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Postgame: Capitals make ‘organizational decision’ to evaluate sixth-defenseman options

Mike Green, shown here during the Capitals’ 3-2 loss to the Flyers, skated with Cameron Schilling (not pictured) as the organization evaluates its options on the back end. (Alex Brandon/Associated Press)

PHILADELPHIA – The decision had little influence on the Washington Capitals’ 3-2 loss to the Philadelphia Flyers, far less than a power play silenced on five opportunities, an early two-goal deficit thanks to another languid start and an untimely line change that led to defenseman Michael Del Zotto’s decisive blast.

It made no difference when forward Jay Beagle took a holding penalty less than four minutes into Sunday afternoon, or when Philadelphia’s man-up unit out-muscled the Capitals for another goal early into the second, or when Washington couldn’t quite summon the final push at six-on-four in the dying seconds of its first defeat in five games.

Still, Coach Barry Trotz’s choice to scratch Jack Hillen and start minor-league call-up Cameron Schilling, he explained later, revealed plenty about the Capitals’ current evaluation of their sixth blue-line spot.

“Real quickly, we’re getting close to the trade deadline,” Trotz said. “I want to take a look at our left side there on defense. We’ve sort of settled in on five, Jack’s done a great job at six. Going up to the trade deadline, organizationally, we really want to see Schilling.”

Summoned Saturday from Hershey before the Capitals toppled the New York Islanders at home in a shootout, thereby missing the line brawl the Bears had later that night against Bridgeport, Schilling had only appeared in one NHL game this season, skating beside Hillen on Feb. 6. But Washington wanted to evaluate Schilling on the left side of the third pairing with usual mainstay Mike Green. The decision, Trotz hinted, came from above.

“That was sort of an organizational decision that we knew that we had to do that, just to take a look, because we’ve got to make some decisions going into the trade deadline a little bit for a few reasons,” Trotz said. “That’s sort of what I told Jack too. We have to find out different things and people have asked me to do certain things, to do that on my timetable. I thought today would be a real good test on him.”

Schilling logged 11 minutes 51 seconds across 17 shifts, the lowest total of his four career NHL games spanning the past three seasons, and once forward Joel Ward tied the game with a spin-around blast late in the second period, the 26-year-old only saw the ice five times following the final intermission, and none over the last six-plus minutes.

With defenseman Steve Oleksy recently making his season debut over the Capitals’ road trip to California, early-season starter Nate Schmidt still recovering from a fractured shoulder blade suffered on a conditioning stint in the American Hockey League and defenseman Dmitry Orlov battling a continually uncertain calendar after undergoing offseason wrist surgery, Trotz said Washington still needed to speak with the Bears’ staff before deciding if any more would be called up for testing.

“I can’t really comment on it right now,” Trotz said. “I’ve got to talk to … see who’s playing well in Hershey. Right now, I think there’s maybe one more D that we might want to look at, but we’re running out of time.

“I think we’ll have a good grasp of who’s playing really well. Schilling definitely deserves to be one of the guys called up, same with [Oleksy]. They’ve been probably the two most solid guys for them this year. We wanted to give them the first opportunity to take a look at.”

Only three games remain before the March 2 trade deadline, the same day the team flies to Columbus for a one-game road trip, and Trotz’s comments would suggest the Capitals are, at the very least, examining their hand at the sixth defensive spot.

Trotz recently said Schmidt, who had stabilized the position across 33 games before running into confidence issues and getting hurt on his reassignment, could return to game action around the deadline, but on Sunday didn’t lump the 23-year-old rookie into the mix when considering Washington’s current options beside Green.

“He missed a lot of time, he’s got to get up to speed in terms of game speed, then confidence with his injury and all that,” Trotz said. “There’s really no timetable with him. We’ll see where we’re at.”