Jeff Schultz admitted he was surprised when he found out Wednesday morning that he’d be in the lineup as the Capitals take on the Florida Panthers here for first place in the Southeast Division.
The 25-year-old defenseman hasn’t been in the lineup since Dec. 31 at Columbus and tonight’s tilt at BankAtlantic Center will mark just the seventh game he’s appeared in since Dale Hunter took over as coach on Nov. 28.
“With how the last couple months have gone, you don’t know too much of who’s playing and who’s not, so I was a little bit surprised this morning,” said Schultz, who understands that he has to balance trying to do too much with playing too much on the safe side.
“You don’t want to go too far outside but I think it’s just not doing anything too fancy,” Schultz said. “Playing within yourself and when you’re on the ice do what you do and when you’re not, cheering the guys on.”
Schultz, who has two more years remaining on his current contract each with a salary cap hit of $2.75 million, has been a healthy scratch for 12 straight games, 20 of the past 22, and his fall out of the lineup occurred quickly after Hunter’s arrival.
The coaching staff has said they’d like to see Schultz, listed at 6 foot 6, 230 pounds, establish more of a physical presence even though it’s not on par with his mild-mannered demeanor.
Asked what he wants to see out of Schultz against Florida, Hunter replied: “He’s a defensive defenseman, we want to see him play sound defensively because he’s not an offensive D and he’s not going to be a tough guy out there. So, we need him to be a defensive defenseman.”
With Schultz’s insertion into the lineup, John Erskine will be the healthy scratch on defense tonight while Jay Beagle will be the odd man out among the forwards. Tough guy Joel Rechlicz will be in the mix again and tonight he may have a willing dance partner in Florida’s Krys Barch.
More from Post Sports:
— Jeff Schultz: ‘I just want to play’ (Jan. 14)
— Neuvirth to start tonight vs. Florida
— Vokoun comes up big to help Caps get a point
— Capitals focus on positives after loss
— Washington rallies but falls, 4-3, in OT