Brooks Orpik: 2014-15 Season Review

“The things that Brooks Orpik does you can’t put a value on.” That’s what Barry Trotz said in July, and he was wrong. You can put a value on it, and that value is $27.5 million over 5 years.

In year one of his contract, Orpik did well enough– but this was never about the player so much as the wacky expectations foisted upon him.

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And this is why they signed him. Late in the third period, Brooks Orpik started trying to rail people at the blue line. Basically it’d go like this: a Cap forward would angle a Rangers player near the boards. Then Batya would finish them.

First, he tried to destroy former MVP Martin St. Louis and just barely missed.

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Last week, Eric Fehr met the media to update them on the injury that has keep him out of the lineup for most of the playoffs. After two minutes of optimism and indirect answers, the scrum was finished. The day’s routine necessity had been completed. As the rest of the media shuffled away from Fehr’s locker, I made an offhand comment that the F-16 was getting ready for flight.

“There are some bad nicknames out there,” he told me. “Of all the nicknames to have, that’s a pretty cool one.”

I asked what he thought of his other nickname, Fehrsie.

“See, that’s the thing: I hate those nicknames,” he said. “Anybody with a last name with a –y on the end would probably be the worst one. Spelling it –ie doesn’t change anything. You need to be creative. As a group we’ve tried to be more creative with guys. We tried to change it up a little bit.”

Inadvertently, I had just stumbled on a massive scoop. Over the next 10 minutes, Fehr revealed the other hidden nicknames of the Capitals locker room. Some you might know– others you don’t.

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Swedish bruisers. (Photo credit: Len Redkoles)

Over the past season, we’ve seen Marcus Johansson go from a talented set-up man into the Caps third leading goal scorer. Andre Burakovsky has gone from an 19-year-old babyfaced rookie into, for a while, the team’s top-line right wing. In the past two weeks, those two have added more facets to their game. In the 2015 playoffs, Johansson and Burakovsky have become physical forces on the ice. But instead of going for needless checks that only put them out of position as so many players do, Marcus and Andre pick their spots, using their bodies to bump opponents off the puck or maintain possession.

“You never want to approach a game looking for hits,” Brooks Orpik, who was third in the league in that stat during the regular season, told me Wednesday. “If you do that you’re gonna be out of position.”

“We can’t try to be a skill team all the time,” he added. “If you are a big team, you have to use that to your advantage.”

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Photo: Ian Oland

When it comes to handing out cool nicknames to their teammates, we think hockey players are second to none. The current crop of Capitals are certainly doing their fair share of creative nicknaming. When the NHL mic’d up Tom Wilson for a first round game against the Islanders, we learned that Alex Ovechkin’s moniker is Destroyer – or at least that’s what Willy Baby calls him. And who can forget the “Big Cheese” Joel Ward; I mean, how can it possibly get any cooler than Big Cheese!?

In my opinion, it just did, courtesy of the two Caps players, who, as The Washington Post recently discovered, developed a strong and somewhat surprising friendship during the course of this season: Russian rookie Evgeny Kuznetsov and grizzled American veteran Brooks Orpik.

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Photo credit: Frank Franklin II

At 12:40 p.m. on Saturday, Jay Beagle won the opening faceoff of game two of Metropolitan Division Final against the New York Rangers. Instead of controlling the puck, however, the Capitals allowed the Rangers to set up for a rush out their defensive zone. As the Rangers took the puck up the ice, Washington’s top forward and defensive lines jumped on the ice. Brooks Orpik didn’t do so fast enough. Jesper Fast fed the puck to Chris Kreider in front. Thirty-eight seconds into the game, Washington was down one-nil. By the end of the first period, New York had a two-goal lead. The Caps had been outshot 15-4, completely outmatched for the first 20 minutes of play.

“I think we had a great start,” defenseman Marc Staal told reporters at the team hotel on Sunday.

But instead of sitting on their lead as they did in game two, the Rangers only plan to press more on Monday.

“It’s one thing to stay patient,” Staal said. “I think it’s another thing to stay aggressive.”

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Photo: Bruce Bennett

On Saturday, the Capitals gave up two goals at even strength (and a garbage empty-netter) in game six, pushing the series to what is likely to be a hurl-inducing game seven on Monday. Usually giving up two goals is a good omen (especially for the talented Capitals), but during this wacky series, in five of the six games the losing team has scored only one goal.

That means that tiny mistakes are magnified. It also means that if you’re focusing on the wrong things– like settling a score or going out of your way to throw a big body check– the open ice you’re surrendering could make the difference between winning and losing, especially against a fast Islanders team.

Two of the Capitals’ leaders made tiny mistakes that turned into back-breaking goals in game six. Let’s review.

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Brooks Orpik Hit with Beer Cup After Caps Win (Video)

Screen Shot 2015-04-21 at 11.02.59 PM

You’re supposed to wait until you’re in the dressing room to start crushing beers, but I like Brooks Orpik’s enthusiasm here.

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Warning: This post could be upsetting for some.

There was a scary moment late in the first period. Caps defenseman Brooks Orpik took an errant John Carlson skate blade to the face after Carlson fell down in the slot. Carlson’s left skate blade appeared to strike Orpik in the right cheek and mouth area. Orpik left the ice under his own power, running straight down the tunnel for the Caps locker room.

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Photo credit: Alex Brandon

Coming into Wednesday’s game, the Washington Capitals were confident. With a new coach this year, they had turned into a crisp, well-structured team, generally controlling the puck and therefore the play. They finished the season tied for the eighth highest point total in the league.

“In the past we were maybe sort of a rush team,” forward Brooks Laich, a veteran of the light ’em up Presidents’ Trophy winning Capitals of 2010, said. “I don’t think we’re as high flying, high octane offense as we once were, but I think we’re a lot more difficult to play against this way. It should bode well for a sustained playoff run.”

“We’re gonna be ready,” Laich concluded.

They weren’t.

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