy. He means so much to this club on the ice with his physical play, and he rocked several Devils players in this one, and off the ice with his leadership. Guys like Orpik, Richards, and Justin Williams are super leaders and respected voices in the room. They’ve won six Stanley Cups between them for a reason.
This victory gives the Capitals another three game winning streak and they are 43-10-4 overall (90 points). I don’t even look at the standings or reference them anymore because Washington is so far ahead of the league. They will win the Metropolitan Division, the Eastern Conference, and the Presidents’ Trophy. But who cares, right?
Every Capitals fan has heard this from other fan bases all season, and, at times, even from within the fan base, “The Caps have 0 Stanley Cups.”
Yes, we all get it. If Taylor Swift was a Caps fan (and who knows, she could be?), she’d probably respond with “Why you gotta be so mean?”
But, in reality, there is nothing anyone can do to shut them up right now. You can say this team is different, and I believe it is because of the quality acquisitions GM Brian MacLellan has made along with the outstanding coaching staff, led by Trotz. However, until they run the gauntlet in April, May, and June and deliver that silver beauty of a trophy, all you can do is just enjoy the show and focus on the process they are going through.
It’s all about building their game up to deliver when the good weather arrives. This team finally has the players to do it and the blue print is there from the best coaching staff this organization has ever had. Now they just need to stay healthy and be focused.
Notes: Hat tip to referees Kelly Sutherland and Wes McCauley on their job of officiating this one. It’s among the best zebra performances I’ve seen all season…the Caps were 0 for 3 on the power play while the Devils went 0 for 1…John Carlson led the Caps in ice time with 21:33, but Oprik had 21:02…Matt Niskanen and Karl Alzner were -3 in this one. It was not one of their better nights, but those two, like Holtby, have carried this club on many other occasions, so they get a pass…Kuznetsov was +3…Nate Schmidt was the low blueliner in terms of ice time, but he still played 15:02. Great balance of ice time on the backend again by Coach Trotz and assistant coach Todd Rierden…the Devils won the face off battle, 29-24…Tom Wilson, who was also very good in this game, had eight hits while Orpik had five…Ovechkin had six shots on net, almost all from in close, which is a good thing. Schneider robbed him a couple of times…next up are the pesky Arizona Coyotes on Monday night at 7 pm at the Verizon Center.