The Caps just completed a brisk practice at the Lightning's facility in Brandon, Fla. This was one of those weird road practices where the players got dressed at the game rink, bussed to the practice rink, then bussed right back. That means there wasn't much time for post-practice interviews, but reporters had a chance to talk to talk to Coach Bruce Boudreau for a few minutes.
Here are the basics:
*Defenseman John Erskine did not practice and is "questionable" for tomorrow's game because of an "upper-body injury" he suffered against Atlanta. If he is unable to play, swingman Tyler Sloan will suit up for the first time in five games.
"I never want to say never," said Boudreau, who also won't say what the injury is as a matter of team policy. "He was a little sore today. We want to make sure he's ready when he comes back."
*After his players racked up 17 goals in the past three games, Boudreau did not make any changes to the forward combos.
*It's unclear which goaltender Boudreau will start tomorrow night at St. Pete Times Forum, but the coach previously said that he plans to tap Jose Theodore for one of the next two games and play Michal Neuvirth in the other.
*Boudreau on Neuvirth's emergence: "Everybody in our organization, at least, thought he was going to be a really good goaltender. Sometimes it just doesn't happen overnight. It takes time to get acclimated to the league and understand how hard you have to work to be good in this league. Everybody saw the talent in him. He's now playing the way we thought he could."
By the way, that's the second time in recent days that Boudreau has acknowledged that Neuvirth has stepped up his work habits. Perhaps that has something to do with his sudden spike in effectiveness, as well.
What Boudreau really likes about Neuvirth, though, is the fact that the 21-year-old is able to easily shake off bad goals and shaky performances. Last game, he quickly bounced back from Maxim Afinogenov's goal, which somehow managed to slither past him.
"Nothing seems to bother him -- and that's good," Boudreau said. "He can shake off a bad performance and buckle down. He stays pretty calm in the net and doesn't let a goal get to him. It's like golf, a little bit. When a golfer has a bad shot ... the good ones can shake that off and forget about it. He's like that. Some goalies can't do that."
*I'm writing a story about Tom Poti for tomorrow's Post. As you're probably aware, the Caps' top shutdown D-man has been on an offensive tear the past five games, amassing six assists and a goal in that span. That matches his total offensive output from the previous 31 games.
Washington boasts the league's best offense, but getting production from secondary sources is always welcome -- and that's exactly what Poti is providing right now for the Caps, who have the fewest goals from the blue line (15) of any of the teams ranked in the top five.
"He's being more assertive [and] he's shooting the puck," Boudreau said. "We had a talk about our 'D' not shooting the puck to score. He's doing a lot of great things that he's capable of doing, that maybe he forgot he was capable of doing. We saw it last year in the New York [Rangers playoff] series when he had a goal and three assists. He was easily the best player on the ice. And when he wants to be, he can be that."
*Tomorrow, the Caps face a Lightning team they've knocked off a franchise record 12 straight times. The 'Bolts are also coming off a less-than -ideal weekend in which they started a game in New Jersey on Friday, played in Philly on Saturday, then finished their suspended game against the Devils on Sunday.
I'll check in again from the morning skate tomorrow.