Washington Capitals defenseman Brooks Orpik was allowed to stay in Saturday’s Game 2 after knocking Pittsburgh Penguins blueliner Olli Maatta out of the contest with a questionable hit. He did receive a minor penalty for interference on the play.
But Orpik didn’t escape more substantial punishment. The NHL Department of Player Safety suspended Oprik for three games on Sunday, banning him from playing until a potential Game 6 of the Eastern Conference semifinal series.
“This hit is forceful, unacceptably high and excessively late,” Player Safety director Patrick Burke said in a video explaining the rationale behind the suspension.
Burke noted that the injury sustained by Maatta when he was hit in the head, and the fact that Orpik has two prior suspensions on his rap sheet, also impacted the verdict.
The incident occurred at 4:13 of the first period of Pittsburgh’s 2-1 victory. Maatta had played just 31 seconds and wasn’t able to return to the game. Kris Letang ended up skating for 35:22 as the Penguins carried on with five defensemen.
Orpik delivered the hit more than a second after Maatta released the puck. The veteran blueliner didn’t speak to reporters after the game. However, he told Capitals coach Barry Trotz he thought Maatta was getting the puck back, according to Washington Times sports editor Zac Boyer.
Burke seems to dispute Orpik's reported claim in the video analysis.
“No player should reasonably expect to hit at this time and in this matter," Burke said. "It is also important to note that Orpik is entirely in control of this play. This is not a play in which a player suddenly loses control of the puck and the defending player may be confused about possession.
“Orpik is locked on to Maatta from the moment he receives the pass from (Nick) Bonino. He sees the shot, knows Maatta is not in possession of the puck and even adjusts his core slightly as he tracks Maatta. Then (he) delivers a high, forceful hit that makes significant head contact.”
Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said Sunday that Maatta was still being evaluated and more information about his health would likely be provided Monday. Justin Schultz or Derrick Pouliot are candidates to replace the 21-year-old rearguard should he miss Game 3.
With Orpik out of the commission, expect Dmitry Orlov or Mike Weber to take his place in the Washington lineup.