PHILADELPHIA — With the clock ticking down and the Capitals trailing the Flyers by a goal in an exhibition rookie game, Dmitry Orlov was in his element. Not once but twice he kept the puck in the offensive zone and ratcheted up the pressure with the net empty 170 feet behind him.
His shots from the point got to Philadelphia goalie Michael Houser but never quite past him, and the Caps left Wells Fargo Center with a 3-2 loss. But more than anything else, they left with an amazing glimpse of Orlov as a future star.
“He’s got that ability to rise at those special moments,” said Hershey coach Mark French, who coached the Caps’ rookies. “He brings a coach on the edge of his seat, that’s for sure. He does some things that are special.”
The end of the game was a perfect example, as Orlov captained the 6-on-5 attack, just as he might one day do in Washington. In the same vein, Cody Eakin and Mattias Sjogren impressed coach Bruce Boudreau.
“Those guys, I thought they weren’t panicking,” Boudreau said. “We didn’t get the final outcome that we wanted, but you could see that these guys were guys that wanted to be on the ice, not ‘Oh my God I’m on the ice in the last minute.’ They wanted to be there.”
Teammates and coaches alike had nothing but glowing reviews of Orlov — described by just about everyone as a talented offensive defenseman.
“He’s obviously unbelievably gifted offensively, and also a very good defensive player, too,” Taylor Stefishen said. “Sometimes you’re in awe by the things he can do in the offensive zone.”
French admitted that there’s a lot of “risk-reward” in the 20-year-old defenseman’s game, because he likes to pinch and get involved in the offense. Orlov also likes to throw his body around, as Flyers free agent invitee Tomas Hyka found out when crushed into the boards while chasing a loose puck.
French knows Orlov’s game perhaps better than anyone else in the arena, and he appreciated how the young defenseman picked his spots well when delivering hits.
“He’s got to find his game within our game,” French said. “There’s going to be times where he’s got to have a physical element to a game, but it can’t pull him out of position and leave us short the other way.”
For the most part, French and Boudreau loved what they saw out of the guys expected to make an impact — including Orlov, Eakin, Sjogren and Garrett Mitchell, who scored one of the goals (Garrett Ross had the first one).
Eakin wasn’t thrilled about how his game went — though French shrugged it off as the center setting a high standard.
“I didn’t create as much as I wanted to, but in the third period I think I played with a lot more intensity,” Eakin said. “It’s not in a bad way, it’s in a healthy way. It’s going to push me for the next game to not repeat the same thing twice. It’s as healthy pressure I put on myself.”
Orlov may not realize it, but he put pressure and expectations on himself by standing out so much Thursday afternoon in front of a crowd of over 11,000.
And though Orlov didn’t register a point, Boudreau lauded him for playing big minutes and called him the Caps’ “dominant defenseman.” But as he has all week, Washington’s coach cautioned that he’s still a young player.
“He’s got some things to learn as he jumps into the play a little bit, but he certainly has the jam to do it,” Boudreau said. “A lot of guys wouldn’t have the guts to jump in when he does, but he does and is ready to do it. When he learns to control all that, he’s going to be really good.”