Capitals' Orpik gets another shot at former team
ARLINGTON, Va. — It did not take Brooks Orpik long to experience an NHL playoff series between the Penguins and Washington from the other bench.
After playing with the Penguins from 2002-14, the veteran defenseman with the Capitals faced his former team in postseason play last year in his second season in the nation's capital.
Orpik is preparing to face his former team again, as the defending Stanley Cup champion Penguins will play at Washington on Thursday in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference semifinals. The Pens defeated Washington in six games last year, also in the second round.
“I think it is probably an even playing field for each team,” Orpik said after practice Tuesday, noting most of the key players returned from both clubs. “I don't know if there is an advantage either way as a carryover from last year. Both teams made a few small tweaks to their lineups.”
Washington finished with the most points in regular-season play and dispatched Toronto in six games in the first round. The Penguins had the second-most points in the conference and beat Columbus in five games.
“They are defending champs,” Orpik said. “A lot has been made of the (playoff) format. That is just the way it worked out. There is no use complaining about it. It is the same for them, too. It should be a really good series.”
Orpik, 36, was a first-round pick of the Penguins in 2000. He excelled with the Penguins through the 2013-14 season before playing in 78 games with the Capitals in 2014-15 and in 41 last season while missing 40 games with an injury. The left-handed shooter played in 79 games this season and had 14 assists.
He is one of several former Penguins on the Washington roster, including forward Daniel Winnik and defensemen Taylor Chorney and Matt Niskanen.
Winnik and Chorney were with the Penguins for the 2014-15 season, and Niskanen saw time with the Pens from 2011-14. Chorney, from Ontario, turns 30 on Thursday.
“We have to go through the best to get to where we want to go,” Niskanen said of the Penguins.
The Capitals have won the President's Cup the past two seasons but have not been to the conference finals since 1998. The Penguins have won the last six playoff series with Washington.
“They believe in the system,” Orpik said. “They bring in new guys, (and) it doesn't seem like they miss a beat.”
Washington coach Barry Trotz said the main characters have not changed much since last year's playoffs with the Pens.
“It is a snapshot of last year in a lot of ways,” Trotz said after practice Tuesday. “We didn't get to where we wanted to (in 2016). Hopefully, this year we can. We have a great opportunity. They are the champs. They are sitting on the throne right now.”
In November, the Capitals beat the Penguins, 7-1, at home.
“Playoffs are a different animal,” Trotz said. “I don't know how it is going to shake out. They are Stanley Cup champions. They are a great hockey team. It should be a great series. They are the champs until someone knocks them off.”
The Capitals also lost in seven games to the Penguins in the Eastern Conference semifinals in '09, in six games in the quarterfinals in '01 and in five games in '00 in the quarterfinals.
“It will be a really good test for us,” Orpik said. “It is a little different (for me) than playing anywhere else.”
David Driver is a freelance writer.