For the second time in four games the Capitals found themselves down a defenseman before the first period closed.
Tomas Kundratek left the Capitals’ 3-2 win over Carolina on Thursday night and didn’t return to the contest night after suffering an apparent right leg injury. The 23-year-old blue liner won’t travel with the team to Boston, Coach Adam Oates said, but will return to Washington for an MRI.
After the game, Kundratek was seen walking around the dressing room with a noticeable limp. The injury occurred with 7 minutes and 49 seconds gone in the first period when Carolina forward Jeff Skinner fell on Kundratek’s right leg behind the Capitals’ net.
Already without Mike Green (groin) and John Erskine (left hand/wrist), Washington can ill afford to lose another defenseman let alone one who played over 20 minutes in each of his previous six full games.
Since he was recalled after the season opener, Kundratek has seen his ice time and responsibility steadily increase. During Green’s absence he’s been slotted alongside Karl Alzner and taken on additional power play time.
Oates said he wasn’t sure what the Captials next move would be, making a quip about the communication difficulties that face anyone on the bottom floor of PNC Arena.
“Cell service doesn’t work in here,” Oates smirked. “I gotta go call George [McPhee].”
Oates prefers a balanced blue line with a right- and left-handed shot on each pairing, but Washington’s options are limited to replace the right-handed Kundratek. The only righties remaining in Hershey are Garrett Stafford (7 games of NHL experience) and Brett Flemming (none). Dmitry Orlov, who played 60 games for the Capitals last season, has played only two games with the Bears since returning from a concussion. But Orlov is a left-handed shot.
In Kundratek’s absence, newcomer Steve Oleksy skated a game-high 27:55 in just the sixth NHL contest of his career. His efforts, along with those of the rest of the defensemen, drew hearty praise from Oates.
“I can’t say how proud you are of the guys. Stevie Oleksy had played almost 30 minutes, man, that’s incredible,” Oates said. “Really proud of them all, all of them. They all did a yeoman’s job, in a tough barn, last 10 minutes, PK, everything. They all did a great job.”