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The Turnaround of Dmitry Orlov

Orlov’s underlying numbers have improved drastically since being removed from a pair with Matt Niskanen

Washington Capitals v Dallas Stars Photo by Glenn James/NHLI via Getty Images

In our season preview podcast, we identified a couple of key players to watch going into the year. Although expectations for offensive production were low, one of the players selected as being a key player for the Caps this season was defender Dmitry Orlov.

The rationale in picking Orlov was simple: his pairing with Matt Niskanen was crucial during the Caps’ cup run, as they ate up some of the toughest minutes against opponents’ best players, and performed well doing so. Last year, however, the duo struggled; Orlov’s Rink Wrap for the season offered up some potential reasons why:

Although Orlov’s season was a bit of a downer, his possession stats away from Matt Niskanen indicate a player who was dragged down a bit by his defensive partner. In the 363 even strength minutes Orlov played apart from Niskanen, Orlov had a positive Corsi for percentage of 50.07% (compared to 48.12% with) and a goals for percentage of 58.14% (compared to just 43.82% (!!) with Niskanen).

GM Brian MacLellan appeared to agree, as he traded Niskanen this summer for Radko Gudas. Yet it wasn’t initially clear who Dmitry Orlov was going to play with after the Niskanen trade, as he skated with both Radko Gudas and Nick Jensen during the pre-season. Even worse, in the limited minutes that Orlov played with Jensen last season, they didn’t play particularly well together.

However, we’ve ultimately gotten our answer about Orlov’s defensive partner: He’s going to be playing with Nick Jensen, and they’re going to be awesome. Here’s how they’ve done together so far:

Orlov & Jensen results

Player Player 2 CF% GF% xGF% SCF%
Player Player 2 CF% GF% xGF% SCF%
Dmitry Orlov Nick Jensen 52.2 17.24 50.79 57.27

(Caveat: It’s still a bit early in the year. However Hockey Graphs recently found that defensemen’s stats tend to stabilize after around 115 minutes of play, and Orlov has now skated 107 minutes at five on five).

This may not seem impressive at first, and that goals-for percentage looks a bit concerning. However, as Peter Hassett of Russian Machine Never Breaks recently discussed, Braden Holtby has struggled a bit, which is weighing down their (otherwise stellar) 5v5 numbers.

Second, Orlov & Jensen have been playing one of the most difficult parts of the Capitals schedule against some of the best players in the league. So far, the skaters that Orlov have faced the most include names like John Klingberg, Sebastian Aho, and Jacob Slavin…aka some of the best players in the league. Against this elite competition, Orlov & Jensen have been tilting play, and neutralizing some of the other team’s best weapons.

This doesn’t even include Orlov’s utterly dominant numbers with John Carlson, where the two own a ridiculous 78.5% of shot attempts and 93.9% of expected goals…albeit in only 12 minutes of play together.

Adding it all together, it’s worth noting exactly what Orlov’s turnaround looks like in context to his other years. If we take this view, it is starting to look like last year is the aberration, and Orlov has returned to his typically dominant play:

We’ll have to see whether this keeps up, but if it does, the Caps might be seeing one of their most important defenders in the midst of a career renaissance.