Two days after he was picked up off of waivers, winger Aaron Volpatti will make his Capitals debut Saturday afternoon against the Winnipeg Jets.
Coach Adam Oates acknowledged that he doesn’t know too much about Volpatti but he’s eager to see what kind of impact the gritty agitator will make and glad to add a little more of a physical presence to the lineup.
“I don’t think you can ever have enough,” Oates said. “You go into a hostile environment, and Philly for example is a team that wants to come, they want to try and bang and intimidate and wear you out. And having guys that can handle that and neutralize that will help the cause.”
Volpatti arrived in Winnipeg on Friday and skated solo at MTS Centre, a rink he’s quite familiar with from his time playing with the AHL’s Manitoba Moose. He got a crash course in the Capitals’ systems at the team hotel but for this first game, Volpatti wants to keep things simple.
“I think once the first few shifts go by there it will be fine,” Volpatti said. “It’s just another hockey game, leading up to it I’m starting to settle down here. The last 48 hours have been a little crazy.”
Said Oates: “The defensive system in Vancouver was very similar, obviously neutral zone is going to be a little bit different. We guided him through, gave him some video [Friday]….We’ll do it right now [pregame] and throw him to the wolves a little bit. He’s just got to adjust.”
Prior to the addition of Volpatti, if Washington needed someone to drop the gloves it turned to grinder Matt Hendricks or rugged defenseman John Erskine. Both players have taken on larger roles under Oates, though, and if they’re in the penalty box they aren’t able to fill them.
“Hendy, I’ve talked to him like: ‘I know you like to fight, but you’re a penalty killer. You’re a guy that takes faceoffs; I need you on the ice,’” Oates explained. “And Ersk, ‘You’re playing top-four minutes. You’ve got to pick your spots differently and you just can’t be reckless about it.’”
From Hendricks’s perspective, while he carved out a niche in the NHL by fighting he doesn’t mind not being the go-to option when opposing teams’ tough guys are looking for someone to dance with.
Hendricks never fought Volpatti, but he made an impression when the Capitals visited Vancouver in the fall of 2011 with his physical and relentless play. He thinks the 27-year old winger will be a solid addition in this shortened season.
“Especially at this time of the year too, we need energy,” Hendricks said. “You heard [Oates] and maybe some of the guys talking about being a little bit tired in Philly, a little fatigued, so we need to have as much energy around here as possible.”