Photo: Igor Kleyner
Caps breakdown day is never a particularly festive affair, and yesterday was no exception, as the Washington Capitals brought down the curtain on their dismal 2013-14 season. Understandably, none of the players were in a particularly cheerful mood as they addressed the media for the last time before summer break. Not all of them, however, are putting away their skates for the season. Some, including defenseman Dmitry Orlov, are looking forward to joining their national teams in preparations for the World Championship, which opens early next month.
The 22-year-old Russian is joining the Sbornaya training camp in a few days, and hopes to put his country’s uniform on for the first time since he was a prominent member of the 2011 WJC gold-winning Russian team. A consolation prize, at best, as the dream of winning the Stanley Cup – or even playing for it – will remain just that at least for another year. But it made for a good conversation starter.
Tell me about your upcoming debut for the Russian National Team.
Dmitry Orlov: Yeah I received a message, so it’s all definite now. This is not for the World Championship yet, just the training camp for the Sbornaya. But in any case, it is great news for me. I am very happy it is happening for me. But then, of course, while it is great for me personally, on the flip side there is great disappointment because we did not make the playoffs. This is my first invitation to the National team. So of course there I am experiencing all kinds of positive emotions, I can’t wait to get to Moscow and start practicing with the team. I have hopes and expectation, so I am going to try to do everything I can. I am going to have to show that I can play so I can make the team for Worlds. I haven’t talked to anybody from the coaching staff there yet. I will be on the plane for Moscow on Thursday.
A lot has changed for you personally since we talked last time in November. What are your thoughts on this?
DO: Yeah, I am not even sure how to describe it. There has been a bit of everything this season, both good and bad. And the season is not over for me yet. I am still going to practice and play hockey this season. So it’s premature to try to draw any conclusions. As far as how my season in Washington went, yes, there were some positive things, and some negative too. Especially in the beginning of the season, it was difficult for me to deal with that situation. But it all worked out for the better, I am very happy that I signed a new contract here in Washington, and all those negative things – it’s all in the past. It’s just that as a team we did not make the playoffs… but that means there are goals to achieve in the future. We must get better for the next year. Everything will be all right.
Specifically, though, how much of an impact did that difficult period when you were shuttling between Washington and Hershey have?
DO: Of course it was difficult to deal with; it affected me to some degree, as it probably would anybody. But the way I see it – it did not break me, I managed to hang on and deal with it reasonably. And now it is April already, it’s been a while, and it’s all in the past. You cannot live in the past.
So when you were signing the new deal with the Caps, you did it without any hesitation?
DO: Of course. I was playing hockey, I was enjoying playing hockey and being a member of the team. I really like everything, so I am very happy to be here.
I don’t know if you are familiar with terms like Corsi or puck possession. Do coaches discuss things like that with you and other players? And did you realize your Corsi rating is the second highest on the team behind Mike Green?
DO: I never heard of such things. So what does it mean that mine is second highest – is it bad?
[I channel my inner Neil, explain fancystats best I can in 15 seconds]
So why do you think the two of you have the best numbers when it comes to puck possession on the team? Also, based on these numbers, it seems like you two have developed some kind of chemistry even though you are both offensive defensemen?
DO: I think it is actually a positive when both defensemen have a good offensive game. It’s easier to read each other’s game. He can help out – get in a good position, get open, carry the puck forward, create advantage for the team that way. I think he is a really good hockey player, and it is a pleasure to play with him.
Do you think he is one defense partner with whom you developed the best understanding?
DO: It’s hard to say that for sure, but I did play paired with him more time than with anybody else, so it probably helped. But that is something the coaches decide. For me personally, I always liked playing with him; he can make a good pass, he can score a goal. And according to these stats, it seems we as a team were spending more time on offense when [Mike and I] were on the ice – isn’t that a good thing? Doesn’t that give us more opportunities to create scoring chances?
Speaking of your ice time, defense coach Calle Johansson mentioned recently that you were getting a lot of ice time lately because you have earned it with your play.
DO: Well, when I play well, I do hear that from the coaches, that I need to continue to play the same way. It’s great when the coaches talk to you, and not just about what we do well, when they watch the video with us, point out the mistakes we make – that’s how we learn and get better. Of course it feels great when you hear your coach making such positive remarks about you; I just need to keep working hard and everything will be fine.
Head coach Adam Oates is known for his great attention to such things as his players sticks. Did he give you any suggestions regarding yours?
DO: He actually did. He took a look at my stick, and suggested that I make it a bit shorter. So I tried it, and it turned out to be a good idea. I did what he suggested, and that’s the stick I am playing with now. It just took a bit of time to get used to it.
What do you personally think was the biggest (or the most obvious) problem with the team this year – given the fact that you did not make the playoffs?
DO: It’s hard to say. First of all, this is a very tough, strong league. All the teams fight to make the playoffs. Maybe we were unlucky a bit sometimes. You know, we only needed four more points, a couple of wins and everything could have turned out differently. You can see from the overall standings how crowded it is. I don’t want to blame anybody in particular. You know, we are a team. We play together. We share the blame. Everybody knows what the problems were. Let it stay within the team, even though I understand how interesting this may be for the fans. Everybody tried to do their best. Everybody wants to win the Cup. Every season everybody on the team tries hard. We did not succeed this time. Maybe we need to learn some lessons.
So, what lessons do you think they should be?
DO: I don’t know. And you know – sometime it’s just how things start going, like a team goes on a winning streak, and it creates confidence. Or the opposite, you lose a few games – and things start going in that direction. You get nervous, the puck just doesn’t settle for you, and so on.