Jeff Halpern, John Erskine and Mike Green were the only players who skated this morning – it was actually considered a day off – before the team departed to New York for tomorrow’s game against the Islanders.
Dale Hunter did, however, speak to the small group of reporters at KCI. Here are a few highlights of what the coach said:
*Asked why veteran center Jeff Halpern has been scratched the past two games, Hunter said he was looking to put more size in the lineup.
“We wanted to get bigger and Mike [Knuble] is a bigger guy,” the coach said. “And [Jay Beagle] is doing a good job checking, so it was a combination of both.”
Halpern ranks third in the NHL in faceoff winning percentage (58.3), which puts him behind only San Jose’s Joe Pavelski (60.0) and Chicago’s Jonathan Toews (59.4). In 66 games, Halpern also has four goals and 11 assists after notching a helper in Thursday’s 3-2 overtime win against Tampa Bay.
Halpern “is a veteran. I don’t have to say much,” Hunter said. “Just keep working. When you get your chance, be ready to go.”
*The Caps play the next five games are away from home, and given the congestion in the Eastern Conference standings and the team’s struggles outside of Washington, it’s not much of a stretch to say the next 10 days could determine whether they’ll make the postseason.
The Caps, who have the fourth-fewest wins (12) on the road among Eastern Conference clubs, own a four-point lead on Winnipeg and Buffalo in the race for the eighth spot. They’re also only a point behind Southeast Division leading Florida with 13 games left to play.
“It’s definitely five games of a season,” Hunter said when asked if the trip is make or break for his team. “We only have so many games left. It’s a big game on the Island. We need the wins; you can see the standings.”
The challenge, Hunter acknowledged, is keeping everyone focused on the next opponent and not the big picture.
“We’re talking about the Islanders and I don’t go on after that,” he said. “You just have to worry about the Islanders and concentrate on them. Then, after that game, you move onto the next game.”
*Asked about tomorrow’s starting goaltender, Hunter said, “We’ll see. It’s not just my [decision]. I talk to a lot of people and we haven’t got together yet.”
It would make sense if Michal Neuvirth gets the nod. He’s coming off a shutout and owns a 4-0-0 record all-time against the Islanders to go along with a 1.37 goals against average and .950 save percentage.
That’s it from a very light day at KCI. I’ll check in from the Island tomorrow morning.