Photo credit: Mitchell Layton
In Russia, they say the first crepe is always a clump. It describes the low expectations when something is attempted for the first time. The first NHL game for Dmitry Orlov, who debuted on the big scene Monday night against the Coyotes, was certainly not a clump – but it did turn out to be quite uneventful. His next game — a Thanksgiving Eve fixture against Southeast Division rival Winnipeg — was quite different. Dima’s name was in bold on the playing roster handout as one of the six Capitals’ starters. When the starting line-ups were introduced over the PA system, a loud cheer came from the crowd as the youngster was named one of the starting defensemen. Orlov was even featured on the jumbotron walking alongside his captain to the locker room. Expectations were certainly higher this time around.
Well, Dima certainly turned it up a notch or two for his second NHL game. Of course there were the obvious moments: his first NHL point – an assist on Nick Backstrom’s goal in the second period, a textbook-perfect hip-check on Blake Wheeler that sent the big Jets forward tumbling to the ice head-over-heels, and another thunderous collision with Evander Kane that launched his opponent’s stick into the stands. He even made an appearance on NHL Network. But as I talked to Dmitry in the Caps’ locker room immediately after the game, it quickly become apparent that helping his team win the game mattered much more to him than getting on the score sheet or landing a spectacular hit.
Igor Kleyner: “That was a pretty good game for you, wasn’t it?”
Dmitry Orlov: “Well, we won as a team. That’s the most important thing. Yes, for me personally, I had an assist, my first point. But again, the fact that the team won its second game in a row, that’s what matters the most. Lots of positive emotions, of course. It’s great.”
Igor Kleyner: “You were paired with Karl Alzner most of the night. How well are you able to communicate with each other during the game? Is he helping you out?”
Dmitry Orlov: “Yeah, playing with Karl is great. He is a more experienced defenseman and a very good one. He talks to me on the ice, helps me out in many ways. It really adds a great deal of confidence to my game, so I am very thankful to Karl.”
As our conversation went on, Dima said that he was not at all upset by his ice time diminishing toward the end of the game. The coaches assured him that it was not at all a sign of their dissatisfaction with his performance, but simply trying to ease the young defenseman into the NHL game without putting too much pressure on him. And as for scoring his first point, he was just happy to help the team in whatever way he could, thanking Backstrom for scoring the goal that earned the young Russian his first NHL point. As he noticed Alex Semin walking into the locker room, Dima suddenly interrupted himself and yelled out “Syoma! Are you going to give me a ride?!” Satisfied with a affirmative reply from his compatriot that appeared to resolve a small but essential logistical problem of getting to his room after a hard day’s work (we hear getting a driver’s license in VA is much easier than in PA), Dima continued talking to us about the game.
Igor Kleyner: “That hipcheck on Blake Wheeler created quite a buzz. The fans seemed to love it.”
Dmitry Orlov: “It was just the right moment. I was expecting him to move toward the center, and he did. So I was able to catch him; although it was a bit risky. I could have been caught out of position if he moved in the other direction. I really like the physical element of the game, always have, since I was a kid. One of the reasons I came to play here – there is more hitting. I like that.”
Igor Kleyner: “Did you get the puck that you scored your first point with?”
Dmitry Orlov: “No – I think I need to score a goal to get the puck, they don’t give out pucks for assists.”[Editor’s note: Apparently, this assist WAS worth a puck after all.]
Of course, this wouldn’t be an RMNB interview if we didn’t ask a couple of non-hockey questions, would it? Dima was clearly spotting some growth on his upper lip, although not nearly as spectacular as some of his more grizzled teammates were – so we wondered if he was doing it for the good cause of Movember. Well, the answer we got was probably was the only disappointing moment of the night. It turns out Dima’s schedule has been so hectic lately, he simply had run out of time to shave. So don’t fall in love with that mustache – it’s coming off as soon as he gets his hands on a Fusion ProGlide. It has got to be Gillette, right?
And of course, how could a Thanksgiving Eve interview end without a customary turkey question. “I am not sure what I am doing for dinner tomorrow,” explained Dima with a bit of a smile. “I hope someone invites me over – otherwise I’ll be stuck in a hotel all by myself!”
Speaking of players who had a pretty good night, Alex Semin certainly redeemed himself after being scratched for the first time since his rookie year. As he came out to talk to the media after the game, he was quickly surrounded by an impressive crowd of reporters and patiently answered all of their questions with some help from Dmitry Chesnokov of Sovetsky Sport. With the media appetite for Sasha’s comments finally satisfied, it was pretty much just me and him in the locker room. So of course I had to ask Sasha for his opinion on Dima’s debut in the NHL.
“I think he is fitting very well into our team,” Sasha explained. “His physical game looks good, as well as passing. [He brings] very positive emotional moments.”
Igor Kleyner: “How do you compare his debut in the NHL with your own?”
Alex Semin: “Well, he is a defenseman, I am a forward, so it’s totally different. Emotionally – I can’t speak for him of course, but when I was a rookie, we had maybe five or six thousand people in the stands. The atmosphere is completely different now, so much better. But, regardless, first games are always very special – there is so much positive energy, emotions. And of course if you manage to get a point, or have a couple of spectacular hits like he had today I think it really builds confidence for him. So if he can continue to play like he did today – I think he can become one of the best defensemen out there. He needs to be a little bit more self-assured – but it’s only his second game, everything is still ahead for him.”
Igor Kleyner: Did you give him any advice on or off the ice?
Alex Semin: “Yes, of course I have, and he does not hesitate to ask for it.”
With Dima apparently still unsure about his Thanksgiving Day plans, I brought that issue to Sasha’s attention. His reaction? “He is coming over to my place. My mom is preparing turkey.”