ARLINGTON, Va. – Washington Capitals defenseman Brooks Orpik will be a game-time decision for the 2015 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic on Thursday at Nationals Park.
Orpik left Washington's 4-3 overtime loss to the New York Islanders on Monday with a right knee injury after a third-period collision with Islanders forward Cal Clutterbuck. The 34-year-old had to be assisted to the locker room by defenseman John Carlson and forward Jason Chimera.
"I've hurt the knee before, so this one felt a little bit different," Orpik said. "A lot more painful than previous injuries, but the other injuries were a lot worse, so hopefully that's a good sign.
"It would be kind of disappointing to miss this one, but that's kind of up in the air right now."
The image of Orpik writhing on the ice had the Capitals fearing the worst, but their unease later gave way to cautious optimism.
"A lot better than I thought it would be when I first saw it," coach Barry Trotz said. "Obviously wearing a brace and all that, it really saved him. When he started walking on the plane yesterday with no limp, it was pretty encouraging."
Orpik, who signed a five-year, $27.5 million contract with Washington on July 1, has stabilized the Capitals' previously tenuous defensive depth. He averages 21:58 of ice time per game, anchoring the penalty kill and serving as one half of Washington's shutdown pair with Carlson.
If Orpik, who is hoping to practice at Nationals Park on Wednesday, is unable to play against the Chicago Blackhawks, Trotz said the Capitals might recall defenseman Steve Oleksy from the Hershey Bears of the American Hockey League as insurance.
With more solidity on the back end this season, the Capitals' defensive corps is confident that they can somewhat mitigate his absence if necessary.
"We're going to try," defenseman Karl Alzner said. "He's probably our best defenseman, so it's hard to lose a guy like that, but [Nate Schmidt] and [Jack Hillen] have both been playing really good with their opportunities, so I think it's going to work out fine."
Trotz said that the magnitude of the NHL Winter Classic would not play into his decision regarding Orpik's status.
"Too important of a player with us to risk," Trotz said. "If we're not 100 percent sure, it's not going to happen."