Black And BluelinePosted on January 14, 2013 by Mike Vogel
When the Capitals took to the Prudential Center ice in Newark for the start of this weekend’s back-to-back set with the New Jersey Devils, they had seven healthy defensemen for the first time this season. Blueliner Mike Green, sidelined for nearly three weeks with an ankle injury sustained while hanging four points (two goals, two assists) on the Detroit Red Wings in an Oct. 22 game, was back in the lineup. For the first time all season, bench boss Bruce Boudreau had a decision to make when filling out his lineup card. For the first time this season, defenseman Jeff Schultz was a healthy scratch. Green was back after missing six games, paired with Roman Hamrlik. John Erskine, who missed the first month of the season while recuperating from off-season shoulder surgery, was partnered with Dennis Wideman while Karl Alzner and John Carlson skated together. Last season, the duo of Alzner and Carlson provided the Caps with a rare luxury, one the team has enjoyed just three times in its nearly four-decade history and one the team hadn’t had in eight years: two blueliners who played in all 82 regular season games. The last time Washington had two durable rearguards who sweatered up for every contest of the campaign was in 2002-03 when Sergei Gonchar and Calle Johansson accomplished the feat. The only other time two Washington defensemen did not miss a single game was in 1993-94 when Johansson and Sylvain Cote skated in all 84 games. Icebags and ibuprofen are as much components of a defenseman’s tool kit as are socks and skates. Blueliners get banged into the boards, they lay their bodies in front of madly careening pucks and they find themselves getting facefuls of plexiglass almost nightly. Few of them manage to last the rigors of an 82-game slate without requiring a game or more of down time to rest bumps, bruises and worse ailments. If you’re a team with designs on a lengthy spring playoff run, you’d better have a cabinet full of 10 or more defensemen you believe can play – or at least fill in for brief periods of time – at the NHL level. It is no surprise then that Washington’s good fortune in having seven healthy, able-bodied and proven NHL defensemen lasted less than 20 minutes. Before the end of the first frame of Friday’s game, Green collided awkwardly along the wall in the Washington end with Devils forward Ryan Carter. The Caps defensemen gathered himself up, and hobbled back into the play. He stayed on the ice until Washington was able to clear its zone, then slowly glided off to the bench on one skate. Green took an abbreviated shift or two early in the second period of Friday’s game, but his skates haven’t graced the ice since. Washington is 8-0 in games in which Green has played this season. It is 2-4-1 in games he has missed. During the telecast of Saturday night’s game with New Jersey, Comcast flashed a graphic that showed the Caps with a .698 points pct. in games in which Green has played and a .642 rate in games he has missed over the years. He is said to be day-to-day, and his injury is reportedly not related to the original one that sidelined him for six games. But at the onset of that ailment, he was said to be taking a “maintenance day,” and then was listed as day-to-day thereafter. To make matter worse, Erskine wasn’t healthy enough to dress for Saturday’s game, leaving forward Brooks Laich to assume blueline responsibilities for a full game for the first time in his NHL career. By game’s end, Hamrlik had joined Green and Erskine on the list of infirm Washington rearguards. In less than 120 minutes of on-ice play, the Caps had gone from seven to four healthy defensemen. Washington embarks on a three-game road trip this week, jetting off to Nashville, Winnipeg and Toronto. It’s a fair bet that a player or two from the AHL Hershey roster will be joining the Caps for that trip. There are a few candidates. Sean Collins played in a pair of games on Washington’s last multi-game road trip, but he is also said to be ailing after blocking a shot in Friday’s game against Wilkes-Barre/Scranton. Patrick McNeill was along for a West Coast ride last winter but has yet to skate in his first NHL game. Dmitry Orlov is a highly regarded second-rounder from the 2009 NHL Entry Draft, but he’s still in just his first season as a pro. Danny Richmond is a seasoned pro with several dozen games worth of NHL experience. Tomas Kundratek is a second-year pro acquired from the Rangers’ organization in a deal for forward Francois Bouchard last week. Julien Brouillette is a fifth-year pro who went through training camp with the Capitals this fall Sunday is a day off for the Capitals, and the team has a 10:30 practice slated for Monday. In a perfect world, six or more of the defensemen currently on the Caps’ roster will be able to take part in that session and then play against the Predators on Tuesday night in Nashville. But as the numbers indicate, the defenseman’s world is rarely perfect. Few stay healthy enough long enough to play in all 82.
For the first time in their franchise history, the Washington Capitals have put together four straight seasons with 20 or more road wins. The Caps have played seven road games thus far this season, and those seven games have been scattered among five separate trips. Tonight in Nashville, the Caps