After taking a few shifts alongside Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom in Thursday’s win over Carolina, Aaron Volpatti is set to start Saturday’s contest on the top line with the Captials’ franchise pillars.
“For me I don’t think it can really change too much,” Volpatti said. “Obviously I’ve got to be good defensively with those two guys — if I’m the high guy, I’ve got to make sure I stay the high guy. I’m just going to try and be physical and create some room for them.”
The gritty forward is the latest contestant on the ever-changing reality show of who wants to be the Capitals’ top line left wing. Marcus Johansson, Matt Hendricks, Jason Chimera and Wojtek Wolski have all seen time on the wing opposite Alex Ovechkin this year.
Coach Adam Oates has said multiple times that, ideally, top-line left wing is where Brooks Laich will fit into the lineup whenever he’s able to return from a nagging groin injury. But in the meantime Oates continues to rotate through his various options.
Volpatti skated 11:58 in Thursday’s game, his most ice time as a Capital and the second highest total he’s had this season. He was defensively responsible, made a physical impact with four hits and added a smooth centering pass for the primary assist on Joey Crabb’s goal.
Expect him to serve a similar role to the one Hendricks had when stationed on the top line – driving the cycle and crashing the net. Volpatti automatically adds toughness as well and he might be able to help keep the Bruins’ pests in check against Washington’s top forwards.
“I have no problems doing that if it gets a little bit out of hand sending a message or keeping the other team accountable,” Volpatti said. “It’s not an issue.”
On to other notes from the Capitals optional skate at Boston University’s Agganis Arena Friday:
>> Oates didn’t have an update on Tomas Kundratek, who was scheduled for an MRI after suffering an apparent right leg injury in Thursday’s win. It’s safe to say that Kundratek likely won’t play against the Bruins Saturday, though.
How the Capitals will shuffle the defense is yet to be determined. Mike Green, who continues to rehab from a nagging groin injury, was walking with a noticeable limp when he came off the ice Friday and doesn’t appear ready to play.
“I don’t really want Greenie to play if he’s not a hundred percent,” Oates said. “A big physical team, the last thing we need is to set him back.”
Jack Hillen, who suffered an upper body injury in the season opener, still isn’t ready to go Oates said. John Erskine, who suffered what is believed to be an injury to his left hand/wrist on March 9 against the Islanders, isn’t on the trip with the team.
Meanwhile, Cameron Schilling is still with the team after making his NHL debut Tuesday and the most likely scenario is that he will be inserted back into the lineup. Schilling is left-handed, so it would mean that one of the defensive pairings won’t have the left/right balance that Oates prefers but at this point there may not be much avoiding it.
“It’s not ideal. It puts us in a difficult situation, but it happens,” Oates said. “It happens to everybody and it’s our turn. You’ve got to fight through it.”
>> Speaking of the defensemen, Steve Oleksy, John Carlson and Karl Alzner were all chased off the ice in practice roughly 20 minutes into the session. Oleksy and Carlson each played over 27 minutes the night before, while Alzner skated 22:16 and Oates wanted to make sure they didn’t tire themselves out ahead of back-to-back games this weekend.
>> Oates said he still hadn’t made a decision as to whether he will start Michal Neuvirth, who finished with 36 saves and the win in Carolina Thursday, or Braden Holtby against the Bruins on Saturday.