(John McDonnell/The Washington Post) (John McDonnell/The Washington Post)

Exactly two years and a week since he last played an NHL game, Capitals defenseman Tom Poti is expected to make his return to the lineup tonight in the season opener at the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Poti’s comeback coincidentally takes place in the same city where he last played, on Jan. 12, 2011, before lingering groin problems and a fractured pelvis forced him to miss significant time.

“It feels good. It’s nice to know that all the hard work I did over the last few years paid off,” said Poti, 35. “I’m just excited to be back with the guys and playing some games and having the some fun again.”

The Capitals will go with seven defenseman in the opener, Coach Adam Oates said, because he’s concerned about how the blue-liners will fare in their first game in at least eight months. None of the defensemen on Washington’s active roster played a single game during the lockout.

“It’s a hot building, it’s the first game, little extra emotional and just I’m more worried about the defensemen getting tired,” Oates said. “I just figured if we have an extra pair of legs it will help them, take a couple shifts off guys.”

Oates said he likely would have gone with seven defensemen tonight regardless of whether Poti played. Based on warmups, the defensive pairings will be Karl Alzner-John Carlson; Roman Hamrlik-Mike Green; and Poti-Jeff Schultz with Jack Hillen rotating in.

Defenseman John Erskine, along with forwards Eric Fehr and Joey Crabb, will be the healthy scratches. With only 11 forwards dressing for tonight’s game, expect to see Alex Ovechkin double-shifted.

“That’s the goal early. Obviously penalties, you can never tell how that’s going to work and how injuries” will alter things, Oates said. “I really feel the forwards, everybody’s going to get a lot of ice time. But yeah, Alex, the right wingers, will definitely double-shift.”

Braden Holtby gets the nod in net for the Capitals and will be opposed by Anders Lindback. The forward lines should be the same as they have been throughout training camp:




Hendricks-Perreault-(Rotating RW)