Photo: NBC Sports Washington
After a career-year and playing a key role in the Washington Capitals‘ Stanley Cup victory in 2017-18, defenseman Dmitry Orlov had a down year by his standards this past season. If the Capitals are going to be among the top Stanley Cup contenders once again next season, that will have to change.
Despite playing an average of 21:38 worth of ice-time per game, the third-most on the Capitals, the 27-year old saw his goal production decrease from 10 in 2017-18 to only three this past season. Two of them came in one game, a 5-2 win over the Minnesota Wild on November 13. Though, his assist totals increased from 21 last season to 26 this past year. Despite ending the season with a +3 rating, that was Orlov’s lowest since 2013-14 when the Capitals missed the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Orlov posted a -1 rating that year when he only appeared in 54 games.
Despite appearing in all 82 games for the fourth consecutive season this past year, Orlov was not up to par defensively. While his hit total went up from 128 in 2017-18 to 137 this past season, Orlov’s blocked shot total decreased from 116 to 103 and his turnover total went up from 51 two seasons ago to 80 in 2018-19. His takeaway numbers were very similar as his 53 takeaways from this past year were only one less from his total in 2017-18.
His average ice-time per game at even-strength, the power-play, and the penalty-kill all went down by at least 21 seconds each from two seasons ago to last, though the Capitals were deeper defensively this past year than they were two seasons ago so they could spread ice-time out more evenly last season than the one before.
Orlov’s shooting percentage also dipped significantly in 2018-19 as it went down to 3% from 8% in 2017-18.
The decrease in play that we saw from Orlov this past year was odd, especially since his defensive partner, Matt Niskanen, missed only two games after he sat out 14 games in 2017-18 due to a lower-body injury. Orlov also did not have the burden of being leaned on as a mentor in 2018-19 unlike the year prior when the Capitals had two rookies on the blueline in their lineup for the first four months of the season.
Despite getting more responsibility in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, Orlov only recorded a -2 rating, four blocked shots, 15 hits, and four takeaways. He was not trusted as much on the penalty kill than he was in the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs as his shorthanded ice-time average decreased from 1:31 per game in 2018 to 0:34 this past year.
It is important to note that the coaching change during the offseason last year may have impacted to the decline of Orlov and the Capitals’ defense, which gave up an average of 3.02 goals-per-game this past year after yielding an average of 2.90 the season before.
With Niskanen potentially on the move in the coming weeks as the Capitals look to get some much-needed salary cap space, Orlov could have a new defensive partner next season. While Nick Jensen, who was acquired by the Capitals from the Detroit Red Wings prior to the NHL Trade Deadline in February, is likely to be that partner, Orlov will likely be expected to play in a mentoring role once again as the Capitals could a rookie on the backend if Niskanen is dealt. However, he does have experience in that role as he was paired with Madison Bowey, who was sent to the Red Wings in the Jensen deal, at the beginning of the 2017-18 season when Niskanen missed time due to injury.
If the Capitals hope to remain among the league’s top Stanley Cup contenders next season, Orlov will have to play a big part of that after struggling this past year. A year with a new defensive coach under his belt should help him get back to the level he was in 2017-18. Orlov could also have a new defensive partner next season, though he already has some experience under that circumstance, and a bigger leadership role with defenseman Brooks Orpik likely retiring this offseason. After seeing the way that Orlov played in the previous two seasons, we all know that he certainly has the potential to be what the Capitals need him to next season. And after signing a big six-year contract worth $30.6 million ($5.1 million AAV) two years ago, he is definitely expected by his team to fulfill that.
By Harrison Brown