Jakub Jerabek and his family knew his being traded was a possibility, but after Jerabek’s parents flew in from Prague for a visit earlier this week, he greeted their arrival with the news that their stay in Montreal would be cut short. They’d be spending the next two weeks in Washington instead.
“It was a big surprise for them,” Jerabek said.
The Capitals traded a fifth-round pick to the Canadiens for Jerabek on Wednesday, and while he won’t be in Washington’s lineup on Saturday when the team hosts the Buffalo Sabres, it seems unlikely the Capitals waived extra defenseman Taylor Chorney and then parted with a draft pick to acquire another blue-liner who won’t play, especially since Jerabek’s cap hit is $125,000 more than Chorney’s. Jerabek is a good bet to play consistently down the stretch, a change of pace from his situation in Montreal, when he saw action in just 25 games.
Coach Barry Trotz didn’t definitively say when Jerabek will make his Capitals debut, just that he will “at some point.” Jerabek is naturally anxious to play as soon as possible; his last game was Feb. 1, when he played more than 20 minutes for the Canadiens against the Carolina Hurricanes. After a stint in Russia’s Kontinental Hockey League, the 26-year-old Jerabek signed with Montreal as a free agent before the season.
“It was my first experience with this situation,” Jerabek said. “In the first two weeks, I didn’t know what was going on because the coaches just told me that I played well, but they were just making some competition between the [defensemen], so I had to wait for my next chance. It was hard. But now I’m happy that I’m here.”
Though Jerabek played in just 25 games for Montreal, he averaged more than 17 minutes of ice time in those outings. Washington acquired defenseman Michal Kempny two days before the trade for Jerabek, and the two Czech left-shots are similar in their playing style, both mobile puck-movers with a good first pass on breakouts. The deals addressed a weakness in the Capitals’ defense, as the team had a tendency to get pinned in its own zone for long stretches and was occasionally sloppy in its zone exits. Since Jan. 1, Washington has allowed 3.33 goals per game.
Kempny made his debut on Thursday and Florida, and he’ll again start Saturday’s game skating beside veteran Brooks Orpik. While Kempny said he prefers playing his natural left side, Jerabek said he has a lot of experience playing on his off side, an important detail for the Capitals as they have five left-shot defensemen on the roster. It’s unclear who will be out of the lineup once Jerabek makes his way into it.
“You always look at chemistry and all that with your group,” Trotz said. “Depending on how high that player goes up the lineup, it effects different people. In the forward group, as I’ve said in the past, if you get a guy that you all of a sudden stick on the first line, there’s four other guys that are bumped down and one guy is bumped out. Everybody’s going, ‘Well, we’ve been working hard all year,’ and all that.
“I think where we are, we recognize that we’ve got some guys with some experience, and our young guys have got experience, and we know we have to get deeper there. I think that’s probably thread from everybody, that everybody is going to be part of success and there’s not much separating the group of guys.”
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