Defenseman Tom Poti suffered a mild groin strain in Washington's 4-1 win over St. Louis on Wednesday, but felt better than expected Thursday morning at American Airlines Center in Dallas according to Coach Bruce Boudreau. Poti won't face the Stars in tonight's 8:30 (EST) start as a precaution.
With Scott Hannan here the Capitals have more depth on defense, but that doesn't mean Boudreau doesn't want Poti to be healthy and in the lineup on a consistent basis. Poti has missed 17 games this season because of a pulled groin and its lingering effects, and his longest stretch in the lineup was the past four games.
"You'd like to see him play the next 60 games or 50 games, but our whole goal is to make sure he's healthy and it doesn't happen again," Boudreau said. "He's worked really hard off the ice since he first pulled the groin and hopefully it's more maintenance today than anything else."
In his game debut with the Capitals, Hannan will be paired with John Erskine. Boudreau also discussed how he envisions the defense shaking out in the event that all of Washington's defensemen are healthy at the same time -- something that is by no means a guarantee this year.
"It's tough because you think you've got [Jeff] Schultz and [Mike] Green together and [Karl] Alzner and [John] Carlson and it would be a natural fit for Poti and Hannan, but Erskine's played very well," Boudreau said. "It will probably be Poti and Hannan when all is set and good, but we don't know right now because every game somebody seems to be getting hurt."
At least against Dallas tonight, it will be Hannan and Erskine together. Neither seemed worried about the transition, as they're both defensive-zone types who have plenty of experience switching things up. (Because of injuries to the Avalanche, Hannan said he played with almost every possible defensive partner in Colorado.)
"I think we're a couple of big bodies out there," Hannan said when asked what he hopes to accomplish in a pairing with Erskine.. "We can be physical, try to bang around out there and move the puck. I think that's going to be a key tonight....You just try to read off of him, you talk to him before the game and figure out what tendencies are. It's obviously going to be a little bit different, but I'm sure we'll handle it alright."
Said Erskine: "I know he's a pretty stay-at-home defenseman, so I know he wont be jumping up in the play all the time. I've played against him so I know the way he plays, but it will be a learning thing tonight. It might take a while to get to know his habits and all that but we have to play a simple game tonight and learn each other's game."
--Behind the defense, Michal Neuvirth will start for the first time since Nov. 20 against Philadelphia. Boudreau said Neuvirth is "fully, 100 percent healthy" after being a late scratch against New Jersey on Nov. 22. Boudreau said the plan was always to get him a game even though Semyon Varlamov has won four straight since returning from his lingering groin injury.
"People forget now that Varlamov's played four good games in a row [that Neuvirth] was unreal for us and he won games for us at the beginning, and he's got 12 wins under his belt," Boudreau said. "He's not losing his spot just because somebody's playing good. He's getting back in there and getting a chance to compete for that No. 1 spot."
It appears Neuvirth's counterpart in the Stars' net will be Andrew Raycroft, who is 5-3-1 with a 2.16 goals-against average and .916 save percentage against the Capitals in his career.
--Alex Ovechkin congratulated his fellow countrymen in the Capitals locker room when the news broke that Russia has been chosen to host the 2018 World Cup.
"It's huge for our country, for our people, and I'm very happy," said Ovechkin, who is an ambassador for the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi. "It's two huge deals coming up for sport, the biggest things in the world and everyone will see."