The Capitals held an optional morning skate at BankAtlantic Center Friday morning, and all but two players were on the ice. Captain Alex Ovechkin and center Jeff Halpern chose to take the session off, but both apparently will be in the lineup against the Panthers.

“It was optional,” Coach Dale Hunter said when asked about Ovechkin’s status. “We had two good practices this week, so today I made it optional for the guys because of that.”

Veteran right wing Mike Knuble took rushes in Ovechkin’s place on the top line, but when asked if the star left wing would be able to face the Panthers, Hunter replied: “No, it’s fine. Seriously.”

Given the missing players, it’s tough to determine what the Capitals’ line combinations will be for this important showdown in Sunrise, Fla. Washington didn’t run conventional line rushes during the morning skate, so check back closer to faceoff at 7:30 p.m. for the expected configuration.

Other morning skate notes after the jump.

>> After sitting as a healthy scratch for the past three games, Knuble might be returning to the mix against the Panthers. Knuble was one of the players who came off the ice early, a typical indication that he anticipates playing in that evening’s game.

>> Mike Green, who is nearing a return from sports hernia surgery, took part in more than a half-hour of extra work that is typically reserved for players not expected to be in that evening’s lineup.

“We’re working him right now, we’ll see how it is,” Hunter said of Green. “Still it’s game-time; we could play him on the power play still.”

Hunter said if Green were to return, the Capitals would use seven defensemen in order to minimize the two-time Norris Trophy finalist’s workload. Washington used that tactic when Green returned to the lineup Jan. 3 against Calgary as well.

Over the past few days, General Manager George McPhee has said he expected Green to be back in the lineup soon, possibly as early as this weekend. Given the lengthy workout he participated in along with the assistant coaches and expected scratches Keith Aucoin and John Erskine, though, Green’s comeback likely won’t be against the Panthers.

>> Tomas Vokoun gets the nod in net tonight, marking the first time he has played in Sunrise, Fla., as a Capital. He is expected to be opposed by former Capitals netminder Jose Theodore, who hasn’t started against his old squad since leaving Washington. —

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