Brooks Orpik will be suspended for three games, with the NHL announcing on Sunday that the Washington Capitals defenseman was guilty of a late and illegal hit on Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Olli Maatta in Saturday’s Game 3 of their playoff series.
The hit took place in the first period, with Orpik delivering a late hit to the head of Maatta after the Penguins player took a shot. Orpik will now miss Game 3 on Monday, Game 4 on Wednesday, and Game 5 on Saturday.
In announcing the suspension, NHL director of player safety Patrick Burke said the hit was “forceful, unacceptably high and excessively late.” In a video posted on NHL.com, Burke noted that Brooks Orpik made significant head contact more than a second after Maatta released the puck, adding that Maatta’s injury was a factor in the suspension.
“No player should reasonably expect to be hit at this time and in this manner,” Burke said.
Maatta’s status for Monday’s Game 3 is unclear. The 21-year-old has a history of concussion problems, ESPN noted.
The hit drew the ire of the Pittsburgh Penguins, with coach Mike Sullivan speaking out against it on Sunday.
“I thought it was a late hit,” Sullivan said. “I thought it was a target to his head. I think it’s the type of hit that everyone in hockey is trying to remove from the game.”
But Washington Capitals players and coaches defended Brooks Orpik, saying he is not a dirty player.
“If you know anything about Brooks, he plays hard, he plays clean,” said Capitals coach Barry Trotz. “He’s not a dirty player. The Pittsburgh people know that. He plays the game hard but the right way.”
The suspension to Brooks Orpik comes amid other problems for the Washington Capitals, who have struggled over the course of the last five games. After taking a 3-0 series lead over the Philadelphia Flyers, the Capitals have sputtered, especially Evgeny Kuznetsov and his second line.
After notching 77 points this season, Kuznetsov has gone on a cold streak, with just one goal and one assist in eight playoff games. He had three shots in Saturday’s 2-1 loss, but had trouble finding consistent chances, ESPN noted.
The Penguins have been cool under pressure, scoring the winning goal on Saturday with less than five minutes remaining to take the 2-1 series lead. Eric Fehr, who score the game-winning goal, said he believes the Penguins have become a very hard team to play against, saying they “make teams earn goals”
“We do a much better job of managing the puck, and I think the whole year that’s something we really focused on was being harder to play against and being really strong in our [defensive] zone and letting that be our strength and turn that into offense for us,” he told ESPN.
That ability to remain cool and focused has helped the Penguins maintain control in what has otherwise been a chippy series. They have responded well to the pressure from the Capitals, refusing to retaliate after Orpik’s hit to Maatta and cranking up the pressure after the Penguins took a 1-0 lead on a power play goal.
That is the Penguins’ strategy, noted Sidney Crosby.
“I think that’s what has got us here,” Crosby said. “We’re a skilled and fast team, and a lot of teams try to slow us down or try to be extra physical against us. We know if we get sucked into that, then we’re getting away from our game and we’re not productive that way. I think it’s pretty clear that we know if we get caught up in that we put ourselves in a bad position.”
With Brooks Orpik suspended, the Capitals will now be under even more pressure as the series turns back to Pittsburgh, with Game 3 on Monday.
[Photo by Drew Hallowell/Getty Images]