Arnott Injured, Listed as Week-to-WeekPosted on January 14, 2013 by Mike Vogel
Three of Washington’s four injured players – center Nicklas Backstrom, defenseman Tom Poti and goaltender Semyon Varlamov – joined their Capitals teammates as they departed the District on Monday for the front three of a stretch of six straight road games. Defenseman Mike Green stayed back in Washington to work out and skate; he is not eligible to play before the team’s March 22 visit to Philadelphia, anyway. More noteworthy, though, is the player who didn’t accompany the Caps on this trip. That would be veteran center Jason Arnott, obtained from the New Jersey Devils in a Feb. 28 deal. Arnott, who has had a positive impact on and off the ice for the Capitals, has an undisclosed injury and is being listed as week-to-week. In seven games with the Caps since the deal, Arnott has two goals and three assists for five points. He is a plus-5 and has been averaging 16:23 a night in ice time since coming to Washington. The Caps went through most of the season needing a boost in the middle of their second line, and Arnott has provided exactly that. The Caps are 7-0 since the deal with the Devils that brought him to the District. “Jason has solidified that line so much,” said Caps right wing Mike Knuble after Sunday’s 4-3 overtime win over Chicago. “His presence on the ice; he’s always been such a smart player. It seems like he’s not moving a lot, but you can’t get the puck from him. He just makes simple, easy plays. His presence has been huge for us as a second center. Defensively, he’s just another big body to counteract other team’s one-two punches.” Throughout much of February, the Caps went to war on a nightly basis with centermen Nicklas Backstrom, Marcus Johansson, Mathieu Perreault and David Steckel as their four pivots. Johansson and Perreault are both rookies who’ve had some ups and downs and growing pains this season. Backstrom is a legitimate No. 1 and Steckel a proven No. 4, but clearly bolstering the middle of the ice was Washington’s top priority heading to the Feb. 28 NHL trade deadline. Caps GM George McPhee moved Steckel and a second-round choice in the 2012 NHL Entry Draft to New Jersey for the 36-year-old Arnott, a veteran of 1,168 regular season NHL games. With Johansson trending up and Perreault down, the latter was sent to AHL Hershey. The Caps were able to go with Backstrom, Arnott, Johnasson and Boyd Gordon as their four centers. When Backstrom was sidelined with an injury, Brooks Laich moved to the middle and the Caps hardly missed a beat. Now, with Arnott out, it remains to be seen how the Caps will look up the middle in Tuesday’s game against the Canadiens in Montreal, the first of six successive road games for Washington. Backstrom is on the trip and has had the cast removed from his ailing thumb. If he is able to play for the first time since March 7, Caps coach Bruce Boudreau can shuffle the deck a bit and put Backstrom back between Alex Ovechkin and Mike Knuble. He can also keep his effective fourth unit of Matt Hendricks, Boyd Gordon and Matt Bradley together. Boudreau would only need to decide where to place Laich and Johansson. If Backstrom needs more time, Jay Beagle is ready to go and itching for a sweater. Johansson could remain with Ovechkin and Knuble where he has been effective. Laich can stay with Marco Sturm and Alexander Semin, and the fourth line can stay together. Beagle could be fitted with Jason Chimera and Eric Fehr on the third line. Beagle has had some practices centering for those two wingers. With Arnott in the lineup, the Caps were a handful down low in the offensive zone. Each line boasted a heady blend of speed and size, and Washington became very effective at wearing down opposing defenses with grinding shifts and a renewed cycling game. The Caps will miss Arnott, but having Backstrom and Beagle along for the trip should help take the sting out of his absence. It’s more important for Arnott to be fully mended in time for the Stanley Cup playoffs, which are now just four weeks away.
In each of the last three seasons, Mike Green and Tom Poti have ranked first and second, respectively, among the Capitals’ defensemen in terms of average ice time per game. Since Washington obtained defenseman Dennis Wideman from Florida on the morning of the Feb. 28 trade deadline, he has played