Thursday night when they take the ice at Verizon Center, the Washington Capitals will have a defense featuring three players who have a combined NHL experience of 19 games – 18 of which belong to Connor Carrick.
Washington recalled prospect Patrick Wey and minor-league journeyman Julien Brouillette and both will suit up as the third -pairing against the Winnipeg Jets, who are arguably the hottest team in the league having won nine of their last 11 since Paul Maurice took over as interim head coach.
“The challenges are it’s the NHL. We’re playing a hot team, good team [with] good power forwards but they’ve been playing good down in Hershey,” Coach Adam Oates said. “They can skate good, so their feet can hopefully bail them out.”
Wey, a 2009 fourth-round draft pick by the Capitals, has skated in one NHL game; Brouillette, 27, will be making his NHL debut.
Brouillette will be the 13th defenseman to suit up for Washington this season and the fourth to make his NHL debut. His family will be making the trip from Quebec to see his first NHL game, which comes after playing for eight different teams in the AHL or ECHL since turning pro in the 2007-08 season.
“It’s definitely special,” Brouillette said. “Yesterday was a day I was not really going nowhere and suddenly the phone rings and makes your whole day special. This one is definitely another one tonight.”
The Capitals will lean on two more inexperienced blueliners because they will be without both Mike Green and John Erskine, possibly for the final two games before the Olympic break.
Green skated Thursday but remains sidelined indefinitely by a concussion suffered on Jan. 30. Erskine will get a day off, Oates said, because of an accumulation of wear and tear that followed his recovery from offseason knee surgery.
“He’s come back and he’s taken a lot of bumps and bruises. It’s a little achy,” Oates said of Erskine. “So we’re going to give him a little rest to kind of replenish and get it back.”
That leaves the Capitals with defensive pairings of Karl Alzner with John Carlson, Dmitry Orlov with Connor Carrick and Brouillette with Wey. Orlov is the most experienced of the bottom four, having skated 96 games with the Capitals in his career including 31 this year. But then only Carrick (18) has more than one NHL game under his belt.
Oates is confident both Brouillette and Wey know the system and will be able to work themselves out of jams by relying on their skating ability.
“They know the system, I was with Bru a little bit last year [during the NHL lockout] so he knows,” Oates said. “He asked me today, first thing he said was ‘So if we’re in trouble, still off the glass?’ I said ‘Oh yeah, the window’s your friend.’ They have good feet and should be to recover.”
Still, this is far from an ideal situation for the Capitals, who have lost seven of their last 10 and desperately need points before the Olympic break, especially against a surging Winnipeg squad.
“It’s where we are. Good. It’s a great opportunity for those guys,” Oates said. “We lost 1-0 the other night so the ‘D’ did a good job. We had plenty of opportunities to score, game before [against Detroit] we got six. We’ve just got to play well, play good in our own end and give us a chance to win those games. That’s their job.”
The recalls of Brouillette and Wey follow Washington’s move to reassign Tyson Strachan to Hershey on Wednesday. In order to make room for both defensemen, though, the Capitals placed Aaron Volpatti on long-term injured reserve. Volpatti suffered an undisclosed upper-body injury on Feb. 2 against Detroit that is believed to be a left arm or shoulder injury.