- The Washington Times - Friday, April 22, 2016

Nate Schmidt tries his best to replicate the brute force that Brooks Orpik unleashes on opposing skaters, but he knows his efforts are likely to fall well short.

There is just no way for Schmidt, the Washington Capitals’ 24-year-old defenseman, to punish opponents the way Orpik, a 13-year veteran with more than 800 games played, does. For one, Schmidt is 6-foot and 191 pounds — two inches shorter and 30 pounds lighter than Orpik. His hits just don’t pack the same punch.

“He’s a rugged player,” Schmidt said. “I like to say I play that way, but I don’t. I try to. If I hit guys, it’s different than Brooks hitting guys. When it pertains to Brooks, he’s a guy that’s been here before so it’s tough to replicate it. Got to make sure you keep to your strengths.”

Schmidt’s strengths rest on finessing his way around the ice, which is what he did in the Capitals’ 2-1 loss to the Philadelphia Flyers in Game 4 of the team’s first-round playoff series.

With Orpik out because of an upper-body injury sustained in Game 3, when he was hit by Ryan White, Schmidt assumed Orpik’s role alongside John Carlson as the Capitals’ top defensive pair. He’s expected to assume the same role in Game 5 on Friday night at Verizon Center as the Capitals try to close out the first-round series, which they lead, 3-1.

“I think Schmidtty does well when he moves up,” Capitals coach Barry Trotz said after Friday’s morning skate. “I think it gets him in the game a little bit more. He stays in the game. I think he’s got a good skill set and he gives us a dimension of adding people off the rush. He can move around in the offensive zone a little bit as well.”

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In Wednesday night’s loss, Schmidt was on the ice for 18:23 — 11:21 more than he played in Game 1, when he started on the third pair with Dmitry Orlov.

“You ask any player, the more you play, it’s easier to get your legs moving,” Schmidt said. “Legs felt good [in Game 4]. Hopefully, they feel good tonight.”

When Orpik missed 40 games earlier this season with a broken bone in one of his legs, Schmidt played much of the time alongside Carlson on the top pair. He averaged 20:22 of playing time with Orpik out, which was reduced to 15:25 after Orpik returned. Though it’s only Schmidt’s first playoff series of his career, his teammates are seeing him play with confidence in the increased role.

“I just think what you’re seeing out of him is confidence carrying the puck, getting the puck out of the zone and moving it through the neutral zone,” defenseman Karl Alzner said. “Last game, a lot, he was jumping in the rush and being that third guy in the rush, the fourth guy in the rush and that creates a couple chances for us. It’s fun to see a player develop like that in a series.”

The series has been physical thus far, but Schmidt doesn’t anticipate changing his game. The smooth-skating defenseman knows he can create havoc by getting in plays rather than trying to take opponents out of them, which is what he’ll try to continue to do on Friday.

Schmidt, who had an assist in Game 3, had two shots on goal in Game 4.

“You’re just hoping the guy that started the rush created enough room for you so you don’t get too nervous when you get the puck as one of the last guys back,” Schmidt joked. “That’s something we can do a little bit better in this series. We did it in the first two games a little bit, getting a third guy in there and hitting them and making sure we create extra space.

“Tonight, it’s really pivotal for us to get our guys up in the play. It makes it tough to defend against us when you’re back-checking [defensemen] all game. I know our guys don’t like chasing [Flyers defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere] or anybody like that the whole game.”

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