As much as the 2020-21 season has been a rollercoaster for the NHL, it’s been one for Dmitry Orlov as well.
Entering the season, the bar was high. Washington revamped the blue line in the 2020 offseason, bringing in the likes of Justin Schultz, Zdeno Chara, Trevor van Riemsdyk, Paul LaDue and Cameron Schilling to strengthen the D-corps.
And, as Kevin McCarthy, a self-proclaimed “big Dmitry Orlov” fan explained, it appeared that Orlov was primed to mesh well with new head coach Peter Laviolette.
Just as it had over the last one and a half years, however, COVID-19 again took its toll — this time, impacting Washington’s start to the season. Orlov and countrymates in Alex Ovechkin, Ilya Samsonov and Evgeny Kuznetsov, were caught violating the league’s COVID-19 protocols by interacting in a hotel room without a mask. In response, they were all placed on the COVID list and missed 4+ games, while the team was fined $100,000.
“We spend the time in our room together and we kind of break the protocol. So it’s bad that way,” Orlov said at the time. “The league and team make the right decision... we, unfortunately, did not the right thing and that’s why we were put in quarantine.”
Orlov missed a bit of action and the transition back was more difficult for the blueliner despite exercising and skating on synthetic ice at home. For him, neither of his at-home workout methods really compared to being in the throes of practices or games.
“When you don't skate 10 days, it’s always hard to come back,” Orlov said as he neared his return to the lineup. “Everybody keep playing and are in great shape... it’s not like you play the game.... I wish I feel better, but it is what it is right now.”
And it was tough, at first, for the Russian defenseman to get back into the rhythm. Through his first 10 games, he not only went without a point and was a minus-3. He finally broke through with his first goal of the season in a loss to the Rangers on Feb. 20, which, unbeknownst at the time, would be just a preview of what he’d bring in the next two months.
Orlov really saw his game turn around in early March, when he recorded goals in back-to-back games on March 9 and 10. He credited the turnaround to having his family — and cat — return to D.C.
“I think maybe my family came from Russia and I got a little bit more excited because it was tough time be by yourself all the time, but right now they here and I got a little joy in my life,” Orlov smiled.
Through 25 games in March and April, Orlov has six goals and 14 points, and is currently riding a five-game point streak. He’s also getting more involved offensively and doesn’t shy away from shooting the puck, and he’s collected 40 shots on goal since March 3.
“Our system starts with our defense getting more pucks to the and being more involved in offense,” Orlov explained. “That’s what I try to do.”
“Orls is a heck of a player. He’s someone who can create offense, he’s pretty physical... we’re happy to have him, and I'm happy he’s played this well for sure,” teammate Brenden Dillon added.
Beyond his offensive playing style and approach, Laviolette also cited the vitality of his play in his own end, and has been impressed with Orlov’s performance.
“I think he’s played really good defense,” Laviolette said. “He’s been terrific defensively, so it’s got to be tough not capitalizing. His defense has been excellent... he pushes to be that type of guy that can make a difference in the game offensively, but again, his defensive game has been very good.”
Laviolette also noted that he’s enjoyed Orlov’s chemistry with John Carlson, who’s making his own remarkable impact on the forecheck, on that top pairing.
With Washington gearing up for the playoffs, it’ll be vital for the team to not only keep their foot on the gas, but to also continue getting contributions from its defense on both sides of the puck.
“We have to be better in the shortened season. There’s not a lot of time to practice,” Orlov said.