Photo credit: Patrick McDermott
“Man, there are three of you!” exclaimed Capitals defenseman Dmitry Orlov in the locker-room following his team’s shutout of the visiting Toronto Maple Leafs, as he found himself surrounded by all three Russian-speaking members of the press covering the game on Sunday evening at Verizon Center – Dmitry Chesnokov of Yahoo Sports, Dmitry Shumin of Sovetsky Sport, and me. “Why do you all want to interview me?” said Dima, “I didn’t really do anything special this game – no goals, no points. You should be interviewing other guys!”
True, the young Russian defenseman may not have had any remarkable moments on that night, like his perfect set-up pass for Alex Ovechkin’s recent OTGWG, or a thunderous hipcheck sending Blake Wheeler to the ice earlier in the season. Just a good all-around game in the defensive zone, a few crisp breakout passes, a couple of good shots – and most importantly, very few if any defensive mistakes, all together leading our favorite CSN analyst Alan May to call Dmitry the Caps’ best D on the night.
The game against Toronto was Orlov’s 50th this season, an accomplishment not many experts were predicting when the youngster was called up from Hershey in November when the injury bug hit the team. A quick return to the Caps AHL affiliate was expected as soon as the team would get healthy – which it did, with one or two veteran defensemen now finding themselves a healthy scratch on a regular basis.
Nevertheless, Dima is still with the Capitals four months later, having missed only 1 game due to illness since he was called up, and at this point it’s hard to imagine him being sent back down. And it seems that he finally feels confident that he is here to stay. So how does it feel as a 20-year old rookie to find yourself in the middle of a dogfight for a playoff spot?
Well, this is not the first game I am playing here. [The coaches] trust me with responsibilities, so I need to validate their trust. I try to give it all I have in every game. Every game is worth its weight in gold right now. We are in a tough race [for the division title] with Florida; and after a bad streak we now have had three really good games. So it really helped us mentally. There are only 13 games left, and we must fight for the division title to guarantee ourselves a playoff spot. The competition for the playoff spots is very strong, and not just in the East – in the Western conference all the teams are also bunched up together… As we are approaching postseason, all teams play a tighter game, not as open. And for me personally – it’s my first season [in the NHL] I got to do my best, do additional work so I can keep up physically.
We wanted to know how the youngster is handling this rather heavy workload – after all, the season in Russia is shorter, with fewer games played and more time between the games to recover. Is Dima getting tired?
Tired? No, Not tired. But we are playing in really tough exhausting games right now, so I must recuperate properly, get good sleep. We are playing pretty much every other day now – so just playing and recuperating – there is really nothing else going on.
While his offensive production this season is quite adequate, with just a few points behind the leading point producer among all rookie defensemen, Dmitry came to North America with a reputation for his offensive flare, and even was compared by some analysts during WJC 2011 to his compatriot and a former NHL star Sergey Zubov. Is the relatively modest total of two goals bothering the youngster? And what about that physicality in his game that many Caps fans were so pleasantly surprised about?
I would like to score more. Only two goals so far, not enough. But it’s more important for the team to do well. I know I am a defenseman, but nevertheless, scoring is also important. I see myself as an offensive defenseman, that’s how I have played my entire career. Of course defense is my first and foremost responsibility, but I like to be creative as well… I was never afraid of playing a physical game. It’s an important element of the game, you have to play the body sometimes and count on your partner to take care of the puck. Especially here in North America, everybody plays like that; you can’t get away from it.
In our recent conversation Dima talked to us about finding himself paired with various defensive partners, and the mutual understanding he developed with Roman Hamrlik. With the veteran Czech rearguard returning to the line up due of Mike Green’s suspension, Orlov once again found himself paired up with Hamrlik – and when it happens, Dima usually plays on the right side, even though he shoots left. Has this been a difficult adjustment to make?
I played on the right for the most of my hockey life, ever since I was a kid. Back in Russia, I mostly played as a right D, but then was moved to the left, so I am used to switching back and forth. On the right it’s just easier to jump up offensively. But on the left it is also possible, just need to look for the best opening. But on the right, there is a better chance for a good one-timer. I had a couple of shots on goal today, but the goalies are good [here] if I could shoot the puck a bit higher, maybe I would have scored. But the puck hit the goalie pads. He is a big goalie, covers a lot of net.
It’s no secret that Dima and a young Russian forward from the Winnipeg Jets Alex Burmistrov are close friends. The two faced off against each other twice already this season while playing for their respective NHL teams, with both contests ending up in the win column for Capitals. Recently, Alex was interviewed by Andrey Osadchenko of AllHockey.ru and was very complimentary of his friend and now on-ice competitor: “I am not surprised [about Orlov]. Oryol [Ed note: Burmistrov’s nickname fo Orlov, it means eagle] is a smart guy. He knows when to join the attack. He sees the ice very well, has a good pass, a good shot. Last year, Fowler at Anaheim. This year, Gudbranson in Florida. Oryol is just as good. He is getting more and more confident with every game. I am very happy for him.”
So what does Dima think about his friend and his success at the NHL? “It felt great to play against him. It had been awhile since I played either with him or against him, and I was quite glad to see him. He is an excellent player, and he has grown a lot as a player in the last two years. But I was glad we won those two games.”
“He called you Washington’s secret weapon,” I told Dima. “He was just joking!” replied our Oryol with a slightly sheepish smile. Well, Dima may be right, this secret weapon is getting to be less and less secret.