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Left Out on The Left Side

Posted on February 28, 2013 by Mike Vogel

There has been a bit of a revolving door feel to the Capitals this week. Center Casey Wellman was recalled from AHL Hershey on Tuesday, and goaltender Philipp Grubauer was summoned from the Bears on Wednesday. Both of those players were returned to Hershey this morning, and shortly afterwards the Capitals announced that they had made a successful waiver claim for left wing Aaron Volpatti, formerly of the Vancouver Canucks.


The 27-year-old Volpatti had one goal and 28 penalty minutes in 16 games with the Canucks this season, and he has totaled three goals, four points and 81 penalty minutes in 54 games spread over parts of three seasons with Vancouver.


Through the first 19 games of the 2012-13 season, the Capitals have received a great deal of production from the right side of their lineup. Alex Ovechkin and Troy Brouwer each have eight goals and Joel Ward has six. But the left side has been fallow.


With center-left wings Brooks Laich and Marcus Johansson out of the lineup, Washington has had Jason Chimera playing on its top line with Ovechkin and Mike Ribeiro. After scoring 20 goals for the first time in his NHL career in 2011-12, Chimera is still seeking his first goal of 2012-13.


Wojtek Wolski was signed as a free agent last summer to give the Caps some depth on the left side. He scored his first goal as a Capital on opening night against Tampa Bay and added another against Philadelphia on Feb. 1. But Wolski is still stuck on two goals and has now gone 10 games without a point despite playing with skilled centers such as Ribeiro, Nicklas Backstrom and Mathieu Perreault all season.


Currently fourth among the team’s forwards in average even-strength ice time per game at 13:32 a night, Wolski has also averaged 1:20 per contest in power play time this season.


Wolski scored 23 goals and totaled 65 points in 80 games in 2009-10. But since then, he has put up just 18 goals and 51 points in 123 games for four teams over two-plus seasons.


Laich doesn’t appear anywhere close to returning to the lineup, and there is no timetable for Johansson’s return, either. Volpatti is not an option for top six duty, but adding him to the roster will have a domino effect on the left side of Washington’s depth chart.


Expect Wolski to sit out for the first time this season, perhaps as soon as Saturday when Washington visits Winnipeg, and expect Matt Hendricks to get bumped up the depth chart to either the third or first line. Hendricks has played some with Ovechkin and Ribeiro this season, and he took some shifts on that line in the third period of Wednesday’s 4-1 loss to the Flyers in Philadelphia.


Chimera skated just two shifts in the third period on Wednesday, one on a line with Jay Beagle and Joey Crabb and one on a line with Backstrom and Brouwer.


(It’s worth noting that some of the Capitals’ third-period line machinations were necessitated by a 10-minute misconduct penalty assessed to Ribeiro early in the third period of Wednesday’s game in Philly.)


Volpatti will add grit, toughness, defensive ability and a willingness to scrap – he has dropped his gloves 11 times in those 54 NHL contests. He has played more than 10 minutes in only 10 of his 54 NHL games, and Canucks coach Alain Vigneault typically deploys his fourth-liners almost exclusively in defensive-zone starts, so it will be interesting to see how Volpatti will fare in a new system with a new coach and a different usage pattern.


During his days in Vancouver, Volpatti was used extremely sporadically on the power play and not at all on the penalty kill.


With Washington, expect to see Volpatti playing alongside Beagle and Crabb, and look for other changes up and down Washington’s left side. Hendricks could be moved all the way up to play with Ribeiro and Ovechkin, or Chimera could remain in that role while Hendricks skates with Perreault and Ward.


If and when Laich and/or Johansson are healthy enough to return to the lineup, more sweeping changes could be in order. How the team fares in the standings in the meantime will also play into those changes.


The waiver claim on Volpatti comes almost two years to the day after Washington’s most recent waiver pick-up, that of veteran winger Marco Sturm from Los Angeles on Feb. 26, 2011. The Capitals’ last waiver claim from Vancouver occurred on Oct. 4, 2005 when they plucked goaltender Brent Johnson from the Canucks. Johnson spent the next four seasons with the Capitals.

Posted in: Sports
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