Orlov and other Caps scratches look on from the press box. (Photo credit: Clydeorama)
It’s been a season of unexpected trials and disappointments for the Washington Capitals, but if there’s been one pleasant surprise, it’s been Dmitry Orlov. The young defenseman was not expected to make a permanent impact with the club this season, but after being called up on an emergency basis early in the year, Orlov simply earned his keep, becoming a mainstay even on a roster that frequently had defensemen to spare. Orlov has yet to play in the postseason, with the coaching staff so far relying on more experienced players to man the blueline, but if the Caps manage to make it past the first round, he may just get his chance.
Before the playoffs began, Orlov talked with Hockey World’s Andrey Osadchenko about about Alex Ovechkin, Evgeny Kuznetsov, and his unexpected breakthrough year. I provide a translation below.
Andrey Osadchenko: You played for Washington in 60 games during the regular season. Did you surprise yourself by how quickly you became a mainstay player for the Capitals?
Dmitry Orlov: Yes, to a degree I got lucky, I didn’t spent much time in Hershey. When they called me up to Washington I totally didn’t expect to spend the whole season in the NHL. Of course, I wanted to grab a spot on the team – I was full of positive emotions from playing for the Capitals. I had no idea how long was going to stay in Washington for. In the end, I played for 60 games – huge experience.
Andrey Osadchenko: Our [Russian] players quite seldom have anything good to say about the AHL, especially Hershey.
Dmitry Orlov: Of course it’s hard to play there. Especially if you played in the KHL before. Because the KHL is a better league, and hockey is more interesting there. So it would be hard to play the whole season in the AHL. It’s good that everything turned out the way I wanted when I moved to America: got a chance to play for Washington, and managed to hold on to my spot here… Nevertheless, I can not say anything bad about Hershey. It is , of course a bit boring there, not much to do in town, but I wasn’t thinking about that – I was fully concentrating on hockey. I wanted to improve my game, to show how hard I try and how I can help the team. I wanted to earn a call up to the Capitals, did not want to be distracted. But it is very hard in the AHL, just because of the constant bus rides. They take a lot of your strength. But I did not leave [Russia] to play in the AHL for two or three years, I counted on making the main team.
Andrey Osadchenko: You say there is not much to do in Hershey. Is there really much more entertainment in Washington? Isn’t there nothing but white government buildings?
Dmitry Orlov: No, there is plenty to do. And there are Russian guys here. In Hershey, I was by myself. Except when I just came, Dima Kugryshev also played there. So the two of us were going crazy together – didn’t know what to do with our free time. But in Washington there is plenty of entertainment. It is, after all, the capital. And lots of small towns around it. We actually live in one of them – Arlington. That’s where our practice rink is. So, you can’t even compare Hershey and Washington.
On top of that, I get a lot of help from the Russian guys here. If it weren’t for them, it would be harder for me. Although, I would have concentrated more on learning the language. But I pay a lot of attention to that anyway. I understand more and more now. But I am very happy that there are other Russians on the team, and that I am here. I do not regret leaving Russia, everything is working out great.
Andrey Osadchenko: Some say that it is easier to play in the NHL than in the AHL. Here everybody plays the position, everybody knows what to do, while it is more chaotic on the farm. Have you noticed?
Dmitry Orlov: Yes. I heard that before. It is true, it is simpler to play here than in the AHL. But the difference is not that great. And the playing calendar is also quite tough. So for me, this season turned out to be tough. I played 60 games here, in Russia it was usually around 40. Sometimes I went to Sbornaya, sometimes something else – all together, I played less. And there was more time to rest. Here, we usually play every other day, sometimes even the next day. So this aspect is not easy. But now we have Stanley Cup ahead, so you must forget about fatigue, start from scratch and play the game as if the season just started. Everything is on emotions, and because of that you feel full of energy. This will be the first playoff in my career – I really look forward to finding out what it’s like.
