I thought it was a late hit. It was a target to his head. I think it was the type of hit that everyone from hockey is trying to remove from the game.
– Penguins’ head coach Mike Sullivan
Those were the words of the Penguins’ bench boss after Game 2 on Saturday night, referring to the blow to the head doled out by Capitals’ defenseman (and former Penguin) Brooks Orpik.
Orpik was not made available to the media following the game, continuing a trend started after Game 1 when the Capitals would not allow Tom Wilson to address the media after his intentional knee-to-knee hit on Conor Sheary.
Here is the league’s video explanation of why Orpik was suspended for three games:
Capitals Blue Line Will Take a Hit
Orpik will be eligible to return to action for Game 6, should the series go that long.
In his stead will be either Dmitry Orlov or western Pennsylvania native Mike Weber, whom the Caps acquired at the trade deadline from Buffalo.
Orlov was so bad in Game 1 that Capitals’ head coach Barry Trotz essentially benched him for the final period and overtime.
To boot, Orlov was a healthy scratch for Game 2 in favor of another former Penguin, Taylor Chorney.
Mike Weber, however, probably won’t be any better. He’s not a particularly good skater which, against a team that plays like the Pens want to play, doesn’t bode well for the Caps.
Another issue to consider is the impact this will have on Orpik’s defense partner John Carlson.
Carlson is a terrific defenseman. Orpik has made him better.
It’s been Orpik’s steady play that has allowed Carlson to shine this season both offensively and defensively. Now, a big question facing the Caps heading into Game 3 tonight is who will be paired with Carlson?
And once that question is answered, how will Carlson fare with his new partner?
Justin Schultz Figures to be Next Man Up
In Game 1 of their Eastern Conference quarterfinal series against the New York Rangers, the Pens decided to go with seven defensemen and 11 forwards. This was done in the absence of Evgeni Malkin, who was still recovering from an elbow injury.
Justin Schultz became the odd man out in Game 2 of the Rangers series, but not because of anything he did poorly, or for anything he didn’t do well for that matter.
In short, Schultz never played himself out of the lineup. He was simply a casualty of healthy bodies on the blue line, and a returning Malkin.
The Penguins also have Derrick Pouliot waiting in the wings, but he figures to be the last resort in case of injury.
Enter Schultz, acquired from the Edmonton Oilers for a third-round draft pick at the trade deadline, thought to be a bust after signing with Edmonton as a free agent out of the University of Wisconsin.
Schultz made his Penguins debut in New Jersey on March 6. He was paired with Ian Cole and the two found instant chemistry.
He would register an assist in that game as his first point as a member of the Penguins, and he would finish the regular season with a goal and six helpers with Pittsburgh.
During that final two week stretch, Sullivan deployed his defensemen in the following pairings:
- Kris Letang/Trevor Daley
- Ben Lovejoy/Brian Dumoulin
- Justin Schultz/Ian Cole
All three pairings were relatively successful and had a fair amount of chemistry between partners.
Schultz was scratched in Game 2 in favor of Ben Lovejoy to give the Penguins a more defensive presence, especially on the penalty kill. Schultz was not in the Penguins’ plans to see time on the P.K.
The fall-off here should be significantly less for Pittsburgh. Schultz has the aforementioned chemistry with Cole, to go along with slick skating and an above-average ability to move the puck. He is exactly what the Penguins are looking for in a defenseman these days.
The other pairings should go back to what they were to end the season. Lovejoy and Dumoulin enjoyed success in the early part of the season prior to the Daley acquisition, and then again when Maatta was sidelined briefly in the middle of the year.
Although Daley and Letang both prefer to play the right side on defense, each is versatile enough to move over to the left. It figures to be Daley though, as Sullivan wants to keep Letang on the right side to go heads-up with the Caps’ Alex Ovechkin.
Here is what Sullivan had to say yesterday after Penguins’ practice:
The Penguins badly outplayed the Capitals in Game 2, and that was with only five defensemen for virtually the entire game. Washington will need to rally around this setback if they have any hopes of staying in this series.
Pittsburgh will be looking to put a stranglehold on the series with no Orpik to contend with, and being able to get the matchups they covet by virtue of having the last change because of home ice.