Absence of veteran defenseman Orpik showing for Penguins
UNIONDALE, N.Y. — The Penguins are playing without (their) conscience.
The New York Islanders have noticed.
“He's strong, he's physical, he's very good in his own end, and he's tough to take it to the net against,” Islanders right winger Brad Boyes said of Penguins defenseman Brooks Orpik. “With him out of the lineup, it does help us.”
Orpik could help the Penguins take a vice-like grip on their first-round Stanley Cup playoff series — they lead, 2-1 — if he plays in Game 4 on Tuesday night.
He was not available for comment Monday after joining teammates for an optional practice at Nassau Coliseum. He had not practiced since Thursday.
Orpik would not have said anything about his undisclosed lower-body injury anyway. Players have been instructed not to talk about injuries as part of the club's new playoff policy.
Orpik, the Penguins' longest-tenured player, has played under four coaches during his nine full seasons, and his preference for honesty has, at one point, irritated every one of those men.
He calls things like he sees them, especially when things are not going well. Hence the ‘Conscience' moniker bestowed upon him by members of the media.
So when Orpik, as he has this postseason, chooses to say nothing about an injury that has prevented him from playing in five consecutive games dating to the regular season ... well, that is perhaps the best example of a Penguins player going all-in for this Stanley Cup chase.
To win the chase for the Cup without Orpik for an extended stretch seems unrealistic, though.
He remains the Penguins' one irreplaceable defenseman.
Coach Dan Bylsma did not say that exactly on Monday, but his words about Orpik pointed out what the Penguins have missed in Games 1, 2 and 3.
“His ability to play against other teams' good players in a shutdown role,” Bylsma said, noting a majority of Orpik's 22 minutes per game were played against opponents' top forwards.
The sight of skilled Islanders forwards — most notably right winger Kyle Okposo — driving to the net with success over the past two games has left an impression on more than just Bylsma.
“It's definitely been to our advantage to try to do that,” Boyes said, noting that only defenseman Doug Murray has proven an imposing obstacle for the Penguins.
Orpik would change the dynamic, Boyes said.
“It's very hard to keep him off to the side with an arm or something,” Boyes said.
Already in this series, Bylsma has soured on Deryk Engelland and Simon Despres as replacements for Orpik. Engelland was yanked from the lineup after Game 2, and Despres played only about a minute in the third period and overtime in Game 3.
If Orpik is not ready for Game 4, Bylsma's choices would be between Engelland, Despres and Robert Bortuzzo, who has played in only four games dating to March 1.
The Penguins would prefer to check with their conscience, because Orpik would make everybody on the blueline look a lot better — especially around the blue paint of an increasingly crowded goal crease.
“He brings a little bit of a calming presence, but he brings that intensity, too,” defenseman Paul Martin said. “There just aren't a lot of guys like him anymore.”