Andrey Osadchenko: When did you first realize you are playing in the NHL?
Dmitry Orlov: Hard to say. Probably the very first game. Although, coming out on the ice, I didn’t really understand anything. I was in a strange condition. So the full realization came after the game. I played, came home, went to bed, and just layed there for a while thinking about the game, analyzing it. And then it dawned on me – that’s it, I just played my first NHL game. I felt great. It happened! My childhood dream came true!
Andrey Osadchenko: Did your childhood expectations match the reality?
Dmitry Orlov: I wouldn’t say that I had any concrete expectations. Yes, I thought about playing in the NHL. But any specifics, or anything that would be going on around – honestly, I never envisioned that.
Andrey Osadchenko: How was your first NHL goal?
Dmitry Orlov: It took a very long time (laughing). I could not score for awhile, and it bothered me. I was upset. I was doing everything – I played well, had good shots, but… somewhere I was just unlucky, the pucks were hitting posts, somewhere the goalies were too good. I kept thinking “When am I finally going to score?!” And then, finally, sometime in mid December I finally got it. I was very happy. Although I have to admit, I got very lucky – I scored essentially from behind the goal. But it does not matter – I think I will remember that goal forever. I got that puck later, I have it now.
Andrey Osadchenko: You also got to try yourself in a shootout this season. When was the last time you did that?
Dmitry Orlov: When I was a kid. Never with an adult team. And then they put me on (against the Islanders)… Would be better if they didn’t (laughing)! The puck slid off the stick, everybody laughed at me. I laughed at it myself, because it really did look funny. Although, when it happened, I wasn’t laughing at all. I was really upset. I don’t know why it happened. Probably couldn’t handle the nerves – so my hands started shaking.
Andrey Osadchenko: But you have to note the good standing you enjoy with the coaching staff of the Capitals. Some other rookie could be easily sent back to the farm for such mistake.
Dmitry Orlov: The coaches always help me with advice, point out all of my mistakes. After every game they always show the video and say, you played it well here, and badly here. Sometimes they even yell at you to “wake you up.” And sometimes they praise you. I have good coaches. I am thankful to them for believing in me and letting me play the whole season. When Bruce Boudreau was replaced by Dale Hunter, I was very worried. Because I just came up and played four games, and here comes new head coach. I thought they were going to send me back down. But everything turned out well.
Andrey Osadchenko: Do you remember when you “caught” the worst of the coach’s wrath?
Dmitry Orlov: (After a pause) I don’t recall being yelled at too much. Yes, we talk about my mistakes right after the game, but I don’t think the coach ever lost his temper.
Andrey Osadchenko: They say Bruce Boudreau had less authority with the team than Alex Ovechkin, which led to a conflict. Was that so?
Dmitry Orlov: Honestly, I don’t know. I wasn’t even on that team – I only played four games under Boudreau. I never heard about any conflict, and never saw anything during that week and a half. Maybe those were just rumors?
Andrey Osadchenko: What impression did Alex Ovechkin make on you?
Dmitry Orlov: Sasha is a captain and a good person. He really is, as they call him here, Alex the Great. He always supports me, helps me, gives advice. His help is very valuable, because he has been playing here for awhile. The same with Sasha Semin. I always listen to them. They are older and more experienced, there is a lot I can learn from them.
Andrey Osadchenko: Your former Junior Sbornaya teammate Evgeny Kuznetsov has been avoiding a straight answer for the whole season. Now he is coming to Washington, now he is not… do you think he can fit in with the Capitals and does the team even need him?
Dmitry Orlov: Kuzya will make the right choice for himself. He needs to think it through – he is already married, after all. It is not an easy choice. I understand him – I was in this situation myself last year. I also was thinking, to leave or to stay. It is not an easy decision, you never know how things turn out.
If Kuzya comes to Washington, we will welcome him. I think he will fit in with the team. He is a good player and shows it every game. Also, Zhenya is getting better all the time. Good for him. It’s a pleasure to watch him play. I think he will easily be able to play here.
