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Dmitry Orlov is Flipping Opponents and Expectations

The young Russian blueliner will need to be more than just big hits and big shots if the Capitals want to go far this year. It looks like he already knows it.

Rob Carr/Getty Images

Dmitry Orlov is now an internet sensation.

Whether his meteoric rise to memetic fame lasts mere days or hours, his hip check on the Avalanche's Matt Duchene Tuesday night secured Orlov a place in every YouTube collection of NHL hits from now til eternity, looping ad infinitum to Drowning Pool's "Bodies."

The internet machine has already sprung to life, bestowing upon Orlov the greatest of all possible honors: memehood.

Tuesday night was a strong night all around for the 25 year-old Orlov, the Caps' newly promoted second-pairing defenseman. He recorded his first point of the season, a lovely primary assist on Alex Ovechkin's patented power play piledriver. The Capitals went 0-8 on the power play in the previous two games, and much had been made of John Carlson's inability to do the job of the Caps' power play point man effectively, which is, nearly entirely, to feed the puck cleanly to Ovechkin. On Tuesday night, Orlov did a good job loading the gun.

Orlov had an encouraging outing on defense, as well. His 18:59 time-on-ice was third highest among skaters, and in an admittedly collaborative defensive effort (in which he is playing an ever-increasing role), the Capitals held a talented young Avalanche team to a shutout with just 18 shots.

Specifically, though, I want to focus on this play Orlov made in the 3rd period. With the Caps up 2-0, Colorado's Gabriel Landeskog roars into the zone against Washington's sweet Swedish Tre Kroner line of Nicklas Backstrom, Andre Burakovsky, and Marcus Johansson and leaves a nifty little drop pass for teammate Nathan MacKinnon, drafted first overall by the Avalanche in 2013. MacKinnon immediately undresses a crashing Johansson, using his momentum against him like a judo master to deke Johansson out of his boots and out of position.

Nick Backstrom quickly closes to help, and falls victim to the exact same move.

Orlov, who is correctly positioned after having followed Landeskog into the zone and is in place to potentially disrupt a crashing Duchene (something he did earlier, hehe), quickly recognizes what is happening. He only has time to take a stride and a half towards MacKinnon before MacKinnon cocks the gun and readies a massive wrister.

Orlov acts immediately and decisively. He hits the deck to the block the shot. A top-talent forward taking an unobstructed shot from beneath the dot is the definition of a high-danger scoring chance, and Orlov takes it away the only way he can. Instead of denting the back of the net, the puck deflects harmlessly off his manflesh and off the glass of the end boards.

Here's what it looked like at full speed:

Look, no one is nominating Dmitry Orlov for a Norris Trophy. He leads all Caps defensemen in Offensive Zone Start% by a mile at 79.3%, a full +8.3% over the second-place blueliner, his own partner John Carlson. Heck, he is second on the team only to Alex Freaking Ovechkin, the Human Backcheck Amnesia. Zone Starts% is a flawed stat for assessing a player in many ways, but it does tell you a bit about how a coach perceives that player, his strengths and weaknesses, and his value. The fact that nearly 80% of the time, Trotz would rather send Orlov out after a stoppage in the attacking zone versus with his back to his own net tells you all you need to know about Orlov's role on this team. Add that to the fact that he gets PP1 time, but sips Capri Suns and eats orange slices during the penalty kill, and you've sewn up the fact that Orlov is expected to be a contributor on offense, and not a liability on defense.

But let's give credit where credit may be beginning to be due. In his increased role on the second pairing, Orlov is averaging 15.7% more TOI than last season, about +2:45 per game. With that increased opportunity, Orlov has actually improved defensively, posting (from an admittedly small sample size) a 56.3 CF% and, more interestingly, a CF rel% of 1.6, meaning that Orlov is actively making his team better when he's on the ice. Now, whether he's doing that by creating offense for the Caps or limiting offense for his opponents is open for debate, but the fact of the matter remains, Orlov is helping this Capitals team win. His CF rel% is the fourth-highest among Caps defensemen, solidly where he should be as a proper top-4 blueliner.

Orlov will be a restricted free agent after this season, and will almost certainly hope for a raise from his current $2.57 million per year. Is he worth it? Well, maybe. The biggest sticking point in this past offseason's negotiations was the size of Orlov's role, and his increased presence on the ice and on the power play seems to suggest that the Capitals are willing to give him a shot at big responsibility and its accompanying payday. Will it work?

We've got 79 more games (and hopefully, more) to figure that out.