GAME DAY REPORT
Celina Pompeani and Sam Kasan discuss Brooks Orpik and Matt Niskanen returning to Pittsburgh as the Penguins take on the Washington Capitals. --Michelle Crechiolo
It was definitely odd seeing Brooks Orpik in Capitals gear on Saturday morning, and he said it was weird for him, too, when he put on that equipment for the first time this summer.
“When we were getting red, white, and blue equipment, that was the first time I was like ‘wow, that’s a little bit weird,’” Orpik said.
That surreal feeling was back as he spoke to reporters in the visitors' locker room at CONSOL Energy Center as he prepared to play his former team for the first time since inking a five-year deal with the Capitals during the offseason.
“It’s a little bit different,” Orpik said. “I definitely was aware of (this game) when it was on the schedule. We’ve been on the road so much and it kind of seemed like you were playing every other day, so that was actually good. You didn’t allow yourself to get ahead of yourself. But I’ve definitely thought about it a lot the last three days.”
Players go up against their old clubs all the time in the NHL. But this one means a lot more, as Orpik had spent his entire career with the Penguins before signing with Washington. He was their franchise blueliner, playing 703 total games with Pittsburgh, which is a team record for a defenseman, after the organization drafted him in the first round (18th overall) back in 2000 – not to mention skating in a fair amount of games with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton.
Orpik was the foundation; the first piece of Pittsburgh’s core group of drafted and developed players that includes Marc-Andre Fleury, Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang — that won them the Stanley Cup in 2009.
The 34-year-old was a fan favorite during his time here for his physical style of play. Who could forget “The Shift,” where he threw four hits in 15 seconds in Game 3 of the 2008 Stanley Cup Final? Orpik’s not sure what kind of reaction he’ll get from the crowd, but he hopes it isn’t negative.
“Hopefully it’s good,” Orpik grinned. “I have nothing but good memories here. Obviously the last couple years were disappointing the way we finished, but that was just the hockey side of things. Away from some of the disappointing endings we had to seasons, I have nothing but good memories here. Hopefully the fans reciprocate those feelings. My family loved the time we had here. (It) came to end this summer and we moved on and we’re enjoying ourselves now in Washington.”
With the Penguins the only organization he’d known for the last 14 years, transitioning to a new team was an unfamiliar experience for Orpik. But it helped that he had fellow defenseman Matt Niskanen, his teammate for the last three-plus seasons in Pittsburgh before signing with the Caps this summer, and former Penguins assistant coach Todd Reirden to help with the adjustment.
“It helps a little bit,” Orpik said. “That was good for my wife too, having Matt’s wife there and then we wound up buying houses real close to each other. … But it really hasn’t that different to be honest. I think it helped out that we had a new coach (Barry Trotz) here, so all the guys in the room were starting at the same level. I didn’t feel like I was playing catch up at all. I think we were all kind of forced to help each other along, so it was actually an easy transition to be honest.”
Orpik’s played against Crosby and Malkin in international competition, but never in this league. He’s hoping that the three days off for Christmas break may slow them down a bit.
“I think as a defenseman, that’s why you see so many guys improve here defensively because you practice against those guys everyday and that’s a luxury you probably don’t realize at the time, but you’re definitely better off for it,” Orpik said. “I don’t know if that will help me out at all tonight. But just like any team we’re facing, there’s always a couple guys that you’ve got to key on and be aware of and those guys are no different.”
Orpik hopes to catch up with his former teammates after the game, but he joked that it may depend on the outcome.
“We’re staying overnight, so I don’t know, we’ll see what happens after,” Orpik laughed. “We’ll see how the game goes, I guess. See if I’m in the mood or if they’re in the mood. I still talk to a bunch of the guys throughout the season, so we’ll see how the game goes. It should be interesting.”--Michelle Crechiolo
BEHIND ENEMY LINES
Alexander the Gr8
Former Penguins defenseman Matt Niskanen led all NHL blueliners in plus/minus last season with a plus-33
Former Penguins d-man Brooks Orpik still repping #44
Caps tendy Braden Holtby--Joey Sykes
PENSTV INTERVIEWSSidney Crosby Robert Bortuzzo Rob Scuderi Chris Kunitz --Michelle Crechiolo
QUOTE 'EM--Sam Kasan
Head coach Mike Johnston had a few lineup/injury notes...
- Brandon Sutter will play tonight. He was cleared of the mumps.
- Robert Bortuzzo will be game-time decision.
- Paul Martin and Beau Bennett are progressing.
- Olli Maatta is rehabbing and should be back in the next 4 weeks.
Sid the Kid goes hard during morning skate before tonight's Metropolitan matchup vs the Caps
Sutter eyes up his netminder
Mr. Ivy League
Bortuzzo looks to return to the ice tonight against the Capitals
Letang follows through
Bennett scans the ice for a buddy
It seems something caught Goc's eye
Perfect form, Jeff--Joey Sykes
MORNING SKATE INFO
The Pens are on the ice for their morning skate. The following players are missing: Craig Adams; Blake Comeau; Steve Downie; Zach Sill; Christian Ehrhoff; Olli Maatta; Thomas Greiss. The news came down yesterday that Downie and Greiss have the mumps. So this morning the team recalled Jayson Megna and Jeff Zatkoff. One bright spot, Beau Bennett was on the ice for the skate.
The team used the following workflow...
The 8 defensemen rotated in sets. --Sam Kasan
DIGITAL PREVIEW--Sam Kasan
SCOUTING THE CAPS --Sam Kasan
START THE DAY
Good morning hockey fans. I hope everyone enjoyed their holidays (whatever your faith and beliefs). The Christmas break is over for the Pens and they're back on the ice tonight against division rival Washington. Tonight's game will also mark the return of former Pens Brooks Orpik, Matt Niskanen and Todd Reirden. Here are some game notes to get you ready...
- The Penguins resume action against the Washington Capitals (TV: ROOT SPORTS; Radio: 105.9 the X) at CONSOL Energy Center.
- Tonight is projected to be the Penguins’ 300th consecutive regular-season sellout (353rd straight sellout overall).
- Pittsburgh’s loss at Tampa Bay in the team’s final game before the Christmas break was the Penguins’ first regulation loss in nine games (5-1-3) and just the fourth time in the last 20 games that the team hasn’t earned at least one point (12-4-4).
- Pittsburgh has won a season-high five consecutive home games entering tonight.
- The Penguins have a current eight-game winning streak against the Capitals. That’s the Penguins’ longest winning streak in the history of the series between the teams.
- Here at CONSOL Energy Center the Penguins are 5-0-1 in their last six games against the Capitals.