Dmitry Orlov

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The Washington Capitals are up to their old tricks again

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The Washington Capitals are doing that thing again.

It seems every year they find a way to work themselves into the top spot in the Metropolitan Division. They’ve finished first in their division seven times out of the past 10 seasons and second twice. Only once — a fifth-place showing — have they been outside the top two during the past decade.

It’s become as predictable as it is remarkable.

And this year, at first glance, it’s sort of surprising.

Sure, Alex Ovechkin is still scoring, Nicklas Backstrom is still assisting and Braden Holtby is still stopping a lot of pucks.

But the Caps also took, what at least appeared to be at the time, a big hit on the backend over the summer.

Offensively, not much has changed (although they did lose Marcus Johannson’s 24 goals) but losing Karl Alzner and Kevin Shattenkirk to free agency and Nate Schmidt in the expansion draft left a sizeable hole to be filled on the blueline.

[Alex Ovechkin has never had a goal-scoring run like this]

Statistically speaking, they’ve also regressed from the numbers they put up last season when they amassed 55 wins.

They had the fourth best Corsi rating in the NHL last season, a statistic that made sense giving their winning prowess. Yet this year, with 21 wins, they sit 23rd in the category they dominated last season.

The same story plays out in expected goals, where they sat ninth last season yet are in 26th place now.

Analytically, a lot of their success this season doesn’t seem to add up, and yet they’ve won eight of their last 10 games and are currently on a three-game heater.

So why are they tied for first place in the Metro? There are a few answers to be had.

In the scoring department, several players have stepped up. Jakub Vrana has 10 goals in 33 games after three in 21 games last year and Tom Wilson is just three points shy of the 19 points he put up in 82 games last season. Brett Connolly and Alex Chaisson are also scoring at better rates and Washington sits eighth in five-on-five scoring.

What is also helping is their high shooting percentage.

At 9.22 percent, the Caps sit in fifth in the league, and their PDO, when you combine their shooting percentage and team save percentage, sits at 101.98, good for the third spot in the NHL.

And the Caps have proven they can keep that number high. Only two teams finished with over nine percent last season, and the Caps were one of them.

On defence, John Carlson and Dmitry Orlov have picked up the slack. The rookie third pairing of Christian Djoos and Madison Bowey is averaging 14 minutes a game and have been a solid addition.

And Holtby, is well, Holtby, which has been especially helpful given Philipp Grubauer‘s struggles to return to last year’s form so far.

So the Caps, for the most part, are in a good spot.

The biggest question that will surround the Caps, assuming they hold serve, is if they can replicate it in the playoffs.

Despite winning a slew of regular season games, the Capitals just can’t figure out how to do the same in April and May.

In nine of the past ten seasons they’ve made the playoffs, they’ve failed to even sniff the Eastern Conference Final, never mind a Stanley Cup final berth.

But that’s another story for another day, as it were.

Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Dmitry Orlov (wrist) ready after missing 2014-15

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Dmitry Orlov didn’t play at all with the Washington Capitals in 2014-15 due to a wrist injury, but now he’s finally in a position to resume his career.

“I feel good,” he told CSN Mid-Atlantic. “I’m ready to go. My wrist is fine right now. I can shoot, I can do everything. I feel good, I feel fine and I’m ready to play. I can’t wait for the season to start.”

The 24-year-old defenseman has been practicing at Kettler Capitals Iceplex while he waits for the start of training camp. Orlov has also spent a good amount of the summer working with teammate John Carlson.

“(Orlov’s) skating great, he handles the puck just as great as he ever used to and his shot is definitely there again,” Carlson said.

Orlov, who did record three assists during a three-game AHL conditioning stint towards the end of 2014-15, is hoping to help fill the void left by Mike Green. Although he’s unlikely to match Green’s offensive contributions, Orlov might prove to be a mainstay on Washington’s third defensive pairing.

Poll: Will the Caps miss Mike Green?

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Mike Green only averaged 19:06 of ice time last season, down more than three minutes from his previous season.

But that reduction wasn’t really a reflection of his play. It was the additions of Matt Niskanen and Brooks Orpik in free agency. There are only so many minutes to go around, and the Caps also had to give John Carlson and Karl Alzner their time.

Despite Green playing less, he actually saw his production increase, from 38 points in 70 games in 2013-14 to 45 points in 72 games last season. Only 15 NHL defensemen had more points than Green did. Shea Weber and Duncan Keith also had 45 points, and they played more games and received far more ice time.

But the Caps had to make a tough decision. If Green wasn’t a top-four d-man on their team, they couldn’t pay him like one. So he signed with Detroit for three years and $18 million.

Green’s departure leaves the Caps with a top four of Orpik, Carlson, Alzner and Niskanen, with a potential bottom pairing of 24-year-olds Dmitry Orlov and Nate Schmidt. (KHL veteran Ilya Nikulin could reportedly be on his way to D.C., too.)

OK, time to vote:

Related: John Carlson is under pressure

Caps’ Trotz on Orlov: ‘We’d like to take a look at him’

Fresh off his three-game conditioning assignment with the Hershey Bears, Dmitry Orlov is excited at the prospect of getting into NHL action with the Washington Capitals in the near future.

Orlov’s conditioning assignment was his first game action of any kind since undergoing surgery on his wrist last May.

“I’m most excited to play,” Orlov told The Washington Post. “Missed, what, 10 and a half months I think? Nice to be on the ice, nice to be playing. Good time right now for me and hope I would play for Caps soon a little bit. We’ll see what coach say, if I go out there or not. But I play in Hershey and it was good to understand I can play again.”

Orlov was recalled on Thursday, but remains on the long-term injury list.

With the Capitals currently trying to nail down a playoff spot, it’s uncertain when Orlov will return to the lineup, but coach Barry Trotz would like to see what the 23-year-old is capable of.

“We’ll see what we do in the next little while here, if we put him in a game or two,” said Trotz. “That’ll all depend on what happens the next couple games, probably. Yeah, or we might have an injury too. It might be as simple as that. But we’ll get him back. I think it was good for him to get some actual real hockey in.

“There’s probably still some rust in his game and he’s got a lot to catch up, but we’d like to take a look at him at some point to see where he is at this level.”

Orlov had three goals and 11 points while averaging 19:36 in ice time in 54 games last season.

With a win in regulation tonight against the Ottawa senators, the Capitals can clinch a playoff spot.

Orlov is unlikely to play tonight, but with three games remaining the Russian’s regular season debut appears close.

Orlov recalled from AHL conditioning assignment, but remains on LTIR

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The Washington Capitals have recalled defenseman Dmitry Orlov from his conditioning assignment with AHL Hershey.

Orlov, who’s missed the entire NHL season with a wrist injury, played three games for the Bears and registered three assists.

“Every game I feel better,” he told The Patriot-News. “I hope everything will be good. In the next days we’ll see how it goes. I hope I will play with the Caps this season.

“It’s not my decision to put me in the lineup. Of course, I want to play. But we’ll see what’s going to happen.”

Orlov is reportedly expected to join the Caps on their three-game road trip that starts tonight in Montreal; however, the club noted in the press release that he’ll return to the long-term injury list.

Related: Orlov (wrist) headed to AHL for three games