Orpik sustained a lower-body injury in the Caps’ 4-3 overtime loss to the New York Islanders on Monday night and appeared to be in severe discomfort, as he was shown writhing in pain and clutching his right knee during the third period.
But both Orpik and Capitals coach Barry Trotz revealed that the initial diagnosis was much more optimistic than many had expected after witnessing the play.
Trotz said he was confident that there was no structural damage, and Orpik said he did not believe the injury would sideline him long-term.
"Right now, he’ll be a game-time decision," Trotz said after the Capitals' Tuesday morning practice at Kettler Capitals Iceplex in Arlington, Virginia. "A lot better than I thought it would be when I first saw it. Obviously, wearing a brace and all that, it really saved him. When he started walking on the plane yesterday with no limp, that was pretty encouraging."
Orpik has had multiple injuries to the same knee in previous years, although he does not think this will be a serious one.
"This one felt a little bit different, a lot more painful than previous injuries, but the other injuries were a lot worse," Orpik said. "Hopefully that’s a good sign."
Orpik said he will continue to undergo treatment and aim to practice Wednesday or Thursday (prior to the game) before making any decision on whether to play in what has become the NHL’s signature regular-season event.
"Hopefully it responds well," Orpik said. "It’d be kind of disappointing to miss this one, but that’s kind of up in the air for now."
Trotz said the injury will not be handled any differently just because of the hype and excitement surrounding the game. He said Orpik’s importance to the team is essential and the team won’t risk jeopardizing his health.
"We’ll be cautious. He’s been important to our team, so we’ll do what’s right for the player," Trotz said. “He knows his body better than anybody, so just talking to him, he feels like he’ll be a game-time decision."
Despite questions about Orpik’s durability when he signed a five-year, $27.5 million contract as an unrestricted free agent this past summer, Orpik has not missed a game this season with the Caps. The Capitals have actually been remarkably healthy on their back end, with fellow defensemen John Carlson, Matt Niskanen and Karl Alzner having played all 36 games this season.
That sort of continuity and consistency on defense has been vital to a team that underwent a significant overhaul this past summer, replacing both the team’s coach Adam Oates and general manager George McPhee.
The Capitals have won four of the past six games and currently sit third in the Metropolitan Division with an 18-11-7 record and 43 points.
"I think it just gives you a lot of confidence, peace of mind," Trotz said. "You feel no matter who you go against, you have a way to counter some of their strengths, if you will. Just having people that are consistent in their game helps the team play more consistent."
"It might not have shown [Monday night] because it wasn’t one of our better games, but I thought we were really resilient to ... get points on the road when we didn’t maybe have our best performance," Trotz continued. "That’s pretty important in our culture, if you will."
The Caps rallied from a three-goal deficit against the Isles to secure a point before being edged in overtime in their last game before the Winter Classic.
Trotz indicated that 23-year-old Nate Schmidt would draw into the lineup if Orpik is unable to play, although the Capitals may also call up depth defenseman Steve Oleksy from the AHL as insurance.