Phil Housley's 1,000th career point, earned last week, was particularly notable because he was only the fifth defenseman in NHL history to reach the benchmark. But in tonight's game against the Pittsburgh Penguins, Housley shed his spot on the blueline to play left wing on a line with Peter Bondra and Adam Oates.
Housley was pressed into service because six of the Capitals' forwards are injured and another, Chris Simon, has been suspended. Washington recalled center Benoit Gratton from the minors to help pick up the slack, but the 20-year-old is more of a scrapper than a scorer.
"You want to be a little creative," Coach Ron Wilson said, explaining the Housley move. "You don't want three lines of guys just checking, slugging away to get a scoring chance. Let's throw a creative guy up there for a couple of games; he might get excited about it."
Wilson tried defenseman Sergei Gonchar at forward for part of the Capitals' loss to Florida on Sunday, but Gonchar, who had never played forward, struggled. Housley played forward for part of a season with Buffalo, and a few times last season when the Capitals had medical problems.
Housley, who will probably play forward Thursday in Buffalo as well, doesn't mind the occasional change.
"Sometimes it's a relief to play forward because if you make a mistake, you're not the last guy back there, so you can try things you normally don't try on defense," he said. "I'm very lucky to be playing with Oates and Bondra, too; they're two very good players."
Wilson, an offensive defenseman in his playing days, said he felt comfortable putting Housley in an irregular spot because he knows how it feels.
"That happened to me in my career," he said. "You're a small defenseman, you get a lot of points on defense, and they think if they move you up front you can get even more points.
"All of the sudden you're ahead of everyone, and the game changes dramatically. It's like that in any sport, you change a guy from one-guard to two-guard in basketball, and it's a totally different game."
Gratton, playing in his first NHL game tonight, has an unusual goal: to stick with the team through Saturday. That's when the Capitals will play the Canadiens in Montreal, about 15 minutes from where he grew up.
"I don't know if my parents will be able to see tonight's game on TV," he said. "I'm hoping if I can stick around, they will see me play."