Orpik set to battle Koivu one more time
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Hard to say, in hindsight, which should have surprised Brooks Orpik more.
That he was getting extensive work on the power play -- not usually part of the job description for a defensive defenseman, even in exhibition games -- or that circumstances gave him an opportunity to lay a DNA-altering hit on Montreal center Saku Koivu.
Probably doesn't matter, though, because neither worked out very well.
A sequence Orpik isn't likely to forget for a while began during an exhibition game Sept. 18 at the Bell Centre when Ben Lovejoy, manning the point opposite Orpik, lost the puck to Koivu, who immediately moved toward the Penguins net.
And squarely into Orpik's crosshairs.
"I don't know if [Lovejoy] tried to make a pass or just lost control of it," Orpik said. "But Koivu got it."
- Matchup: Montreal Canadiens at Penguins, 7:38 p.m. today, Mellon Arena.
- TV, radio: FSN Pittsburgh; WXDX-FM (105.9).
- Probable goaltenders: Marc-Andre Fleury for Penguins. Carey Price for Canadiens.
- Penguins: Gave up nine goals in 21 short-handed situations against Montreal last season. ... C Evgeni Malkin is only player to get a point in each of first two games. ... C Sidney Crosby had eight points in four games against Canadiens in 2006-07.
- Canadiens: Have gone 6-4 in past 10 visits to Mellon Arena. ... Are one of six NHL teams that has not played at home yet. ... Both of Montreal's games this season were decided in overtime.
- Hidden stat: Penguins have not been able to win first two home games of season since 1995-96.
Those two battle every time the Penguins play Montreal -- "He's definitely not one of the bigger guys in the league, but he plays with an edge," Orpik said. "I think that's what makes him so good" -- and Orpik was not about to pass on an opportunity to deliver a check that Koivu's brother, Mikko, could have felt in Minnesota.
"I'm trying to hit him hard," Orpik said. "I'm not trying to hurt him."
His intent became a nonissue when Koivu dodged the check.
"I don't think I missed him by much," Orpik said.
True enough, but the only threat to Koivu's well-being at that point was from windburn, as Orpik's shoulder roared past him.
A split-second later, the forearm a foot or so below that shoulder plowed into the face of Penguins winger Petr Sykora, who had been hidden from Orpik's view by Koivu, leaving a crooked lump of flesh and cartilage -- and a lot of blood -- where Sykora's nose had been.
"I think Petr, too, was kind of lunging at him, so his head was pretty low and vulnerable when I got him," Orpik said.
That Koivu capped the whole episode by scoring a short-handed goal only compounded Orpik's misery, although it helped that Sykora declined to carry a grudge.
"I was a little nervous going into the locker room after the game to see exactly what happened," Orpik said. "Before I could even apologize to [Sykora], he started laughing, so that definitely relaxed me a little bit."
Orpik (along with Sykora and his surgically repaired nose) will face Koivu again tonight, when Montreal visits Mellon Arena at 7:38 p.m.
And despite the occasional misfire, like the one that gave Sykora his extreme makeover, Orpik isn't going to abandon hitting, a key component of his game.
He is the only member of the Penguins' defense capable of consistently delivering high-impact checks, although that doesn't mean the coaching staff gives him carte blanche to look for them.
"It's definitely still a big part of my game -- I know that's what they're looking for from me -- but, at the same time, they want me to play the system, play under control," Orpik said.
That's especially important in the wake of some of the changes in rules and their interpretations that took effect a couple of years ago.
"With the new rules, it's a lot harder to be physical in the neutral zone," Orpik said. "A lot of people say, 'Why doesn't he hit as much as he did his first year?' or 'Why doesn't he do this?'
"My first year, maybe I was a little more out of control than I am now. You learn to pick your spots."
Consequently, patience is one of the greatest assets a hitter can have. Not only because it's important to make sure a teammate is positioned to cover for him, but also because trying to force a big hit can be counterproductive. Or worse.
"That's one of the biggest things with hitting," Orpik said. "The times you do get exposed is when you go out there looking like, 'OK, I'm going to a big hit this shift' or, 'I'm going to get a big hit in this game.'
"You can go three or four games where you don't have any opportunities."
Not counting the ones to smear an unsuspecting teammate, of course.
First Published October 10, 2007 12:00 am