WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 03: Dmitry Orlov #81 of the Washington Capitals and Tom Kostopoulos #16 of the Calgary Flames battle for the puck against the boards during a game at Verizon Center on January 3, 2012 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Patrick McDermott/Getty Images)
Dmitry Orlov has now played in 26 games for the Washington Capitals and the early returns have been positive. Ever since he was taken in the second round of the 2009 draft Caps fans have heard about a defenseman that is dynamic with the puck but an adventure in his own end. Despite this defensive reputation, Orlov has held his own for the most part and doesn't look like he'll be again wearing a Hershey Bears jersey any time soon. However, he still shows signs of how raw he is defensively (as recently as last night against the Islanders), and how much work still needs to be done. Last week against the Pittsburgh Penguins Orlov showed how slim the margin for error is in the NHL and it cost the Caps an extended shift pinned in their own end by the Penguins' fourth line. After the jump, let's take a look at what went wrong.
Just under three minutes into the second period the Caps and the Pens both put their fourth lines on the ice. What follows is an exercise in dominance by the Pens' fourth line. Take a look at the video:
Orlov catches a bit of a tough break on the initial zone entry. The puck looks to be going to Evgeni Malkin and Orlov is correctly trying to close the gap to pressure Malkin when he gets the puck. But the puck gets by Malkin and Orlov isn't able to intercept it so Tomas Vokoun collects it and tries to help set up the controlled break out. Malkin and James Neal are on the ice to start this video, but they quickly go for a change. However, before he leaves the ice, Malkin puts token pressure on the Caps' defensive pair. That token pressure causes Orlov to force a quick pass back to John Carlson.
Orlov doesn't take his time and make an accurate pass, he puts the puck into Carlson's skates and makes it much more difficult for Carlson to corral the puck. This gives Malkin the chance to put on a bit more of a forecheck. He's still at the end of the shift so he's not going to pressure too hard, but he hassles Carlson enough to give the forwards coming on the ice time to set up the forecheck.
After Malkin skates away Carlson passes back to Orlov, but you can see that the Penguins already have a forechecker below the faceoff dot. Still, Orlov has plenty of space for an NHL player and should easily be able to put a crisp pass right onto Carlson's tape from that distance and angle. Instead, Orlov holds the puck until the forecheck is on him and then spins away. While a talented maneuver (and it was), the delay gives the Penguins even more time to get their forecheck set up and Orlov ends up skating into pressure from two forecheckers along the boards.
The Caps have a lot of support in the area so it's still a pretty controlled situation from a defensive standpoint. Orlov has Mathieu Perreault just to his left, and a little pass to Perreault would open up the middle of the ice and allow the Caps to set up their neutral zone attack (not to mention put the puck on the stick of the best stickhandler the Caps had on the ice). Rather than pass to Perreault, Orlov pushes the puck up the boards. The Penguins intercept the pass and regroup to attack the Caps' zone immediately. The Caps end up getting another clear but the Pens D again picks up the loose puck and helps break the puck back into the zone. The puck ends up in the far corner and Orlov is in a puck battle with the first forechecker.
Orlov had good position but couldn't win the battle quickly and cleanly. The second Penguin in picks the puck loose and moves it up the boards. Orlov picks up a spot in front of the net with his man down behind the goal line. When the Penguins cycle the puck down the boards Orlov takes an angle to approach the backside of his man, and, after switching men with Carlson, ends up chasing for the rest of the shift.
By the time the Penguins move the puck up to the half-wall Orlov is a couple steps behind his man and allows the Penguins to get full control of the puck. The Penguins send the puck down low and the cycle is on. Carlson first loses his battle and then Perreault is shrugged off in the corner by his man. Perreault's man drives the net and we see another mental mistake by Orlov.
Orlov has chased his man behind the net and left the entire front open. A lot of coaches don't even want defensemen chasing the man with the puck behind the net, so it's an incredibly bad idea to chase a man without the puck behind the net. The front of the net is wide open and we can see that after Perreault is beaten the Pens have a fourth liner skating to the front of the net like he's Mario Lemieux. Vokoun makes the save and a scramble ensues, but Orlov lets his guard down again and the Caps surrender one last great chance to the fourth line.
Orlov relaxes for a split second after his little cross check jousting match and loses position on his man. The Pens were very close to a tap in opportunity from the top of the crease. Orlov gets in a lift check at the last second and the Caps finally get a clear and a change, but that's a risky position to be in for Orlov. Some of this can be chalked up to the speed difference between the NHL and the AHL and KHL. In the lower two leagues talented players with good mobility can get away with hesitation or coasting, but in the NHL the speed of the game is so fast that if you stop moving your feet or let your man go for an instant, you could be on the wrong end of a great scoring chance.
This isn't meant to cherry-pick a bad shift and pile on the kid - lord knows we could run a similar post on every Caps blueliner. But it is meant as a reminder that, while Orlov has a lot of promise and is going to be a good defenseman in the NHL sooner rather than later, he still makes mental mistakes that NHL blueliners cannot afford to make if they are going to handle big minutes. The Pens' fourth line had two grade-A chances on this shift. If they were guys that could regularly create grade-A chances, they wouldn't be fourth liners... and if it was a higher line with those chances, it's more likely that they convert. Orlov's got talent, but he's still got a lot of work to do.