Michal Neuvirth will make his third consecutive start in goal tonight against Montreal and the Canadiens' top-ranked power-play unit. The most interesting tidbit this morning at KCI, however, was Tomas Fleischmann shifting from left wing to center.
Fleischmann hasn't played the position since his days as a junior in Moose Jaw. But with the Caps holding auditions all season for a center to complement Nicklas Backstrom and Brendan Morrison, Coach Bruce Boudreau figured it was time to see what Fleischmann can do. The 25-year-old told me he's already been informed by Czech officials that they're planning to use him as a center in the Olympics.
"For five years I've had Tomas, I've always thought he would be a great center," Boudreau said. "He's responsible in his own zone, he moves the puck, he sees the ice -- all attributes that centermen have. He [also] said he would really like to try it."
Boudreau doesn't show his lines in the morning on game days. But if I had to speculate, I would guess that Fleischmann will center the second line with Brooks Laich on the left and Alexander Semin on the right.
In preparation for his official NHL debut at center (I do recall him taking a shift or two in Buffalo last month in the middle), Fleischmann spent the final 10 minutes of this morning's session working on draws with assistant coach Dean Evason and faceoff wizards David Steckel and Boyd Gordon.
But Boudreau isn't putting Fleischmann at center to win faceoffs. The coach is doing it to see if he can jumpstart an offense that has scored, in order, five, four, three, two and one goals in the past five games, which includes a season-worst three straight losses in regulation.
"The situation right now is the perfect situation for him to come in and try get that position," Boudreau said. "The offense is not going that great. We like to have three offensive-minded centermen. We've gone [through the] Keith Aucoins and Matty Perreaults and Brooks Laichs. We've tried a lot of guys at that position. Some have worked for short periods of time, some have have had moderate success. But here's somebody we think, with the addition of [Jason] Chimera as left winger, we can have bona-fide three good scoring lines if [Fleischmann] can do the job. So we hope he can."
Some other notes and quotes from the skate:
*Brian Pothier (rib) will miss his 11th straight game tonight but the defenseman is ready to return, according to Boudreau.
"He's ready to play [but] we want to get him one more good practice," Boudreau said. "He'll probably play on Thursday."
*The outlook for Semyon Varlamov, though, isn't as promising. Boudreau conceded this morning that the goalie could miss "anywhere from a week to two weeks." Varlamov, who has been out since straining his groin muscle Dec. 7, suffered a setback over the weekend in Hershey.
*In the meantime, Boudreau appears to be getting more comfortable with his other rookie goalie. So comfortable, in fact, he's going to get his sixth start in seven games tonight against the Habs.
"If I was a young player at any position and I saw an opportunity in front of me, I would want to take advantage of it," Boudreau said. "Four out of the last five games he's played, he's allowed two goals or less. And in the other game, San Jose, he kept us in it in the first period. Some of those saves were really remarkable, but you can't hold down the fort forever. If you look at the last six games he's played, he's been very consistent and that's one of the things we've been looking for -- consistency. We'll see tonight."
*The Canadiens have been on a roll as of late, winning six of their past eight games. Much of that success is because of their power play, which sits atop the league at 24.8 percent. (The Caps' power play is second at 23.5 percent).
"[Andrei] Markov being back [from injury] doesn't hurt," Boudreau said. "They move the puck around like they did two and three years ago when they had [Mark] Streit and [Sheldon] Souray. They find great seams. They're tough to play against. We want to make sure we keep our penalties to a minimum. It's going to be a great test for our penalty killers. We think we've come a long way, but when you're going against the No. 1 [power play] you find out how far you've come."
*Speaking of discipline, the Caps have shown more of it in recent games. In fact, after a penalty-filled first month, only five teams have taken fewer minors than Washington through the first half of the season.
*Based on the morning skate, Gordon and Tyler Sloan appear to be the healthy scratches. That means Eric Fehr will be back in the lineup after being scratched against the Kings.
*Tonight's game at Verizon Center isn't the only big game for the Washington organization. Prospects Stefan Della Rovere (Canada) and John Carlson (USA) will face off tonight in the gold medal game at the world junior championships.
Della Rovere has three goals and three assists and a plus-minus rating of plus-8; Carlson is a tournament-leading plus-9.
Boudreau said he's interested, but has no plans to TiVo the game.
"It bodes [well] for the future of this organization," he said. "But right now ...I'm more worried about what's Jersey going to do tonight? What's Pittsburgh going to do versus Atlanta?"