Kyle Mace/Sweetest Hockey On Earth
For the past two weeks, defenseman Dmitry Orlov has shuttled between the National and American Hockey Leagues, watching the Capitals' past seven games from the press box and receiving playing time with the Hershey Bears when the big club's schedule permits.
Coach Adam Oates' usage of Orlov -- or lack thereof -- has certainly raised questions about the 22-year-old's future with the organization. (His three-year entry-level contract expires at season's end and his KHL rights were recently acquired by CSKA Moscow, managed by former Capital Sergei Fedorov.)
After establishing himself under former coach Dale Hunter with a 60-game rookie season in 2011-12, Orlov has appeared in only five games with the Capitals since, largely due to an injury-riddled 2012-13 season where he sustained two separate concussions while playing with the Bears during the NHL lockout.
Yet despite Oates' insistence that a now-healthy Orlov, who has two goals and eight points in six games with Hershey, will eventually see game action, he cannot seem to crack Washington's lineup. Injuries and subsequent stints on long-term injured reserve for both John Erskine (upper body) and Jack Hillen (fractured tibial plateau) have left voids on the left side of the Capitals' defensive depth chart, but Orlov has been usurped by Nate Schmidt and Alexander Urbom.
"We'll see, we'll see," Oates said Tuesday when asked if he planned to play Orlov in the neat future. "Defensemen are playing good."
Washington's blue line was further decimated by injuries Wednesday when the team disclosed that Mike Green is day-to-day with a lower-body injury. That, however, may not affect Orlov's playing status considering Oates' well-documented preference for placing players on their strong sides (Orlov is left-handed, while Green is right-handed), a philosophy that general manager George McPhee also subscribes to, though he understands that it may not always be viable.
“We’re not so fixated on it that we’re not going to give somebody an opportunity or have a right handed guy playing on the left side," McPhee said. "We’re going to do that if its necessary. You’re not going to have the ideal 100 percent of the time.”
Earlier this season, Oates divulged that Orlov must improve his defensive-zone play to round out his all-around game, and indications are that Orlov has done that during his time with the Bears.
Wednesday, McPhee reaffirmed his faith in Orlov.
"He’s played really well,” he said. “He’s been our best player in Hershey. He’s been scoring, and I feel the same way about him that I did about [Karl] Alzner and [John] Carlson at one point where if we get banged up, I'm looking forward to watching them play because I think they can step in and we don't miss a beat. The trouble is that group back there has been playing well and we believe he'll get his chance. We like him a lot. He's a good player.
“He’s in a difficult spot but that doesn’t mean we don’t think he’s a terrific player and he’s going to be a good one. I don’t want to be pulling him back and forth. He deserves to be here."
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