By Katie Carrera
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, December 9, 2010; 12:17 AM
When a shot by Toronto's Luke Schenn bounced up Jeff Schultz's stick and broke his right thumb as the rangy defenseman was killing a penalty late in the second period Monday, it robbed the Washington Capitals of one of their best penalty killers and shot blockers for at least the next month.
Although the Capitals will look to all of their defensemen to try to carry Schultz's responsibilities, the presence of recently acquired Scott Hannan should help lessen the blow considerably beginning Thursday against the Florida Panthers at Verizon Center.
"The one good thing about [Schultz's injury] is you've got Hannan now, who always leads his team in blocks and shorthanded playing," Coach Bruce Boudreau said. "It's not ideal, because you don't have what you perceive as . . . the lineup you want on the ice [all the time], but at the same time, we've got a very valuable guy that we just made a deal for."
Schultz, who will likely be placed on long-term injured reserve and miss a minimum of 10 games or 24 days, led the Capitals with 3 minutes 30 seconds of ice time per game on the penalty kill. He averaged a total of 21:26 and had a second-best 63 blocked shots as well, while only serving 10 penalty minutes through the first 29 games.
Hannan possesses a similar skill set with a little more grit and several more years of experience, coupled with a more vocal presence on the ice.
In practice Wednesday, Hannan skated in Schultz's usual spot paired alongside two-time Norris Trophy candidate Mike Green. Hannan has experience playing with an offensively talented defensemen in Colorado (John-Michael Liles). Boudreau said he hopes the shift will lessen the amount of adjustment necessary for Green, while also giving him an opportunity to re-ignite his offensive game.
"I think we'll be able to read off of each other pretty good," Hannan said of being matched with Green. "He's a great skater, which is always nice to have, somebody you can get the puck to, and hopefully I can step back and help get it to him and just worry about what's going on [in the defensive end] and play the game."
For Green, who has played primarily with soft-spoken Schultz since midway through the 2009-10 season, Hannan's talkative nature may help the two develop on-ice chemistry.
"It's great actually. I haven't really played with a guy like that for a long time so it's going to be very helpful for myself and the team," Green said of Hannan. "He's got a lot more experience and anything he says, I listen to, and I'm just a sponge here soaking up the information and knowledge that he can give me."
The Capitals have six healthy defensemen and Tyler Sloan, who is on injured reserve with a groin strain but would be eligible to return to the lineup any time beginning Sunday against the New York Rangers. In addition to placing a little more attention on Hannan, the injury to Schultz opens a spot for John Erskine on the daily roster.
The rugged defenseman has garnered consistent praise from the coaching staff by upping his physical presence and keeping tabs on his ice time to ensure that he's not caught out late on a shift. When Washington acquired Hannan, it appeared that Erskine and Sloan were the odd defensemen out with the rest of the group healthy, but now there's more ice time to be had.
"It's always tough to see a guy go down, but everybody's going to have to pick up their game to make up for him," said Erskine, who missed the past two games - one as a healthy scratch and one with a sore knee after he went down awkwardly on Dec. 2 in Dallas. "Schultzie's a big part of our PK and shutting down lines, so there's probably a little added pressure for us all, especially on the PK. . . . But I've jumped in there before and so has Sloaner. Whoever gets in the game, we're going to make the most of it."
Capitals note: Matt Hendricks was bothered by a bruise in practice Wednesday and Boudreau gave the versatile forward the rest of the day off to rest.