With a comfortable five-goal advantage over the Florida Panthers heading into the third period Thursday night at Verizon Center, Coach Adam Oates took advantage of the rare opportunity to manage the ice time of the entire lineup.
In this compressed season, there’s precious little time for rest and recovery, especially for those players who carry heavy workloads with upwards of 20 minutes of ice time each night. So when the Capitals jumped out to the comfortable lead in the first of three games in four days this weekend, Oates wasn’t going to let the chance slip by.
He rolled four lines and gave extra minutes to role players. No player saw fewer than 12 minutes and only two – Steve Oleksy and Tomas Kundratek – played more than 20 minutes.
“That was probably the best thing about the game,” Oates said, “Is that in the big picture, hopefully those minutes matter down the road.”
Rookies Oleksy and Kundratek led the Capitals in ice time during the 7-1 drubbing, skating 22:13 and 20:06 respectively, as Oates opted to give some of his usual workhorses a rest.
Where it was most evident was with John Carlson, who played a season-low 16 minutes 49 seconds against Florida and took only two shifts in the third period because Oates wanted to give him a bit of a break.
“Just because of the score,” Oates said after the game when asked about Carlson’s light workload. “We’ve got a lot of minutes on the weekend for him.”
Carlson’s responsibilities and minutes have increased recently with Mike Green out of the lineup with a groin injury and no timetable for his return. In the previous five games without Green, Carlson skated no less than 22 minutes and as much as 30 on one occasion.
Oates has mentioned previously that he tries to be cautious with Carlson’s ice time in back-to-back games and other packed portions of the schedule. But at the same time, the Capitals aren’t going to turn to anyone else to fill in during Green’s absence in the same manner. So to have an unexpected breather for Carlson is a benefit in Oates’s eyes.
“Maybe a little rest will help me. I felt good today,” Carlson said. “It’s gonna be a wacky month. So I guess any time you can get a chance, we really got to take care of ourselves this month.”
Karl Alzner also played a low 17:57, after seeing more than 20 minutes in each of the past three games and said the Capitals have to take advantage of the time where they can get it.
“I think that’s going to help a lot in the end,” Alzner said. “Taking probably seven, eight minutes away from Carly, which can do a lot of damage to a guy that’s huge….As for the players I think we’re doing alright right now. Practices aren’t too hard where we’re killing ourselves, so guys are using their time wisely. “