Capitals rookie defenseman Tomas Kundratek hadn’t scored a goal in his first 24 NHL games, but he had a feeling Monday night that the dry spell was about to end.
That’s what the 23-year-old told his former Hershey Bears teammate Steve Oleksy after the Capitals called up Oleksy from the American Hockey League club before Tuesday’s game against the Bruins.
“We were talking about it, and he’s like, ‘I feel good. I think I’m going to get one,’” Oleksy said at Wednesday’s optional skate at Kettler Capitals Iceplex. “And it just so happens, the next game, he pops one home. Super excited for him — great guy, works hard on the ice and off the ice, good character guy as well.”
Kundratek not only found the net but also notched his first multiple-points effort in a 4-3 overtime win. His second-period goal closed the Capitals to a 3-2 deficit, and he also nabbed an assist on Eric Fehr’s winning tally in overtime.
The long-awaited goal is just one facet of Kundratek’s increasing role. With Mike Green missing time with a groin injury, Kundratek has stepped up and helped fill those minutes. He has played an average of almost 22 minutes in the five games Green has missed, compared with his season average of 15:41.
“He’s been asked to play some more minutes, some big minutes for us, and he’s been doing it really well,” veteran defenseman Tom Poti said. “We kind of threw him into the fire a little bit with Greenie out, but he’s handled it really well. He’s a really good skater and if he keeps his feet moving he’s going to be successful out there. He loves the game, he loves to play, and he’s having fun out there.”
Kundratek’s play seems to have risen along with his ice time. He owns a plus-4 rating in those five games, compared with minus-2 overall.
“It’s huge,” Poti said. “The coaches have confidence in you to keep throwing you out there and you want to go out there and make good plays, do good things. You almost don’t have time to sit and think when you’re going out there every other shift. He’s playing great and he’s deserved all the ice time he’s gotten.”
Capitals Coach Adam Oates has been impressed with how such an inexperienced player has handled himself recently against teams like the Bruins, Flyers and Rangers.
“I would say as the game goes, you’re watching him to make sure he doesn’t get overwhelmed, and he’s done a really good job of that,” Oates said.