Andrey Osadchenko: Following your victory in WJC in Buffalo, Ovechkin was one of the first to congratulate you – right from the Washington’s locker room. Have you talked with him about that tournament?
Dmitry Orlov: Yes. He asked questions, it was interesting for him. Not surprisingly, because it had been eight years since Sbornaya won the gold medals. So yes, we talked about that victory, in the very beginning of the season. Then we watched WJC-2012 together in January.
Andrey Osadchenko: Andrey Markov in 2011 had a bet with PK Subban, so he had to wear Russian jersey to Montreal’s practice after your victory. Was there anything like that in Washington?
Dmitry Orlov: Yes. Ovechkin had a bet with Karl Alzner, who lost and came to practice in Team Russia jersey.
Andrey Osadchenko: Did you have a bet with the Swedes? Nicklas Backstrom, for example?
Dmitry Orlov: I don’t think so. Not with me for sure, and I never heard anything. But you better ask Sasha if he had a bet with Backstrom or Johansson.
Andrey Osadchenko: How was your traditional NHL rookie dinner?
Dmitry Orlov: We didn’t have it this season.
Andrey Osadchenko: So you were shortchanged?
Dmitry Orlov: Why? Just happened that way. Maybe next year.
Andrey Osadchenko: Do you talk with with another NHLer from Novokuznetsk – Flyers goalie Sergey Bobrovsky?
Dmitry Orlov: Of course. We talk after the games, and we went to dinner together when he came to Washington. We have a good relationship. Last year, before I left, I talked to him about the NHL and everything. His advice also helped. He is a good goalie and a smart guy. There is always something to talk about with him.
Andrey Osadchenko: Does he complain about being a back up?
Dmitry Orlov: No. of course he wants to play, it’s understandable. I think on a different team he could be a number one goalie. But in the situation he is in – nothing can be done. But when he gets a chance – I think his concentration is like 200%.
Andrey Osadchenko: What’s on your mind just before your first career playoff?
Dmitry Orlov: Bobrovsky and both of our Alexes told me that it’s a completely different game. Everybody comes to play as if there was no 82 game season. Everybody fights for every centimeter of ice, every moment. Everybody playes to the end. You have to be prepared both physically and mentally. Often these are one goal games. We are facing Boston, the Stanley Cup champions. It’s a good team. Especially physically – all of their players are big. It will be very hard. It’s good that Backstrom came back, we play more confidently with him.
Andrey Osadchenko: Is Zdeno Chara a perfect defenseman? He appears to be invincible.
Dmitry Orlov: Yeah, he is really big. Takes a lot of space on the ice (laughing). Of course it is difficult to play against him. Chara is a very good player. Played for so many years, has great experience. But I would not say that he is clearly the best. All defensemen have their own style. For example, Lidstrom, you can just watch him, and watch him. How long has he been playing in the NHL? Probably 25 years. These are the people to learn from, real stars.
Andrey Osadchenko: By the way, Chara speaks very good Russian. Did you know that?
Dmitry Orlov: (Laughing) I think I shouldn’t joke around with him. We are in different weight classes.
Andrey Osadchenko: Another Boston player, Milan Lucic, had an unpleasant incident this season, running into Buffalo goaltender Ryan Miller. Are you concerned? Because Washington has a problem with healthy goalies right now.
Dmitry Orlov: Yes, Tomas Vokoun has been injured for a long time, and Michal Neuvirth is just starting to skate. But we also have Braden Holtby, he played for Washington last year, he is a good goalie.
Andrey Osadchenko: Can you say that regardless of how playoff turns out for Washington, this has been a successful season for you personally?
Dmitry Orlov: You always want more. Of course it is great that I am in Washington, that they trust me and I am playing. Nevertheless, I am not ready to grade myself yet. The season is not over. When everything is done, then it’s time to grade.