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Is Dmitri Orlov ready to take his game to the next level?
While Karl Alzner, John Carlson and Mike Green should all be reliable and very effective defenders, the status of the rest of the Capitals' defense is not nearly so certain.
As mentioned previously, Alzner and Carlson would seem to be the consensus choice for the Caps top defensive pairing. Mike Green seems destined to be on the Caps second defensive line. Whom he will be paired with might very well be the hockey equivalent of a "blue-liner by committee" approach.
Roman Hamrlik appears the most likely option here as he was paired with Green quite often during the 2012 NHL playoffs. Hamrlik, like many of the Caps' defenders, really picked up his game during the playoffs and, at times, seemed to really flourish next to Green, particularly once Green adopted his more physical style of play.
Whether or not Hamrlik completes the Caps' second defensive line, the need to develop a reliable and consistent third defensive line is of utmost importance. For this to happen, the Caps need someone to step forward and assert himself as a defenseman on whom the team can rely.
Dmitri Orlov seems like the most likely suspect here. In his first season with the Caps, Orlov did not exactly put forth jaw-dropping numbers as he scored three goals, had 16 assists and had a plus/minus rating of plus-1.
Still, Orlov is regarded by many Caps' followers as the best of the Caps current defenders looking to solidify a spot on either the second or third lines. For instance, in a summary of Orlov's season on Japers' Rink, Orlov's performance this season was considered a bright spot amongst a team where bright spots were quite rare.
The Caps also acquired Jack Hillen this offseason via free agency, signing him to a one-year, $650,000 deal (Washington Post). Last year he played in 55 games, scoring only six points and had a plus-6 rating for the Predators.
The good thing about Hillen is he was already playing on the third defensive line in Nashville so this would be a natural fit for him. Hillen might be an answer but it is tough to say.
Though he is only 26 years old, his career numbers are not that great. His high for points was 22 in 2010-2011 when Hillen was with the Islanders.
His career plus/minus rating is a minus-12 so that is not very encouraging at all.
While Hillen might be a solution, the player I am watching to emerge as a lineman with Orlov on the Caps third defensive line is Tomas Kundratek. Kundratek did not play much last season, only playing in five games.
But the 22-year-old had a very good season with the Hershey Bears as he played in 55 games, scored 12 goals with 11 assists and had a plus-3 rating. Those are all good, solid numbers easily worthy of a shot on the Caps third defensive line.
After all, the play of Jeff Schultz has been disappointing to say the least and John Erskine is rather inconsistent.
However it all plays out, the Caps need to find a defensive pairing they can rely on to make up their third defensive line. Teams in the Eastern Conference—and particularly division rival Carolina—have been working diligently on getting deeper. The Caps seem to be following this blueprint on offense.
They need to gain depth in which they can rely on the defensive side of the puck as well if they hope to succeed this season.