Brooks Orpik (Patrick McDermott/NHLI via Getty Images)
Capitals defenseman Brooks Orpik has missed the past 40 games, but he’ll make his return to the lineup for the first time since Nov. 10 when Washington takes on the Los Angeles Kings. Orpik, 35, will play on the third-pairing, but was on the top unit before injury.
Here’s a scary thought: the Washington Capitals, who are already dominating the Eastern Conference, could be getting better. Tuesday, the Capitals will be getting one of their top-four defenders back in the lineup just in time for the final post-season push.
Washington's Brooks Orpik will be back from a lower-body injury Tuesday after he spent 40 games on the injured reserve. According to The Washington Post’s Isabelle Khurshudyan, Orpik and the team had been targeting Tuesday’s game against the Los Angeles Kings for his return to action, but it was up to Orpik to decide if he was ready. He is, and when then Capitals take the ice Orpik will trot out on the third pairing with Dmitry Orlov.
“He’s worked very hard. He’s in tremendous shape. He takes care of himself,” Capitals coach Barry Trotz told Khurshudyan. “I think he’s a big hole in the locker room for us. I think he’s a great voice. He can help our game get back on track a little bit. All of that being said, it’ll be good to see him in there tonight. He’ll have some rust on him, but he’s worked very hard to get most of it off.”
Before falling injured on Nov. 10, Orpik was averaging more than 19 minutes per game and had spent the bulk of his time on the top pairing with John Carlson. Over the past two seasons, Orpik has played more than 1,600 minutes at 5-on-5, and all but 247 of those have been with Carlson. Though Orpik won’t be playing with Carlson to start his return, it could be something Trotz works the returning blueliner towards and could be a pairing that’s reunited if Washington’s coach so chooses.
Orpik told Khurshudyan that he could only prepare so much through practice and that he’d need actual game action to get his legs back. He said with how well the team is playing, he hopes he won’t “disrupt” their success.
“It’s probably not going to be perfect, so you try to minimize the chances you take, which I think I normally do anyways,” Orpik told Khurshudyan. “Hopefully, that doesn’t affect me too much.”
Over his two seasons in Washington, Orpik has been one of the cornerstones of the penalty kill. He’s averaged 2:41 on the kill per game since coming over to Washington and has the third highest average ice time, 21:24, of all Capitals players since joining the team in 2014-15. Only Carlson (23:27) and Matt Niskanen (23:17) average more.
The Capitals brought Orpik in to be a shutdown defenseman in July 2014 when they inked him to a five-year, $27.5-million deal. Since joining Washington, he’s contributed one goal and 22 points in 92 games.