Since Dale Hunter arrived in late November, Jeff Schultz has found himself in and out of the Capitals’ lineup. The lanky blueliner missed the five final regular-season games, but if the past two days of practice are any indication, Schultz may be back in the mix for Game 1 against Boston.
Schultz, 26, has worked primarily in a defensive pairing with Dennis Wideman as Washington prepares for the first round series and said the only message he has received is a simple one: “Be ready.”
“Whatever happens, happens,” said Schultz, who added that he hasn’t been told one way or another if he’ll be in the lineup Thursday at TD Garden. “The mind frame I need to have if I get in is not to worry about making mistakes or anything like that. If they make a change, they make a change. If not, just build off each game.”
Asked on Tuesday if Schultz earned a spot back in the lineup, Hunter was non-committal.
“It was just different, playing with different players,” Hunter said. “He’s a big guy and so it’s an asset for us, for him.”
Hunter didn’t want to divulge his lineup plans but if the combinations from the past two days stand, the pairings will have Karl Alzner skate with John Carlson, Roman Hamrlik with Mike Green and Schultz with Wideman.
In that case, rookie Dmitry Orlov looks to be the odd defenseman out. Orlov has been taking part in extra work recently and skating with John Erskine, who missed 32 of the final 33 regular season games and recently had his knee scoped.
Schultz has returned from lengthy layoffs before – he missed 12 consecutive games during the month of January but then played 27 of 28 beginning on Feb. 1 – and said he’s learned how to approach shaking off rust and focusing on playing a simple game.
“For myself, I look at it like when I came back in February,” Schultz said. “You have nothing really to lose, just go out there and turn it up a few extra notches for the playoffs and just play.”