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Capitals preparing for Game 3 without Orpik

Washington must adjust on defense with a tied series shifting to Pittsburgh

by Tom Gulitti @tomgulittinhl / Staff Writer

PITTSBURGH -- When the Washington Capitals arrived in Pittsburgh Sunday afternoon, they did not yet know defenseman Brooks Orpik's punishment.

In fact, Orpik had yet to have his telephone hearing with the NHL's Department of Player Safety, but Capitals forward Daniel Winnik said, "everyone is planning for him not to be in the lineup," for Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Second Round against the Pittsburgh Penguins Monday at Consol Energy Center (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, TVA Sports).

Winnik turned out to be correct as the Department of Player Safety announced later Sunday that it had suspended Orpik for three games for his interference hit on Penguins defenseman Olli Maatta in the first period of Washington's 2-1 loss in Game 2 at Verizon Center on Saturday.

Maatta, who appeared dazed as he was helped off the ice, was in the process of being evaluated by Penguins doctors on Sunday, but coach Mike Sullivan said he was "probably not optimistic" that Maatta would be available to play Monday. That means both coaches will have important decisions to make about their lineups on defense heading into a pivotal Game 3 with the best-of-7 series tied at 1-1.

Justin Schultz appears to be the likeliest candidate to replace Maatta with Derrick Pouliot as Sullivan's other option. For Capitals coach Barry Trotz, it will be a choice between Dmitry Orlov and Mike Weber.

Trotz, who was not available to speak to the media on Sunday, made the tough decision Saturday to make Orlov a healthy scratch for the first time this season. Orlov, 24, was one of seven Capitals to play in all 82 regular-season games, but he tried Trotz's patience with some poor decisions with the puck and play in some one-on-one situations.

The final straw came in Washington's 4-3 overtime win in Game 1. First, Nick Bonino stickhandled past Orlov in transition to set up the first of Pittsburgh's two second-period goals. Then, Orlov allowed Phil Kessel to cut inside him off the right wing, leading to another quality scoring chance in the third period.

That earned Orlov a seat on the bench for the remainder of the game and a seat in the press box for Game 2 with former Penguin Taylor Chorney taking his place in the lineup.

With the Capitals in a tight series and a spot in the Eastern Conference Final at stake, Trotz's time for being patient with Orlov had run out.

Video: Orpik suspended 3 games for interference

"The leash is a lot shorter in the playoffs than it is in the regular season," Trotz said Friday. "82 [games], you can sort of work through it. … [In the playoffs] you don't have as much time. The thought process is probably a little different."

Now, Trotz might have to turn back to Orlov, who had eight goals and 21 assists during the regular season, in a situation where Orlov must know he does not have the full confidence of his coach.

Trotz said his message to Orlov after Game 1 was, "You're a good player. You've played lots of games. [In the] playoffs, everything's about short-term memory, and just move forward. You're doing a lot of good things. So, just go from there."

If Trotz is not convinced Orlov can do that, he'll have to turn to Weber. Capitals general manager Brian MacLellan felt his team needed more depth and experience on defense, so he acquired Weber from the Buffalo Sabres on Feb. 23 for a 2017 third-round draft pick.

Weber, who has played in one of Washington's eight Stanley Cup Playoff games so far, does not have the mobility of Orlov, which could be an issue against the speedy Penguins, but would provide a physical presence they'd be missing without Orpik. The 6-foot-2, 217-pound Pittsburgh native would also get the chance to play in the playoffs in his hometown.

"We have a lot of good players that can go in and play," Capitals forward Marcus Johansson said. "Obviously, we want [Orpik] to play, but we have plenty of good hockey players on our team."

The Capitals also have plenty of experience playing without Orpik this season. He missed 40 games from Nov. 12 to Feb. 13 because of a lower-body injury and the Capitals went 30-6-4 in that span.

Orpik also missed the final three games of Washington's first-round series against the Philadelphia Flyers because of an upper-body injury. The Capitals were able to win one of those three games without him to close out a series they led 3-0.

If the Capitals are unable to get at least one win without Orpik during his suspension, his and their season will be over.

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