- The Washington Times - Monday, May 2, 2016

PITTSBURGH — Brooks Orpik said that the hit he made on Olli Maatta on Saturday was “a bad hit” and that the three-game suspension handed to him by the NHL on Sunday night “was fair.”

Orpik was whistled for interference at 4:13 of Game 2 of the Washington Capitals’ second-round playoff series against the Pittsburgh Penguins following a hit on Maatta that appeared to give the young defenseman a concussion.

In a hearing regarding the hit on Sunday, Orpik said that “there wasn’t much arguing” and that he conceded that it was late, but that he insisted there was no intent to injure Maatta.

“I don’t think there’s anything that you can argue,” said Orpik, who spoke with contrition and regret. “It was definitely late. It was pretty black and white. I said that during the hearing yesterday, so I’m just disappointed. It’s a split-second decision you make and I’ve just got to live with it.”

Maatta did not return to the game and will not play in Game 3 of the series on Monday night, Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said, though he left open the possibility that Maatta could play at some future point in the series.



“We kind of expected something to happen [with a suspension],” Penguins center Sidney Crosby, the team’s captain, said on Monday. “It was a bad hit. We’ve still got to focus on what we have to do out there.”

Orpik, who missed the last three games of the Capitals’ first-round playoff series against the Philadelphia Flyers after sustaining a concussion, objected to the idea that he was intentionally trying to injure Maatta — a former teammate whom he considers a friend.

“I was in a similar spot two weeks ago,” Orpik said. “It’s tough hearing people try to say I was intentionally trying to hit him in the head. I’ve dealt with enough head and neck issues. That was tough to watch.”

The fact that Maatta will miss time with an injury, Capitals coach Barry Trotz said, should have had no basis on Orpik’s suspension. Trotz said that he was “more disappointed on the length than anything,” citing the one-game ban handed to Flyers center Pierre-Edouard Bellemare for a hit that drove Capitals defenseman Dmitry Orlov into the end boards late in Game 3.

In a video outlining the reasons for the suspension, the NHL noted Orpik’s disciplinary history as a factor in its length. He was given a one-game suspension in 2003 for kneeing then-Los Angeles Kings defenseman Tim Gleason and then a three-game ban in 2006 for boarding then-Carolina Hurricanes winger Erik Cole.

Trotz acknowledged that Orpik, who played parts of 11 seasons for the Penguins before joining the Capitals in 2014, “plays tough against people.” But, Trotz said, the defenseman is not a dirty player who would target another’s head.

“I mean, the people here in Pittsburgh trying to paint him that way, come on,” Trotz said. “That’s a joke. He’s an honest, hard-nosed player, and I think a lot of players around the league will tell you that. Does he hit hard? Absolutely. Absolutely, he hits hard, but that’s not a predator. A predator is a guy that’s trying to hurt people. He’s trying to play through people, in terms of [playing] hard.”

Orpik said he spoke with Maatta briefly after the game on Saturday, though he declined to share the nature of that conversation. Though the two only overlapped in Pittsburgh for one season, Orpik was considered by Maatta, 21, to be a mentor of sorts.

Without Maatta available, the Penguins turned to Derrick Pouliot, who played in 22 games this season and made his playoff debut after being a healthy scratch for Pittsburgh’s first seven postseason games.

Orpik missed 40 games during the regular season after breaking a bone in one of his legs in addition to the time already missed in the playoffs. The Capitals will likely have Nate Schmidt fill in Orpik’s spot on the top defensive pair alongside John Carlson, and then will reincorporate Orlov, who was benched for Game 2 in the series because of a miscue in the opener.

Orlov said he spoke about the mistakes with Trotz after Game 2, when his misplay led to a goal by defenseman Ben Lovejoy midway through the second period.

“I think he just said I need to get better,” Orlov said before Monday’s game. “That’s it. And, I know going into this.”

If Orpik is able to return, it won’t be until Game 6 — and whether that game will be played won’t be decided until Wednesday at the earliest.

“I made a pretty bad mistake with how late it was,” Orpik said. “That’s about all I’ve got. It was just a bad decision. It was late. It was, obviously, no intention to hit him in the head, but that was the result and that’s why I’m not playing.”

• Zac Boyer can be reached at zboyer@washingtontimes.com.

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