Dmitry Orlov talks to Mike Green at Hershey's Outdoor Game

Orlov catches up with Mike Green at Hershey’s Outdoor Game. (Photo credit: Kyle Mace of Sweetest Hockey On Earth)

Their defensive depth was supposed to be a strength. The plan for the Washington Capitals was to have nine blueliners with serious NHL experience at their deposal, ready to jump into to a game at any minute. It didn’t work out that way. The pair of Karl Alzner and John Carlson has struggled, giving up a majority of the team’s goals against. The other D-men haven’t been much better. Tom Poti has played three games in two years. Mike Green is scoreless. And then there are the injuries. Jack Hillen went down after playing less than four minutes. Dmitry Orlov has been out indefinitely. The Caps have been forced to call up Tomas Kundratek.

So what happened to Orlov, one of the team’s rising stars? While skating for the Hershey Bears in the AHL Showcase at Verizon Center in November, the young Russian absorbed a hit up high from Emerson Etem. He didn’t appear to be favoring anything when he attempted to play one more shift that night, leading many to believe he suffered a concussion. In an interview with RMNB’s Ian Oland, Bears coach Mark French did not confirm or deny that Orlov may have received a concussion on the hit.

“The only thing we’ve said so far — as far as my understanding — is that it’s an upper body injury,” French told Ian. “It’s above my pay grade and above my qualifications to say any more. It’s certainly an upper body injury.”

“Our hope is that once we regroup as a team following the All-Star break he would be able to skate,” said the coach.

This was second time Orlov has been injured this year. A month and a half before leaving the AHL Showcase, he was slammed head-first awkwardly into the boards from behind, causing him to miss about two weeks. French said the injuries are connected.

“It’s hard to answer without the medical knowledge, but to my understanding of it, they are related,” he said to Ian.

According to French, the fastest coach in AHL history to 100 wins, Orlov is progressing after suffering a set-back the second week of January. That week, Orlov tried skating again for the first time since suffering the injury but didn’t feel “good” and “backed off,” in French’s words. Since then, Dima has been riding a stationary bike to work on his fitness as he makes his way back into game shape. The plan is to have Novokuznetsk native back on the ice again next week after the AHL All-Star Game on Monday.

“I think he is getting better,” French said. “It’s safe to say that once he comes back healthy, there’ll be a conditioning period where we’ll have to get him up to game speed. How long that is, I’m not sure. We certainly would like to see him in a week of practice before getting him back into a game.”

“I would expect once he is healthy and goes through a conditioning period down here, that he would be going right up to Washington,” he continued.

Since coming over to North America in the spring of 2010, Orlov has acquitted himself well. After his Russian team was eliminated from the playoffs, he bolted over the pond to play for Bears in their run for the Calder Cup. In 2011, he started the year with Hershey but by November he was playing in his first NHL game. He became a staple on Washington’s blueline over the course of the year, playing 60 games his rookie season while tallying 19 points.

Around the time Orlov came up, however, the Caps fired their head coach, Bruce Boudreau. Orlov, an offensive defenseman, was more suited to Boudreau’s game then the one implemented by Dale Hunter last season, something that preached defense above all else.

“Dale made it work, but it probably wasn’t the best system for Dmitry’s game,” said French, who called Adam Oates’ system “much more up Dmitry’s alley.”

Orlov’s biggest adjustment, though, hasn’t been on the ice. A 21-year-old from Southern Russia, getting used to the language and the culture has been a big undertaking. But now after almost two years here Orlov’s English is better, to the point where we can have full conversations.

“He never really had a true understanding of what you were really trying to communicate,” French said. “He would acknowledge and shake his head like “Yeah,” but you never knew if he was really grasping it. I think now when you can have that dialogue, you can see that he’s truly understanding what you’re saying and it’s probably been the biggest challenge of his development of all.”

Additional reporting by Ian Oland.

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