PITTSBURGH | Dmitry Orlov is all smiles and thrilled to be back, even if he’s shy talking about it.
The young, Russian defenseman will make his season debut for the Washington Capitals on Tuesday night at the Pittsburgh Penguins, called up to replace Tom Poti.
“I feel great and feel excited be back because you played long time and just in summer time I wait my second season, working hard and try to be back,” Orlov said quietly in the corner of the visiting locker room at Consol Energy Center while Alex Ovechkin addressed local media. “I’m here and I’m so happy and I think about this game today and try to help the team because we need to step up, need the points. Hopefully I help [do] something.”
Orlov, who played 60 games with the Caps last season, missed most of this year because of two concussions. He only recently returned from the second, suffered Dec. 6 at Verizon Center while playing for the American Hockey League’s Hershey Bears.
“I have injury and I can’t come and I need to work in Hershey, get my condition back because I long time did nothing,” Orlov said. “It’s hard time for me.”
Orlov played four games since returning from the concussion-induced absence, putting up three assists. Most importantly, the symptoms were gone.
“I feel better and play four games for Hershey and every game feel better,” Orlov said. “But first couple games feel so tired but normal. Right now I think I feel all right.”
The Caps need Orlov to step in and play right away because of a bevy of injuries on the blue line. Mike Green (groin), John Erskine (apparent left hand/wrist/arm), Tomas Kundratek (right knee) and Tom Poti (back) are all on injured reserve.
“It’s the same for everybody,” coach Adam Oates said. “Guys get called up and they fit into the lineup and you’ve got to play them.”
Orlov has more seasoning at this level than either Kundratek or Steve Oleksy. He didn’t look out of place in the NHL at the age of 20, so his teammates don’t expect any different at age 21.
“It’s something that you never really know how a player’s going to react when they come up here,” goaltender Braden Holtby said. “Some guys find it easier; some guys just can’t seem to make that jump. Orly was one of those guys that, really, he could make that jump and he’s a confident kid.”
Confident, not cocky or arrogant, Holtby said. Orlov had three goals and 16 assists with the Caps last season, but he didn’t see any action in the playoffs.
That was likely more a product of coach Dale Hunter’s insistence on relying on veteran defensemen than an indictment of Orlov’s talent.
“Last year you could tell his mental part of the game, how he thought the game, really got better throughout the year,” Holtby said. “Hopefully we can make him comfortable enough here.”
The Caps are plenty comfortable with Orlov based on last season. He’ll play alongside Jeff Schultz against the Penguins, but he showed the ability to adjust to a lot of roles and partners during his rookie year.
“I’ve known him since he was 18, his first camp here and whatnot,” defenseman John Carlson said. “He’s very skilled and he’s a great skater, when he’s moving his feet he sees the play really well. I think in this day and age if you have that attribute as a defenseman to move the puck and get up ice it makes it harder on them and easier on our forwards.”