The Capitals are set to make their return to Verizon Center tonight, and they’ll do so with a few lineup alterations.
Defensive prospect Tomas Kundratek will make his 2013 NHL debut against Winnipeg, skating alongside fellow Czech native Roman Hamrlik. Coach Adam Oates said he wanted to include another right-handed shot on the blueline, rather than have Jeff Schultz or John Erskine, both lefties, play on their off side.
Kundratek, who had 26 points in 41 games with the AHL’s Hershey Bears, also brings more of an offensive edge to the blueline than either Schultz or Erskine. Kundratek might see time on the power play as well. Oates said he could use Kundratek on the left half-wall to spell Alex Ovechkin, who saw time with the first and second power-play units in the season opener.
Asked why he wanted to add another offensive blueliner to the mix, Oates said that it’s tough to expect stay-at-home defensemen to change their game.
“It’s more for balance and the game is so fast, you put a guy in the wrong position and sometimes they can’t execute,” Oates said. “You don’t really want to evaluate a guy based on that. [Kundratek has] played the position down below; he knows our system, and I think just having the right shot will help us escape at times when we’re in trouble.”
Oates hopes pairing Kundratek with Hamrlik will help the 23-year-old adjust to the NHL quickly.
“I think that does help, obviously he really respects Hammer,” Oates said. “Hammer can slow him down teach him a little bit and hopefully guide him through some situations.”
Up front, Joey Crabb will make his first appearance in a Capitals sweater. Crabb, 29, signed a one-year deal with the Capitals as an unrestricted free agent this summer and will occupy the right wing spot on the fourth line, skating with Matt Hendricks and Mathieu Perreault. He should add more energy to the forward lineup, and Oates added that he might use Crabb on the penalty kill as well.
Crabb was a healthy scratch for the season opener in Tampa Bay when Oates wanted to use seven defensemen to help offset any conditioning problems on the blueline. It gave him the opportunity to take a different look at the Capitals system.
“I had the advantage of being up top and checking it out and obviously it was a little bit sloppy but that’s to be expected after a long break,” Crabb said. “But they had pretty good energy, they were working hard and there were lots of good things so I know they’re to build on that and be a little cleaner this game.”
With the addition of Kundratek and Crabb, the Capitals’ healthy scratches will be Eric Fehr, Jeff Schultz and John Erskine.
Here’s what the lineup should look like:
Goal: Holtby, Neuvirth