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Orpik Quietly Leads Way for Pens

by Sam Kasan / Pittsburgh Penguins

As the Penguins rolled to their third straight win with a 2-1 shootout win against Carolina Tuesday night at CONSOL Energy Center, the headlines were filled with the extravagant play of Evgeni Malkin, James Neal and Marc-Andre Fleury.

But a lot of players are contributing in many different ways for the team. One unsung hero for the club has been defenseman Brooks Orpik.

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The veteran blueliner has been a steadying presence on the backend for Pittsburgh, while also providing the type of leadership by example that his teammates feed off of – whether it’s making the smart defensive play or throwing a big check to turn the momentum of the game.

“That’s a huge part of his game,” blueliner Ben Lovejoy said. “It’s amazing how much a big hit can get you going. He’s a guy that consistently brings that every game, and he is a guy we look up to. We base our play on his leadership.”

“You’re kind of expecting him to throw at least one a game,” defenseman Deryk Engelland said. “He usually doesn’t disappoint. That’s part of his game and I know myself and a lot of others guys watch him and how he plays, and try to play like him.”

Orpik is certainly a physical force for the Pens. He registered seven hits Jan. 11 at Washington, in a game that started to turn the tide for the Pens fortunes. A hit by Orpik in the neutral zone at Tampa Bay Jan. 15, led to a turnover and a goal by Evgeni Malkin. And he crushed Carolina’s young phenom Jeff Skinner in the neutral zone Tuesday night with a solid, clean check.

“A couple of (Orpik’s) hits and his play in Florida made a statement,” head coach Dan Bylsma said. “The play he made in Tampa Bay, that’s all Brooks Orpik, stepping up in the neutral zone, making a big hit, creates the turnover for ‘Geno’ to score that goal. The hit on Skinner is an indicator for our team about where we’re at as a team. He’s leading the way in that charge.”

It’s no coincidence either that Orpik’s play has improved along with his health. He sat out the preseason and first eight games of the regular season after undergoing lower abdominal/hernia surgery on his right side – the same procedure was conducted on his left side in 2010.

“I probably came back a little too early this year and kind of struggled through some of the groin issues I was having last year,” Orpik said. “But it’s just a maintenance issue and hopefully that’s in the past now. The way I’ve been feeling on the ice, it’s a lot more enjoyable.

“It’s no fun playing at 70-80 percent. You just can’t do certain things. That’s something you go through during the year. You just try to get as close to 100 percent as you can. When you’re healthier its’ a lot more enjoyable to play, when you can do everything that you’re capable of doing.”

Orpik is the longest tenured Penguin, playing in his eighth season in Pittsburgh. He’s been through a lot of ups and downs with the team since breaking into the league in 2003-04.

Orpik has matured not only into one of the best defensive defensemen in the NHL, but also wears the “A” as alternate captain. And he isn’t shy about being vocal in the locker room or motivating his teammates with his play.

“He’s been doing that his whole career,” Lovejoy said. “been a constant. When we’re struggling, he’s a guy you look to and a guy whose game you can always follow and count on. He’s the leader of our defense and a guy we follow.”

“Brooks is a guy who has been around for a long time,” goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury said. “A guy that always works hard on the ice. It’s fun to watch him play, too. He’s very physical and gets our team going. He’s been through a lot, seen a lot so it’s good to us.”

Engelland probably summed it up best:

“He’s a great guy around the room. He keeps guys accountable. Guys know what he does in the locker room. He might not get noticed for putting points up or anything like that, but he’s a leader on our D, and leads on the ice for the whole team.”

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