Photo: Washington Capitals
Coming into this season, veteran defenseman Brooks Orpik was still on many fans’ bad sides after a bad performance in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, despite being a solid, shutdown blueliner for the Caps. He was expected to have a reduced role with the emergence of young rearguard Dmitry Orlov, but through 30 games, the longtime NHLer has thrived.
Playing primarily on a third defense-pairing with youngster Nate Schmidt, Orpik has benefited greatly from playing with the defensively sound Schmidt. Through 30 games played, Orpik has six assists and a plus-9 rating. While he’s averaging 17:17 minutes of ice time a night, he’s become an integral part of what has proven to be an outstanding defensive unit this season.
After a catastrophic playoff performance last season, Orpik has, in many aspects, lived up to his five-year, $27.5 million deal he signed in July 2014. He’s provided exactly what the Caps hoped he would: a strong physical presence on the blueline that can help shutdown the other team and clear forwards out of goalie Braden Holtby’s goal crease. He was made an alternate captain in his first season with the Caps (a role he continues to hold) and having been a part of a Stanley Cup-winning Pittsburgh Penguins team in 2009, knows exactly what it takes to win it all.
Playing alongside Schmidt has helped Orpik improve his possession numbers as well, as he has a Corsi rating of 52.1 this season, and the Capitals are in the offensive zone 59.1% of the time he’s on the ice.
Despite less ice time, Orpik ranks second on the Caps in blocked shots, third in hits, and second in plus/minus. While having a 36-year old defenseman with a $5.5 million cap hit on the third-pairing isn’t ideal, it’s clearly benefiting both Orpik and the Caps. As an older defenseman, it may be in Orpik’s best interest health-wise, to play fewer minutes, especially after missing 40 games last season. If he can continue to play as he has been, Orpik will be an important player for the blueline come playoff-time.
By Michael Fleetwood