Developing an NHL defenseman at the NHL level is one of the most painstaking challenges in hockey. But developing three of them at the same time?
That’s the challenge in front of the Capitals’ coaching staff as they try to win games while grooming Dmitry Orlov, 22, Nate Schmidt, 22, and Connor Carrick, 19, into reliable NHL defenders.
“They make mistakes, but veterans do, too,” Capitals coach Adam Oates said. “If it was a colossal amount, then they’d get out of the lineup. But that’s not what it is. They’re making mistakes that everybody makes.”
Before Saturday night’s 5-0 victory over the Montreal Canadiens, Orlov had a particularly tough stretch. He entered the game in Montreal a minus-6 in his previous four games, his first-period giveaway in Newark led to the Devils’ first goal, and his second-period penalty led to their second.
Orlov’s mistakes had become more pronounced because of the Capitals’ lack of scoring, but he bounced back with a solid 16 minutes of plus-1 hockey in Montreal, registering one hit and two blocked shots.
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Carrick also had a strong game, working 18 minutes, picking up his second NHL assist and finishing a plus-2 with four blocks.
Oates said the Caps need to stay committed to playing defensemen who can move the puck quickly out of their own zone. And if that means playing Orlov and rotating Schmidt and Carrick with veteran John Erskine, so be it.
“You talk to them, you encourage, you show them the mistakes and how they can fix it,” Oates said.
Oates said the only way the Caps can compete in today’s NHL is to create speed from their back end.
“You see it every night,” Oates said. “Teams are quicker, faster. We played Ottawa and their defense is flying. They handle the forecheck and then they jump in the rush. It’s turning into a track meet.
“In saying that, you’ve got to play D. I still think we spend too much time in our own end. We use up too much energy in our own end that’s not available at the other end. So every play we can make an exit is huge for us.”